arts, books, other reviews

MILLAIS

Tate Britain

26 Sept 2008-13 Jan 2008 Admission 11

For many years the statue of Sir John Everett Millais, Bart., has stood behind the Tate Gallery in symbolic obscurity, but today there is a slight smile on its once neglected face. From the corner of one eye, Millais can now see visitors on their way to this compelling retrospective, the most comprehensive show of the artists work since his death. But Millais would be equally taken by the Tate's new neighbour, the Chelsea School of Art and Design, and its daily congregation of pretty students. He was, after all, the man who when asked to comment on a good show of Old Masters', replied, 'I'd rather see the young mistresses.'

That story was told by Touise Jopling, and Millais' portrait of her is just one of the fine portraits of women in this exhibition. Millais' women are stylish, noble in adversity, or, more usually, just plain sexy and a thread of continuity in the work of an artist who frequently reinvented himself.

In fact, his changes of style make it easy to overlook how many memorable nineteenth-century British paintings are by Millais. Rather in the way Hamlet is full of quotations, this show is a succession of familiar works. There's Gladstone (and Millais finds so much life in the G.O.M.'s eyes), the notorious Bubbles, The Princes in the Tower, The Boyhood of Raleigh, The Black Brunswicker, plus Ophelia and all those Pre-Raphaelite classics whose titles are so forgettable but which once actually seen are themselves never forgotten.

Four of those early works stand out. Isabella is a strange, weird take on medieval Italy. Two doomed lovers sit at table surrounded by vicious relatives, the most repulsive of whom sticks an elongated white-hosed muscly leg straight across the picture. It is nastiness personified. Next door, Christ in the House of his Parents was equally shocking to taste then and now. Inspired by a sermon of Dr Pusey, Millais painted the incarnate Word of God not in heroic splendour but as an ordinary boy; and he anticipated so much modern cathedral art by making Mary a working mother, plain and worn. It is a good example of how Millais fuses the real with the symbolic in a quasi-sacramental way.

The third of these early works, Mariana also has a religious theme, the confused relationship between Christian duty and erotic longing. Here a woman stands in a room furnished according to the best High Church taste. But her off-guard pose and the gorgeous blue dress which sheathes her backside are sensual in a way Beyonce Knowles could only dream of. This is one of a series of restrainedly provocative women, the high point of whom is the 1857 Sophie Gray.

Less heated but even more wonderfully coloured is The Blind Girl, considered by Sickert to be one of the great masterpieces. Tike much of Millais' work, this painting has suffered from poor reproductions and the assumption that it is sentimental. The only response to that is to go and see it. The colour is breathtaking and the genuine pathos can easily catch out the unwary.

These four paintings are part of any answer to the accusations of kitsch and story-telling which helped do for Millais' reputation. And, yes, the 'fancy pictures' of children can be sick-making. But those pictures are not just Victorian kitsch, for with them Millais taps into a tradition which goes back to Rousseau's reaction against the Enlightenment, and which reaches forward to today's tabloids. And his adolescents are often remarkable.

Again, it is true that the grand narrative pictures are uneven, but look at the woman's dress in The Black Brunswicker. And anyway, why is story-telling so wrong? Doesn't Michelangelo tell a story in the Sistine Chapel? Of course, the artists and critics who followed Millais had little time for story-telling and this explains Millais' recent standing. Pathos, narrative and beautiful women (especially) do not feature in doctrinaire modernism. What Millais did so well became unfashionable and his painterly qualities were ignored.

Yet an artist admired by Van Gogh and Dali surely deserves a visit.

