Christian Community Views on Objects in the Collections

The V&A held seven advisory groups with different faith community groups between April and September of 2006. The aim of these was to consult with the communities to whom the V&A collections were relevant and see what reactions the members of the advisory groups had about the items. The participants were asked to select from groups of pictures of V&A objects and prioritise which items struck them most. These could be for personal reasons or how important they were from a cultural or faith point of view, artistically or whether they still had relevance to their lives today. The Christian collections were divided into three sections:

  • Ritual objects and objects of devotion
  • Holy sites and sites of pilgrimage
  • Narrative images

Ritual objects and objects of devotion

Winchester Cathedral Font

Winchester Cathedral Font, photograph by Mrs C Weed Ward, National Photographic Record and Survey, 1904. Museum no. E.2375-2000

Winchester Cathedral Font, photograph by Mrs C Weed Ward, National Photographic Record and Survey, 1904. Museum no. E.2375-2000

'I decided to go for the Winchester Cathedral font because it is such a wonderful and evocative early Romanesque sculpture. It is clear enough to see that something interesting is going on and it is also quite interesting to work out what the scene is, so that anybody having a look at it could have a bit of a puzzle as to what they think is happening in that picture. The details of the font are very evocative. The building is done like a Romanesque cathedral complete with pillars with crosses on, but is it meant to be the Temple in Jerusalem and is it Christ being presented in the Temple as a child?

'I don't know what other people make of it but what makes you think that it is Christ being presented in the Temple is the fact that there are a couple of pigeons that have been drawn in, being presented there, but if it is that, then the priest in the Temple is just like a medieval bishop; that is just how bishops look now and how they look on the Norse chessmen in the British Museum. It is an intrinsically interesting piece of sculpture to look at and ponder about.'

Revd Richard Harries

Communion beaker with scenes from the life of Christ

Communion Beaker with Scenes from the Life of Christ, Netherlands, about 1740. Museum no. M.147-1930

Communion Beaker with scenes from the life of Christ, Netherlands, about 1740. Museum no. M.147-1930

'I like this communion beaker because it has something very solid and satisfying in the shape of it and if it was done around 1740, the engraving on it is, I suppose, a bit crude but in a way that appealed to me because this whole thing, the shape, the way it's made, the engraving on it, conjured up to me something of the man who made it, imaginary of course, and the relationship between faith and the everyday. I just had this vision of a workman doing his very best to show his faith in his work and I found that very appealing. There is something about the whole shape of it that I like.'

Stephanie Ramamurthy

'I was struck by the two words describing it, 'communion beaker'. it strikes me as being something earthy, down to earth, a bit like the Indiana Jones film where at the end he goes in and says "where is the cup of the carpenter?" and chooses the wooden cup as opposed to the golden cups. That seems to suggest to me that it's the cup of a carpenter and that's the type of cup I would want to use in a communion.'

Revd Ian Tutton

Monstrance, Germany, 1702. Museum no. M.3-1952

Monstrance, Germany, 1702. Museum no. M.3-1952

Monstrance

'I noticed that it has a scene from the Last Supper, so I decided I would choose this because in Catholicism we use a monstrance to display the blessed sacrament, which is a consecrated host, which we consider to be the real body of Christ when it is consecrated. Therefore, because the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper, I thought it is very appropriate that that scene appears on the monstrance. Then obviously it is extremely ornate; this one is made from silver and gold and the reason that we use these very rich materials is because we recognise the majesty of God, the real presence of God.'

Rosemary Cairns

Rosary

Rosary, 17th and 18th century. Museum no 101-1865

Rosary, 17th and 18th century. Museum no 101-1865

'It was really the beauty of the piece and the materials that appealed to me. For anybody who is not aware of the significance of a rosary, it is used by Catholics to ask the intercession of Mary the mother of Jesus, of God, for any intentions that they want to pray for. It comprises a cross and five decades, which are then split up and interspersed with a single piece of filigree. Each of the decades are used to say ten 'Hail Mary's (which is a prayer to Our Lady) and at the five little pieces that separate at the beginning of the decade you say the 'Our Father' and at the end of the decade you say a 'Glory Be', which is another prayer.

'Also with each of them you are actually meditating on a scene from the Life of Christ. There are four of what we call 'mysteries' - the "joyful", the "sorrowful", the "luminous" (the mysteries of light) and the fourth one is the "glorious". Whilst you are saying each of the ten 'Hail Mary's you can be focusing on a scene from the life of Christ.'

Rosemary Cairns

Holy sites and sites of pilgrimage

Greek ceremony of washing feet outside the Court of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Greek Ceremony of Washing Feet outside the Court of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, photograph, 19th century

Greek Ceremony of Washing Feet outside the Court of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, photograph, 19th century

'I thought it had a real sense of bustle and mess and muddle which really gave an idea of a real occasion, a festival. There are the wonderful robes on the positive side and on the negative there are these grandees looking really rather solemn and perhaps even a little proud of themselves, then the lesser priests around them and the hoi polloi firmly round the edges and up the walls. There is a real feeling of something going on there, which I can relate to.'

