Thursday, 21 July 2016

Hidden glory

There are times when small moments of wonder surpass more demonstrative spectacle. An example of just such a moment is to be found in the tiny church of All Saints' in Tudely in Kent. From outside, it is not particularly different from many other churches in Britain, with its squat brick tower and porch. Inside, however, it is hard not to be moved by the thing that makes it stand out from the rest, indeed from any other church in the world, and that is its stained glass windows, all of which were created by Marc Chagall.

The Chagall windows began in 1967 with the east window, pictured above, which was commissioned by Sir Henry and Lady d'Avigdor-Goldsmid as a memorial to their daughter, Sarah, who had died in a sailing accident in 1963, at the age of 21. This background is reflected in both the colour and the imagery of the window, above which is a horse, which some have identified as symbolic of freedom or love. Although the reason for the window's creation is tragic, the colour of the window and the way in which the eye is drawn upwards, creates a strongly uplifting feeling, in keeping with many of Chagall's other works.

It is said that Chagall was reluctant to accept the task of creating the memorial window, but that when he visited for its installation, he said of the little church, 'It's magnificent. I will do them all.'  The rest of the church's windows were installed in 1985, the year of Chagall's death, and now the church is open to everybody to marvel at them. Apart from the rarity of an entire church with windows by such a prominent artist, and their undeniable beauty, the fact that they remain in the space for which they were designed, with all of the meaning that goes with that, renders them truly magical.

At Tudely, because the church is so small, the majority of the windows are at eye level and one can stand close to them. This means that it is possible to become completely immersed in them, to be bathed in their colours, and to see the hand of the artist. When transplanted into the sometimes antiseptic environment of an art gallery, some otherwise great art can lose its spark, and it is easy to forget the context for which they were created. Here, the work still feels powerful and relevant, and it is a joy to behold.

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