Owen Higgs is the Vicar ofPetts Wood

 

books

THE ENGLISH CARDINALS

Nicholas Schofield and Gerard Skinner

Family Publications, 304pp, hbk 9781871217650, 19.50

H.M. the Queen is said to have referred to the late Basil Hume as 'my Cardinal'; and only a few days before his death in 1999 she invested him with the Order of Merit: a mark of singular distinction and favour that lay in her gift. It is a measure of how far the Catholic Church has gained in confidence, strength and approval in England since the days of penal and discriminatory legislation (although there are still some laws that disfigure the statute book) and the controversy surrounding the restitution of the hierarchy in 1850. It is a long way from Cardinal Wiseman's triumphalist blast 'Extra Portam Flaminian ('Out of the Flaminian Gate') to Cardinal Hume's assured footsteps in the corridors of power.

But, as this book reminds us, the Queen's favour to Cardinal Hume and her visit to Westminster Cathedral for a celebration of Vespers in 1995 had been preceded, and perhaps outdone, by the attendance of King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and the Prince of Wales (later King George V) at a Requiem Mass held at St James', Spanish Place for the assassinated King of Portugal. King George VI, perhaps spurred on by his Scottish Episcopalian wife, Queen Elizabeth, paid for a new tomb for Cardinal York (King Henry IX) in 1938.

Fascinating snippets like these pepper the pages of this book and provide its main attraction. Each English cardinal is given a potted biography, from Robert Pullen (c.1146), commonly regarded as England's first cardinal, to Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. There is also a note on the titular church in Rome to which the cardinal is attached. Historical material is scanty for some of the early cardinals, but good use is made of what there is and where telling material exists it has been generously quoted. As records become more substantial and varied, the entries become longer. However, the biographies remain, by and large, career highlights and they sometimes feel like notes for an essay. Newman, perhaps inevitably, suffers most from this approach, but there is ample compensation from the inclusion of the whole of his Bigli-etto speech on his being made a cardinal. It reads with enormous relevance to our own day and condition in the Church. Too rarely do the biographies blossom into considered portraits or bring the subjects to life.

England's only Pope, Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear), was an effective and energetic missionary in Scandinavia before his elevation to the papal throne. Stephen Langton is partly credited with introducing the elevation of the Host and chalice during the Canon of the Mass. Robert Curzon (c. 1219) is the only English cardinal to die on the battlefield. There were four Dominican scholar cardinals in the Middle Ages from England. To maintain the monastic balance, there have been four Benedictine cardinals, two in the fourteenth century (Simon Langham and Adam Easton) and two in the twentieth century (Francis Gasquet, whose scholarship comes in for a drubbing in a quotation from his monastic brother, Dom David Knowles: 'towards the end of his life Gas-quet's capacity for carelessness amounted almost to genius') and Basil Hume.

Cardinals in the Middle Ages often combined scholarship, pastoral zeal and the naked exercise of political power with generous charity and building on a grand scale which altered the landscape of England and the urban skyline. If the complicated history of the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudors is only lightly sketched, the powerful personalities of Henry Beaufort, Thomas Bourchier and Thomas Wolsey are ably outlined. In passing, the anti-Pope John XXIII was the only occupant of Peters Chair to be educated at Oxford. It is also almost comforting to know that there was a Cardinal Bishop of Hereford in Adrian Castelleri, who never set foot in his diocese and achieved a similar feat on his translation to Bath and Wells: glory days.

It is good to know that Charles Bain-bridge (1462/3-1514) was 'the quintessential Cardinal of Renaissance Rome - a worldly prelate who spent most of his last years on the battlefield and died at the hands of a poisoner, probably in the pay of his arch-rival, the Bishop of Worcester.' How unlike the home lives of our own dear bishops.

Reginald Pole and Philip Thomas Howard begin a period of thinning out of English cardinals as the Elizabethan Settlement and the penal laws exerted their grip. The last of the Stuarts, Henry Stuart, Cardinal York provides a romantic interlude, but is the victim of a cruel snatch of obiter dicta from Pope Benedict XIV: 'if all the Stuarts were as boring as he, no wonder the English drove them out.' The nearest he came to his earthly kingdom was on board Nelson's flagship, HMS Vanguard, which evacuated him from Rome to Sicily ahead of Napoleon's invading army. Thomas Weld was ordained priest when a widower and was raised to the purple (although the cardinals wear red) to become a distinctive figure in Rome in the company of his grandchildren. And so to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and sketches of cardinals from Wiseman to Murphy O'Connor: all safe and solid accounts. The account of Cardinal Merry del Val is too safe and solid and underplays this sophisticated, fascinating and smooth curial operator.