Christopher Wheeler, Anglican Reader

'I also chose the foot washing at the Holy Sepulchre. I've been there a few times, not to the foot washing but to the Holy Sepulchre, so I know it quite well as a building. If a site can be holy in Christianity - which is a disputed question - this is probably the holiest one, being the site of Calvary and the tomb, and therefore Good Friday and the Resurrection are events associated with that.The size of the crowd has a great impact but it also raised for me the question of the future of the Christian community in the Holy Land because it is under considerable threat. I also liked the people hanging off walls (and that kind of thing) but my favourite thing is what appears to be a row of Turkish soldiers in the front. What the Turkish soldiers appear to be doing is protecting the Bishops from the junior clergy - that appeals to me particularly.'

Revd Alan Walker

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, photograph, F.M. Good, 19th Century. Museum no. E.494-1900

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, photograph, F.M. Good, 19th Century. Museum no. E.494-1900

'I would contrast this picture [Foot washing ceremony in the court yard of the Holy Sepulchre] with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.This is the second most important church and interestingly it is also completely empty, which again says something very profound to me about the future of the Christian community in that Bethlehem was until recently a Christian city. Now, its Christian community is rapidly declining and we know that it has been difficult for Christian pilgrims to visit there.'

Revd Alan Walker

'I chose the Church of the Nativity. The present church and the one in the photo dates from Justinian in the 6th century and is a well preserved example of late antique architecture. The 19th century photo was taken at a time when Europeans were able to travel much more, usually to the Holy Land as there was a growing intense interest in the historic origins of Christianity.'

Revd Harries

St Paul's Cathedral in Moonlight

Bill Brandt, 'St Paul's Cathedral in Moonlight', photograph, 20th century. Museum no. PH 69-1978

Bill Brandt, 'St Paul's Cathedral in Moonlight', photograph, 20th century. Museum no. PH 69-1978

'I chose St Paul's Cathedral after the bombing. It resonated immediately with me because I was in London as a child during the bombing and my father was a Fire Watcher in the City; he was in the Reserves. I don't think I had any awareness of how dangerous it was that he was there but I can remember living in Hendon and actually seeing the City, seeing it burning. This image of St Paul's remaining with all the ruins around it to me was, then and I think now, a symbol of the triumph that good can have over the evil events that were happening and so it has always remained with me and still has an effect as I look at it now.'

Joyce Piper

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem Museum no. 3086-1920

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem Museum no. 3086-1920

Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a holy site because it is the site where Jesus Christ prayed to God the Father before his Passion and Death. He prayed for strength to endure the suffering and death that he would undergo to redeem mankind. I picked it because many people nowadays might not be familiar with the key sites of Jesus Christ's Passion and many people equally may never have travelled to the Holy Land and seen these sites in person. I have to say that this scene is very tranquil in comparison to the way it would have been on the night of Jesus' Passion, which is quite an interesting contrast as well.'

Rosemary Cairns

Quaker Meeting House

Revd A.C. Hervey, 'Quaker meeting house, Alton, Hampshire', 1900. Museum no. E.2382-2000

Revd A.C. Hervey, 'Quaker meeting house, Alton, Hampshire', 1900. Museum no. E.2382-2000

'I was trying to keep away from Quaker things but what I liked about this was that it does show the essential simplicity of a meeting house and the absence of religious artefacts. Also it is quite significant that it says here 'Quaker Meeting House' underneath but if you read the caption on the picture it says 'Quaker's Meeting House', so it is a place where Quakers meet rather than a Quaker Meeting House. In other words: anywhere can be holy, it doesn't have to be a beautiful building and I like the plainness of this, so there is nothing to distract the mind. It is not arranged as it would be nowadays. That looks like it's an elder's bench, but now everybody has to be equal so we tend to sit around except in some old meeting houses.'

Stephanie Ramamurthy

Narrative images

The Reverend Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92)

The Reverend Charles Haddon Spurgeon, earthenware figure, about 1855. Museum no. C.78-2001

The Reverend Charles Haddon Spurgeon, earthenware figure, about 1855. Museum no. C.78-2001

 

'I chose the earthenware representation of the Spurgeon because it made me laugh. Spurgeon, for those who don't know, was a Baptist preacher in the 19th century. I think his ego outgrew him towards the end of his life. I have a feeling he probably secretly liked the fact that he was being represented in this way, although there is a sense in which it may have gone against everything he may have said from his pulpit. he would have no images representing anything around him, and yet here, obviously the cult of personality has ensured that his image is being sold amongst the faithful. I think it looks ridiculous, I can't imagine anyone who'd buy it and yet I guess they sold in their hundreds.

'I think he was someone who had a very powerful personality and people would have flocked to him and would want something to remember his visit by. This is the type of thing you would put in your parlour to remember your visit.'

Revd Ian Tatton

Russian icon

Icon, Russia, 18th or 19th century. Museum no. 141-1906

Icon, Russia, 18th or 19th century. Museum no. 141-1906

'The one I have chosen is the Russian Icon. The black Madonna is such a powerful symbol and I can't actually tell you why that is. I know there are many versions of it. One thing I like particularly is the connection the black Madonna makes with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, linking in with all the various varieties of Christianity. Although the figures on the icons are rather out of proportion always, this is very typical I think of the way they are drawn, this particular mother and baby. I just found it a very, very powerful image.'

