Lent, Day 15

LOOK: Life of Christ by Tony Nwachukwu

Nwachukwu, Tony_Untitled
Carved and painted wood by Tony Nwachukwu (Nigerian, 1959–)

I retrieved this image years ago from https://anthonynwachukwu.com/, but the domain has since expired. Nwachukwu didn’t give a title or a date there, and I couldn’t find his contact information to ask. The scene on the far left appears to me to be a Nativity—Christ in the manger, his mother and father standing behind. Then there’s what I’m guessing is Jesus’s anointing with the Spirit at his baptism; hands outspread, he receives his commission. The wineglass and flatbread refer, of course, to the Last Supper, and to Jesus’s declaration that he is the bread of life and that he is initiating a new covenant in his blood. The overturned cup may be a reference to the cup of wrath poured out on Christ at his passion. The open palm with nail wound and adjacent blood-stained cross are shorthand for the Crucifixion. Next to that is the dark cavern of Christ’s tomb. But in the final segment the mouth of the tomb is open and bright, and Christ bursts forth in resurrection.

Tony Nwachukwu studied art at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. Since 1987 he has lived in Owerri in Imo State, where he runs an art gallery. In addition to painting and carving, he also makes batiks (dyed cloth artworks) [previously] and liturgical vestments. In 2009 the German Catholic organization Misereor commissioned him to design that year’s Hungertuch, a liturgical veil hung in churches during Lent [previously], which was reproduced throughout Europe; his theme was climate change.

LISTEN: “Life of Jesus” by David Childers and Bill Noonan, on Serpents of Reformation (2014)

I been washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus

Well, I’m gonna tell you about the life of Jesus
I’m gonna tell you about the life of Jesus
He lived a long time ago
He still lives today
He came down from his Father in heaven
To show us a better way

And I been washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus
Washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus

He was born in a lowly place
Smack-dab in the middle of the human race
He grew up to spread the word of God
Living and loving and sweating as a man
Working and hurting and all that you can
Living and dying, he knew that too

Washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus

He went through the land
Preaching the gospel and the truth to man
Healing the sick and saving the lost
Driving the demons back to hell
Then he came to Jerusalem
Where trials and tribulations waited for him
He wound up nailed on Calvary’s tree

And that’s where I was washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus
Washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus

He was laid in the tomb
He descended into hell
He arose on the third day
To angel horns and heavenly bells
And when his disciples came looking for him
He was not to be found
Angels had rolled the stone away
And Jesus was heaven-bound

Now I am washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus
Washed in the blood of the Holy Lamb
Washed in the blood of Jesus

This song is from a gospel album by North Carolina singer-songwriter, roots musician, and bandleader David Childers (b. 1952). (Read an album review here.) I learned about him through Bob Crawford, bassist for the Avett Brothers and a close friend and sometime collaborator of Childers’s.

“Life of Jesus” originated in the 1990s with Bill Noonan, one of Childers’s bandmates in the Gospel Playboys at the time. Noonan was just playing around, but Childers “took it seriously and wound up writing out some words and finding a song structure,” Childers told me. His son Robert Childers and Neal Harper produced the version of the song on Serpents of Reformation, released in 2014 on Ramseur Records. “The song . . . has continued to evolve with each performance,” Childers said in an email. “It usually gets the room moving and grooving, which might freak out some Baptists; but it makes me happy. I also think Jesus liked to see people happy, and maybe did not frown on dancing or demonstrable rejoicing.”

There are a handful of live performances of the song on YouTube, including this one from a house concert in Charlotte shortly after the album release:

In addition to writing and recording music, Childers practiced law for thirty-five years, serving as an attorney for those on social security and/or disability. Those two careers ran parallel for a while, but in 2016 Childers decided to quit the legal profession to focus on his music. He is also a poet and a painter.

The Psalter of Blanche of Castile

A masterpiece of French Gothic art, the Latin Psalter of Blanche of Castile was produced in Paris in the first third of the thirteenth century by an anonymous master using tempera, ink, and gold leaf on parchment. The book was most likely commissioned by or for Blanche of Castile (1188–1252), the mother of Louis IX, whom it passed to after her death (which is why it is sometimes referred to jointly as the Psalter of Saint Louis and Blanche of Castile—not to be confused with the even more lavish Paris Psalter of Saint Louis that followed it). Whoever the original owner was, she is depicted praying before an altar on page 122v.

[What is a psalter?]

Discussing the transition from Romanesque to Gothic art and the new structures surrounding it, an online Encyclopedia of Art History states,

It is no accident that this new style of Christian art was born in France. The University of Paris was the intellectual centre of Europe throughout the thirteenth century, and from the time of St Louis (1226-70) the French court became increasingly important. Students and scholars from all over the continent flocked to Paris to learn and to discuss scholarly matters. Knights returning from the Crusades introduced Eastern theory and science. [This partially explains the unusual frontispiece depicting three geometers in the Psalter of Blanche of Castile, below.] With the ascendancy of the university, the importance of monasteries as centres of book illustration and illumination declined. Commercial guilds were founded and books were produced for private ownership. Large ceremonial books, lavishly illuminated and ornamented with jewellery, became less common and we must follow the stylistic developments principally in Psalters, which the highborn laity made their own.

An alternate name for the manuscript is the Sainte-Chapelle Psalter, due to the fact that it was preserved in the Sainte-Chapelle treasury from 1335 to the end of the eighteenth century, when it was moved to the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, now part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Louis IX built the Sainte-Chapelle (“Holy Chapel”) inside the royal palace complex between 1238 and 1248 to serve as a private devotional space and to house the thirty-plus relics of Christ he had bought, including what he believed to be the crown of thorns and a fragment of the cross.

Among the 192 pages of the Psalter of Blanche of Castile are twenty-seven full-page miniatures, twenty-two of which are divided into interlocking medallions containing distinct narrative episodes from the Old and New Testaments (mostly). All of them are reproduced below, sourced from https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b7100723j (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal MS 1186 réserve). Folio numbers and subjects are provided as captions.

This is one of thousands of Christian illuminated manuscripts that have been digitized by libraries and museums around the world, enabling people like you and me to be nourished by their beauty. People often ask me how I incorporate visual art into my devotional practice, and one way is by simply paging (digitally) through painting cycles from old books, letting the medieval imagination be my guide through God’s story of redemption. My eyes do the reading, my soul rests. There’s no rigid program I follow, and no particular goal, but I find I am often led to respond in prayer. Try it!

Astronomers (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 1v: An astronomer with a looking tube takes the bearings of a star with the alidade of an astrolabe. One assistant holds open a book with Arabic ciphers (a star chart?) while the other records the results in Latin.

Fall of the Rebel Angels (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 9v: The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Creation of Eve (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 10r: The Creation of Eve

Continue reading “The Psalter of Blanche of Castile”