The Courtauld Gallery of the Courtauld Institute, one of the smaller, yet outstanding art collections in London, granted special permission on Monday for its ground floor to be used as a setting for prayer and devotion.
We were invited by organiser Maria Cristina, a gallery lecturer and artist and specialist in Christian Iconography, to join the group as they gathered to use the Christian art held in the gallery for their original purpose – worship.
Maria Cristina spoke movingly about a select number of paintings and private devotional panels from the late medieval and early renaissance period before leading the group in saying the Rosary. Speaking of the religious paintings, she told us: “They are not precious objects that will fetch huge prices at auction, they are objects made for prayer and to lead us in prayer.”
The group, made up of about 10 worshippers, listened with interest as the history and symbolism of each piece was explained by Maria Cristina before joining in prayer. The experience of using such ancient and beautiful depictions of the life of Christ and of the Virgin to say the Rosary was one that brought a new dimension to such a well-known meditation. Though not all of the images directly represented the mysteries of the Rosary in isolation, images within the collection certainly reflected different narratives of familiar Gospel stories, bringing an excellent focus to the event.
When asked how the collection was being used when saying the Rosary, Maria Cristina replied: “The moment you start exploring [the painting], it begins to unfold the meaning of the Mystery.” Father Peter Burns of the diocese of Westminster agreed, adding: “When you’re praying it brings meaning out of the picture.”
A wonderful and innovative way to witness the faith in the heart of London, the success of the event will almost certainly mean the exercise is repeated. As guests, we were struck by the generosity of the group who attended the event in aid of persecuted Christians in the Middle East at the Courtauld gallery and we continue to keep all of our kind benefactors in our prayers. Not only was the occasion a celebration of the rediscovery the richness of our Christian heritage in the museum, but a display of the compassion of our charitable supporters.
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need UK
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