Joyce Piper

Altar frontal with Baptism of Christ

Altar frontal with Baptism of Christ, 16th century. Museum no. T.141-1931

Altar frontal with Baptism of Christ, 16th century. Museum no. T.141-1931

'I chose the altar frontal. I think that colour is one of the most amazing things we have in the world. It is one of the things that keeps me going on a day-to-day basis and I love it when it is brought into religion. I think I find it helpful when there is wonderful colour in the church - often it is awful colour. I was looking for something other than red but it is a wonderful colour. This beautiful blue here reminded me also of some of the wonderful Renaissance paintings but it is basically for the colour and the importance of colour in the world and in liturgy that I chose it.'

Christopher Wheeler

Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child, Desiderio da Settignano, 15th century. Museum no. A.84-1927

Virgin and Child, Desiderio da Settignano, 15th century. Museum no. A.84-1927

'I think this is the most beautiful image; the way it has been simply beautifully carved and the emotion from this simple image of the bond between mother and child, as well as knowing the history of how the mother will have to give the child up to a dreadful death in the end.'

Joyce Piper

'I chose the marble because actually it looks to me like human beings, which is where I think we are really; the mother and the child, the eyes are meeting, the hands are holding on. There is an intensity there that you hope for when your child is born. You hope your child will react to you as you want to react to the child. I think it is quite outstanding, just in terms of a mother and a child - it could be anyone - and I think that's what Mary and Jesus mean. They could be anybody.'

Revd Ian Tatton

Tile depicting St. Veronica's Veil

Tile depicting St. Veronica, Italy, about 1490. Museum no. 7549-1861

Tile depicting St. Veronica, Italy, about 1490. Museum no. 7549-1861

'I chose Veronica's Veil; the colour leapt out at me. The narrative is the Way of the Cross and Veronica gives her veil or handkerchief in the old-fashioned sense to Jesus, to wipe his face of sweat and blood as he carries the cross. The image of his face is imprinted on it when it is returned to Veronica. The name Veronica, of course, means true image. I think it is very important because it is the prototype of all Christian art and justifies Christian art. Christian art needed to be justified in light of the commandment against making images but if Christ himself made the first image by giving his on Veronica's cloth then that justified it in practical terms and in theological terms.

'Christian art is justified because of Christ himself as the incarnation: through his incarnation, Christ is the image of the unseen God and therefore images become a legitimate way of portraying divine matters telling of sacred stories in Christianity. So in that sense, it is the most fundamental of all Christian images. And she is seen in many churches as one of the Stations of the Cross; she is seen in my own church, so is familiar that way.

Revd Alan Walker

The Virgin with the Dead Christ

The Virgin with the Dead Christ, probably the Master of Rimini, about 1430. Museum no. A.28-1960

The Virgin with the Dead Christ, probably the Master of Rimini, about 1430. Museum no. A.28-1960

'Yes, I chose the alabaster of the Virgin with the dead Christ. It is a classic 'Pieta' type, of which there are many similar images. The two figures, Christ and his mother, are very different. The Christ figure is very dead, very lifeless; he has just been taken down from the cross and put in his mother's arms. Her figure, in comparison, is actually very serene and accepting of the fact that her son has just given up his life. Her calmness also points to the fact that whilst many of the disciples ran away, she stayed at the cross until Jesus died.'

Rosemary Cairns

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd, 17th century. Museum no. A.38-1921

The Good Shepherd, 17th century. Museum no. A.38-1921

'Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the earliest Christian image. But even more interesting is the cost of cultural fertilisation. The Portuguese went to India in the 16th century and one tends to associate them with the Jesuits led by Francis Xavier in what is now Goa, and this is clearly a derivative of Hindu art. I have never seen anything quite like it and Hindu art tends to pile image upon image - 'pile it up, pile it up' - and this is 'pile it up'. But also, from a Christian point of view, the imagery is so unusual even for that time.

'At the top we have God the Father, whether he is wrapping a sheep around his shoulders or whether it is a comfortable pillow as he has a stiff neck. Then the son, who is the shepherd, instead of putting the sheep around the shoulder as did earlier depictions, seems to be sitting on some globe, as if they thought the world was round then. Then all sorts of interesting scenes beneath, including somebody asleep at the bottom. So perhaps it is all meant to depict a kind of vision, perhaps the Revelation of St. John, but anyway it is a very fascinating piece of Christian iconography and also for cross-fertilization.'

Revd Richard Harries

Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels

William Blake, Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels, 1805. Museum no. P.6-1972

William Blake, Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels, 1805. Museum no. P.6-1972

'I am always a sucker for Blake - but I like this because although it is Christ in the Sepulchre and something sad, the whole thing has serenity about it and again the symbolism: the angel wings, which are like praying hands, and you can see the three points of the Trinity and the light coming through. I just think it is very beautiful and simple.'

Stephanie Ramamurthy

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