The book falls slightly uneasily between solid and serious scholarship and historical anecdote. It never quite shakes off its almost hagiographical and reverential tone. It is not scholarly enough to satisfy the historian, nor sharp and amusing enough to attract and entertain a wider audience. It is deferential history written from within the tent. Where it scores highly, however, is in the excellent choice of illustrations and photographs, all of which are attractively reproduced.

Veronica Canning

 

JOHN STAINER, A LIFE IN MUSIC

Jeremy Dibble

Boydell Press, hbk, 362pp

978 184383297 3, 30

The name of Jeremy Dibble will need no introduction to those who have an interest in English music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His magnificent studies of Sir Hubert Parry and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford have placed him in the front rank of musical biographers. Now the Professor of Music at Durham puts us

further in his debt with a much-needed biography of Sir John Stainer which surpasses all previous work on that musician. It is a commonplace that even the most popular composers tend to suffer a dramatic decline in popularity following their death. John Stainer suffered more than most in this respect, the critical fraternity of the last century using his name as a symbol for everything they wished to deride by the easy means of calling it 'Victorian. Stainer has had the last laugh, though. The rediscovery of Victorian culture in our time, and the accompanying renewed respect for it, has extended to the music of that era. Stainer's cantata The Crucifixion, whose very mention was once calculated to curl the lip of scorn among the musically fastidious, is now honoured for its real achievement, and much recorded.

Yet, as Professor Dibble reminds us, Stainer was far more than the composer of a single famous work. His musicianship extended over a wide range. His talent was early recognized by Sir John Goss and Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, and he succeeded the former as organist to St Paul's Cathedral when still a young man. Supported by the legendary Chapter led by Dean Church, he achieved a revolution in the musical standard of the Cathedral, leaving the post chiefly because of failing eyesight. He was also made Professor of Music at Oxford, where his wide historical knowledge of music, and his employment of new staff in the music faculty, led to a transformation in the quality of teaching for the music degree. Then there were his compositions. (Where did the eminent Victorians find their energy?)

Professor Dibble gives us a diligently researched account of Stainer's life, and an equally careful examination of his music. Some readers may wish to do a little judicious skipping over the technical descriptions of the compositions, but this will not detract from the value of the book. What comes across very clearly in the work is that while Stainer was firm in the defence of musical professionalism and high standards, he was a genuinely attractive man, modest, kindly, and devoted to his wife and children. More than that, he was truly devout, a firm disciple of the Tractarians, and a regular worshipper at St Cross Church in Oxford, where he was a churchwarden and where he is buried. His sudden death while holidaying abroad was a painful loss to British musical life.

The book is published by Boydell, and it is a handsome volume. One does not object to paying extra for a book which it is such a delight to handle. So excellent is the production of the work that it is quite startling when a slip occurs such as the garbled ending to a sentence on p. 62.

Professor Dibbles command of detail in anything touching Stainers life and musical achievements is self-evident, as is his impressive knowledge of the music of Stainers era. Only on matters relating to the Tractarians does he falter. It is implied incorrectly on p. 137 that Henry Parry Liddon, who played a not inconsiderable part in Stainer's history, preached regularly in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in the late 1860s. Likewise, we are told on p. 148 that his legendary sermons in St Paul's were 'largely orthodox in theology', a statement which must have the good Dr Liddon's wholly orthodox bones stirring uneasily in the crypt of that Cathedral. More surprising still, we are informed on p. 39 that the Tracts for the Times were sermons delivered in the University Church by Newman, Keble and Pusey They were not.

