Wednesday 23 May 2007

Danse Macabre

Hidden in one of the rooms at Hare Street are a series of tapestries that Robert Hugh Benson made and, during his lifetime, hung around the house. Some of these depict the Legend of the Grail; others the Dance of Death, a popular subject with medieval and Renaissance artists. These were kept in the 'tapestry room,' which was used for guests - especially, Benson one day remarked, Anglican clergymen. The usual figures appear, though with an Edwardian colouring: the Pope (above), the Cardinal, the soldier and so on:

Finally - and this is a note of optimism and belief in the redemption - comes the funeral of death itself, with the creepy skull thuribles being swung by a skeleton:

No wonder my friend who slept in this room had a disturbed night!


Blogger Mulier Fortis said...

Actually, I think they're rather neat. My SD is always reminding me that one day I will die and I need to prepare...

11:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am delighted that the tapestries survive.

11:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many years ago I read Fr Martindale's life of Mgr Benson and I think I remember that he noted that the Dance of Death tapestry was made by Benson himself and a friend, whose name I can't remember, who designed it. He rejoiced in the fact that no female hand had contributed a stitch which I found odd then, and still do so. Given the eccentricity of his and his brothers' lives, this carried misogynism to new extremes. However, I have not seen the tapestry before and think it is delightful. I suspect that a man of his character, eccentricity and disposition, however well-connected, would not now be accepted for ordination.

5:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you were at Hare Street did you look at the brew house? It was adapted by Robert Hugh Benson as his own chapel and, when I saw it many years ago, though long dismantled, there were still some mouldering medieval wooden statues lying about. Sadly, the building was riddled with damp and I thought they should have been put away.

10:55 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

The old chapel is in a bad state and everything (as far as I can tell) has been removed from the inside.

11:09 pm  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

These are fantastic! Thank you.

4:12 am  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Very popular in the middle ages - there is a particularly fine example at La Chaise Dieu in central France. All whitewashed in England and Scotland at the so-called Reformation, of course.

The only surviving relic explicitly in the liturgy of this aspect of the sprituality of death is the phrase at the distribution of ashes: "Memento homo quia pulvis est, et in pulveram revertiris"

Even that got given optional status by the Liturgical vandals.

11:05 am  
Blogger Bro. Jim Hayes said...

Have you seen the classic 1950s Ingmar Bergman film "The Seventh Seal" (Death/Grim Reaper plays chess with a disillusioned Danish knight returning from the Crusades to a plague-ravaged Denmark...)? There are a few scenes that evoke the Dance of Death idea, none more so than in the final sequence when Death leads most of the film's characters in a silhouetted dance across a hilltop.

It's a tremendous film (one of my favourites) in which the varied characters express differing attitudes to faith, suffering, death, etc... with enough occasional humour to lighten the atmosphere.

It has been the subject of various parodies over the years, in particular in "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" (playing Battleships + Twister with Death! :-)

God bless.

Bro. James Hayes fic

10:29 pm  
Blogger Banshee said...

Re: no female hand

Most men who like to sew, weave, knit, or do flower arranging like a samurai, are very proud that they can do these things without a woman's help. And why not? Plenty of women are pleased that they can change a tire or their car's oil without a man's hand being involved.

It's not misogyny or misandry. It's independence, and defiance of unreasoned cultural constraints. (As opposed to the reasonable sort.)

Men have as long and honorable an involvement in fabric crafts as in cooking, and yet the culture tells them not to do cool things like tapestries, even if they have a turn for such things. Silly culture.

8:29 pm  
Blogger Chad said...

Is it possible to see this Danse Macabre tapestry in person? Which church is it in?


8:29 pm  

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