Saturday, 3 April 2010
Without quite understanding why or necessarily believing, I always find the space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday the best limbo of the year – a time full of leisurely possibilities. The crucifixes and reliquaries remain shrouded in purple, like the one above at the Hofkirche of St Leodegar in Lucerne when I visited it less than a fortnight ago, feeling deliciously suspended between concerts and away from the Easter Festival hurly-burly. In fact that Christ crucified on the elaborate choir screen, as I saw from what my postcard told me, boasts real hair (‘mit echten Haaren’, hmm, creepy).
Of unequivocal splendour, on the other hand, is the pair of silver and parcel-gilt gates thought to have been presented by Catherine the Great around 1784 to the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, now in the Gilbert Collection so opulently housed on the first floor of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The gates have had a more profane recent life, if you can call it that, glimmering in Randolph Hearst’s Citizen Kane mansion and then in the California swimming pool of the equally wealthy Sir Arthur Gilbert. But they would, of course, have stood at the centre of the iconostasis, to be flung open at the climax of the Eucharist. If I’ve understood this right, their parting would play an even more dramatic part at the end of the all-night vigil to the cries of ‘Christos voskreseniye’ – ‘Christ is arisen’. The top two panels illustrate the annunciation and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem
while beneath are the four evangelists.
Here’s a little more detail of St Mark with his lion.
I think at this suspended time of year especially of quite a few friends and acquaintances who are suffering terrible, in several cases terminal illnesses. Been listening, of course, to devotional Bach, but in a secular context what touched me no less were the once so golden tones of Anthony Rolfe Johnson accompanied by Graham Johnson in Poulenc’s painfully sensitive setting of Apollinaire’s ‘Bleuet’, a poem from the trenches.
Since no translation is given above, and it’s essential, I provide it here, unpunctuated like the original French:
You who have seen such terrible things
What do you think of the men from your childhood
You know what bravery is and cunning
You have faced death more than a hundred times
You do not know what life is
Hand down your fearlessness
To those who shall come
You are joyous your memory is steeped in blood
Your soul is red also
You have absorbed the life of those who died beside you
You are resolute
It is 1700 hours and you would know
How to die
If not better than your elders
At least with great piety
For you are better acquainted with death than life
O sweetness of bygone days
beyond all memory.