This book enables us at last to get the measure of Stainer. While not blind to his limitations, the author draws our attention repeatedly to Stainer's accomplishments, pointing out how adventurous a

composer he could be, and reminding us of how much of his output remains to be rediscovered.

 

Barry A. Orford

VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE

Diversity and Invention James Stevens Curl

Spire Books, 636pp, hbk 978 1904965 06, 69.95

This book is in every way a weighty volume; not least in avoirdupois. It weighs in at 5lbs on the bathroom scales and you will need a sturdy coffee table or reinforced shelving to store it. Further, it is weighty in price at 69.95, but it is worth every penny and can fairly be described as a bargain at the price. It is a magnificent, major achievement of scholarship and learning, written with grace and authority. It is the distillation of a life's work, and like all the best of intellectual endeavour it is open and available to all, scholar and general reader alike. For once a publisher's blurb is accurate when it tells us that the book displays an 'acerbic wit, intellectual curiosity and fluency of expression which 'remain undimmed' in James Stevens Curl's eighth decade.

James Stevens Curl is one of the most distinguished and most consistently readable of architectural historians. He has a string of significant books to his credit, but few, if any, surpass this magisterial survey of Victorian architecture, civic, domestic and ecclesiastic. He does not claim this to be a complete nor an exhaustive study. There are enough Victorian buildings omitted for several further volumes. Here he offers a representative selection of important buildings, judiciously chosen, which capture the age in vivid detail. He is surely overly modest when he describes his work as a 'mere introduction: it is much more than that. It is an indispens-I I able guide, a definitive companion for anyone interested in the art and culture of the Victorian Age.

Professor Curl prefaces each chapter with stimulating and apt quotations which set each section in context and chart the changing social and cultural background. He prefaces the whole book with words of John Ruskin, the most celebrated and influential of nineteenth-century critics and cultural commentators. He wrote: When we build, let us think that we build for ever.' That is a statement of a continuing artistic confidence and integrity but one that is not always borne out. The sad truth is that buildings last longer than taste. Of course, they can last long enough so that they come back into fashion and can be rescued from a period of neglect and scorn. Some, however, do not last long enough to enjoy a new lease of life and are destroyed, bulldozered by the latest barbarians, victims of a ruthless modernity.

In his bracing preface, Professor Curl writes with feeling about the devastation wrought to Victorian buildings in the twentieth century. The threat came less from Hitler's bombs than from the ever more destructive urban planners who succeeded by their philistinism in eroding vast tracts of our Victorian architectural heritage. Victorian architecture and buildings suffered from a quasi-egalitarian backlash against the confident, imperial vision of the nineteenth century. The self-confidence, industrial assertiveness and economic liberalism pre-eminent in the nineteenth century was offensive to the modernists who fashioned a revolution in aesthetics and fashion, a dislocation of sensibility, the consequences of which are still with us. In modernism, so perniciously persuasive in so many fields of artistic endeavour, there lay a deeply felt ideological objection to Victorian architecture and the values it was seen to enshrine and to proclaim.

Thankfully, Professor Curl is no respecter of persons. He lambasts CM. Trevelyan, the eminent historian and man of letters, establishment insider, as the quintessential voice of received opinion. Professor Curl's preface, in its assured epigrammatic persuasive force, rescues Victorian architecture from ill-informed prejudice, misconceptions, gross ignorance, untutored perceptions, populist taste and haut en has philistinism: of all of which he is suitably scornful. He precisely identifies and locates the problem: 'International Modernism was more like a religion...and woe betide those who did not conform to its rigidities or swallow its tenets.' The modernist architectural movement was Stalinist in its ideological grip, imposing a philosophical straitjacket, stifling opposition voices, dismissing those with the temerity to see value in Victorian architecture to an aesthetic Gulag. Consider the sustained spat between that great defender of the Victorian, John Betjeman, and the modernist Nikolas Pevsner. The hallmarks of the modernist movement were its social engineering and its dehumanizing philosophy of the collective rather than of the organic community. Why are there so many social problems, so much social dislocation in mid-twentieth-century conurbations? Circumspicere.

