Whether you look above you or around you, there are lots of things to discover about our faith in the walls of St Mary’s
Five days before his death, Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. People lay their cloaks on the ground. They cry out ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke his disciples. “If these become silent,” he tells them, “the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:36ff)
Closer to home, and look closer still, and you’ll discover much in the stones of St Mary’s Church, things that often get missed or overlooked but which express what we believe. They offer a colourful expression of our faith. Even if we become silent, these stones will cry out!
As we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus through Lent and Holy Week, it’s a good opportunity to explore some of these local features. In addition to the obvious symbolism of crosses and crucifixes and the Stations of the Cross, the Passion abounds in the stones of St Mary’s.
The reordering of the sanctuary at St Mary’s was completed in 1884. Look closer, and you’ll see the embossed symbols of Jesus’ Passion at the High Altar, including the pillar and the stripes, a hammer and pincers, three nails and the crown of thorns, the hyssop soaked sponge and a spear, a ladder and the soldier’s dice as they gambled for the garment worn by Jesus.
But then look higher to the curved ceiling of the apse where a scene abounds in angels, five of which lovingly hold further symbols of Jesus’ suffering.
The central figure holds the cross, whilst the other four hold Veronica’s cloth, Jesus’ garment, a spear and the crown of thorns. Even if we become silent, the stones will cry out!
Below the angels are five tondos (circular paintings) in the spaces within the arches where formerly were windows giving a borrowed light from the east windows beyond.
In these medallions are pictures representing Old Testament scenes which are used to interpret and understand the Holy Eucharist. Three of these represent the sacrificial character of the Mass: Abel offering up a lamb, Melchizedek bringing forth bread and wine, and Abraham about to slay his son. There are two other scenes: the Manna in the desert and the Paschal Lamb.
The fourteen Stations of the Cross were painted by local artist Kenneth Smitham and placed in position from 1962. The fifteenth station of the Resurrection was added later, painted by Tony Goble (b1943), just before his death in 2007. the painting was carried in front of his coffin as it was processed into Llandaff Cathedral. Although it completes the whole series of Stations, it has an integrity of its own, and is characteristically identifiable as Goble’s work, some of which can be viewed at the National Museum of Wales.
This painting is perhaps more simple than many of his others, where you’ll find a Chagall like quality to much of his work. Religious symbolism was present in much of his work which was often autobiographical in some way, as he’d paint his own character onto his canvas. Here the theme of the painting is obviously straightforward: the Resurrection of Christ.
There are dark purples and tones of light , pink hues like the rising sun, the dawning brightness. And then there’s that bird, perched, present, puzzling.
There is lots more to discover at St Mary’s, and many hidden gems which unfold the story of our faith, offering a solid witness to what we believe. Whilst we are open each day for Mass and other devotions, we are looking forward to the time when we’ll be able to welcome other visitors, and share the riches of our history, our heritage and our faith with others.
This article is featured in our Lenten Resource Box, for the journey. During Lent, we’d love to hear if the contents have proved useful in any way.