The Cross and Creation in Christian Liturgy and Art

This is a beautiful, rich, deeply suggestive book which feeds understanding and imagination and inspires both rereading and further reading and looking and pondering. It is not easy to encapsulate its contents in a few words. The focus is always on the very different manifestations of the cross in art in churches and so its influence on and in the Liturgy. But in the course of the book many themes emerge. Different people will be more taken by some of these themes than others.

The first two chapters help us to see more: to see more in the liturgy and in its architectural setting; to see physically, and also to see symbolically, and to see salvation. The next five chapters show us many facets of the cross and the tree in all their rich dimensions.

Within this framework, there are particular expositions of a variety of christian themes. Baptism, Eucharist, Franscican Spirituality, to name but three. Inevitably in a book of this size, topics have to be exemplary rather than comprehensive. We are helped to see works of art now in galleries, in their original context in a church or chapel or religious house. Many texts, from a vast array of sources, are quoted to give further illumination at particular points in the exposition.

Just after I had read this book I spent a week in Tuscany and was able to see the Piero della Francesca frescos in the Franciscan church in Arezzo, Fra Angelico’s work at St Mark’s in Florence and Duccio’s Maesta in Siena, all mentioned in the book. Contemporary art is not neglected with discussions on works by Norman Adams and Craigie Aitchison. Contemporary representations of the tree of life such as in the nave altar at Lichfield, in Roger Wagner’s window at Iffley and in Mark Cazalet’s painting at Chelmsford, are all discussed. There are several references to particular art in Canterbury Cathedral.

This is not a book that just provides information; not only does it appeal to heart and mind, it leads us, if we allow it, towards the heart of christianity and so to more faithful living.

There are realities of contemporary publishing which make this book slightly less than it could have been. There are 7 coloured illustrations. Fortunately the internet allows us to see many of the other works of art mentioned, on the screen. The index is very inadequate – I suggest readers might want to supplement it with topics that particularly interest them. The select index of works of art would benefit from considerable expansion and a select bibliography and some pointing to particularly helpful web sites would help greatly. The detailed footnotes, happily at the foot of each page, are a great joy. Those who are prepared to work through this most enlightening book will be greatly enriched.

Christopher Morgan-Jones