As well as the confidence shown in the nineteenth-century buildings, there was also a nobility in their design and execution: but nobility is not a quality recognized or valued nowadays in these democratic times. Victorian architecture in its grace, colour, humanity, beauty and ability to inspire awe and wonder rose to the occasion of man's aspirations and transports us beyond the brutal functionalism of the modernist movement and its deliberate desire to scar the landscape or city-scape. Victorian architecture at its highest achievement, whether civic, domestic or ecclesiastic, shows us something beyond itself and something beyond ourselves: we should recognize it as the divine.

Of course, not all Victorian architecture achieved these heights all the time; it is not always at its unqualified best. Mistakes were made, incongruities and unhappy conjunctions are to be found, but Victorian architecture, in its diversity and innovation, is rarely dull, rarely without interest, even if on occasion it can seem a tad pedestrian. There is nothing as 'dehumanized or as alien and ugly as many buildings erected after 1945.'

In this book is the Victorian age in all its architectural glory. The pages almost glow. The buildings are described with zest and the illustrations are perfection, wonderfully reproduced in sharp and clear definition. The photographs, both historic and recent, many from Professor Curl's own collection, lavishly complement the text. They form a constantly fascinating and instructive retrospective. There is a detailed critical apparatus to satisfy the scholarly reader, an exhaustive and detailed index and a text accessible to all. The whole production is another triumph for Spire Books, the most meticulous and conscientious of architectural publishers, who have produced a suc-

cession of simply beautiful books, works of art in themselves.

But, alas and alack, even Homer nods. In a good, succinct summary of ritualism and its architectural offspring, that great, good and noble priest Fr Mackonochie is given as his Christian name Arthur rather than Alexander. I suspect that Fr Alexander Heriot Mackonochie would forgive such a slip in such a cause.

John Grainger

 

RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH

Essays in Honour of the

Rt Revd David Thomas,

Provincial Assistant Bishop in Wales

Edited by Jeffrey Gainer & Andrew Holmes

Credo Cymru, 144pp, pbk

127 Saunders Way, Derwen Fawr, Swansea SA2 8BJ

978 0 9556735 0 4, 8

On 21 December 2006, David Thomas celebrated the tenth anniversary of his consecration as the Provincial Assistant Bishop in the Church in Wales. In those ten years he has provided pastoral guidance and sacramental ministrations to those parishes and people who do not accept the ordination of women to the presbyter-ate. He has had a distinguished career as Tutor and Chaplain at St Michael's College, Llandaff; Vice Principal and then Principal of St Stephen's House, Oxford; Vicar of Chepstow; and Vicar of Newton, until, following in his father's footsteps, he became a bishop. In difficult circumstances, in uncharted waters, and without some of the advantages of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors in England, he has fulfilled a valuable and valued position in the Church. He has combined scholarship with priestly, pastoral and episcopal responsibility. The book opens with an affectionate tribute.

Gratitude has been expressed in this collection of essays presented in his honour, a slim volume,' say the editors, which 'in no way reflects the stature of the man whom it is intended to honour.' The contributors were asked to write on topics that interested them that might also be of interest to Bishop David and to a wider audience. Given that brief, this is a more discursive and diffuse Festschrift than usual; but none the worse for that.

Not surprisingly, four of the eight contributions are rooted in the nineteenth century. John Boneham writes about the Oxford Movement without Newman and shows that his conversion to Rome was not the shattering blow that it has been seen to be, not least by Richard Church. Rather, the Movement spread more widely in parishes as it entered its Ritualist phase. He also argues that although Keble was never much concerned with ritual and Pusey came to its defence late, first wearing a chasuble in 1874; Newman, while an Anglican, was responsible 'for some modest ritual innovations and made no attempt to restrain his curate, J. R. Bloxham.' There were other Tractarians, beyond the triumvirate, who showed Ritualist tendencies. Not only was ritual recovery a natural progression from the Catholic principles of the Tractarians and their doctrinal teaching, but it can be seen as a parallel development.

Luke Irvine-Capel contributes an impressive, learned and considered essay on how Anglican theology can be located and rooted in the monastic inheritance and tradition. His article shows wide reading and he illuminates work by J.N. Figgis and Jean Leclerq osb; on the latter being particularly interesting and persuasive. He circumvents the dissolution of the monasteries which, prima facie, might be supposed to have undermined, if not destroyed, the monastic tradition by locating in the Book of Common Prayer 'the theology and spirituality of the monastic life,' which was 'made available to the Anglican faithful.' He uses Lancelot Andrewes as an example of the sound learning and the tradition of the lectio divina that characterized the monastic tradition and fed into the Oxford Movement.

The Bampton Lectures of Henry Parry Liddon on the divinity of Christ, significant in their day and still worth reading today, are considered by Peter Russell Jones, who is a friendly guide through the eight lectures, emphasizing that which is still useful and pointing out, fairly, what might seem of more limited use to us now. He sees an evangelistic fervour in the closing pages of Liddon's course of sermons and praises the exposition and eloquent defence of Catholic orthodoxy in accordance with the Chalcedonian definition, and the primacy Liddon places on Scripture.

An up-and-coming scholar, Serenhedd James, offers a lively and assertive piece on Cardinal Wisemans return to London in the wake of his provocative Pastoral Letter, From Without the Flaminian Gate. Mr James offers generous quotations from 'the single greatest mistake of [Wisemans] life.' It is easy to see now how such extravagance of language and sentiment, even in the nineteenth century, would have created a stir. He was made to suffer for his 'injudiciously exultant' tone by the atavistic Protestantism, or, perhaps, more accurately, endemic anti-Catholicism that still seized the English consciousness. He was rarely in a position thereafter to engage directly in political affairs; these had to be undertaken by other bishops. Not all fault lay with Wiseman. He was wise enough to realize his mistake and to endeavour to make amends and did not stand on his dignity, although he had a thorough and exuberant understanding of all the rights and privileges that went with his archiepiscopal position and his red hat.

Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister, was also guilty of 'the most foolish act of an otherwise distinguished political career' when he allowed his crudely disobliging letter to the Bishop of Durham to be made public. He not only criticized the Roman Church for its 'pretension to supremacy over the realm of England,' but took a calculatedly offensive side-swipe at the Tractarians, those 'unworthy sons of the Church of England [and their] mummeries of superstition.' Mr James brings the episode to vivid life and is wise in his judgements as he brings his engaging piece to its conclusion with Newman's evocation of a 'Second Spring' for the Catholic Church. Both Fr Irvine-Capel and Mr James have passed through Oxford University and Pusey House but they might be among the first to agree that I would not offer praise where I did not think it due.

The other essays in this book cover a study of'The Holy Liturgy' in Thomas Deacon's A Compleat Collection of Devotions, which is an excellent piece by Philip Wyn Davies which fleshes out the aims of the Nonjurors and rescues them from the epithet applied to Jacobites: 'romantic but wrong.' One of the editors, Jeffrey Gainer, brings out some fascinating links between Brittany and Wales in a model essay. It is instructive and tells most of us, I suspect, something of which we were totally unaware. It is splendidly achieved. The other editor, Andrew Holmes, writes about the priest and psychotherapy. I admit my heart sank. My innate prejudices and instinctive entrenched suspicions kicked in with a vengeance. But how wrong I was. It is a well-observed and cogently expressed defence of a tradition of priestly pastoral care and insight that is too little valued, but it brings fresh and invigorating insights to its task. It should be required reading. It reminded me that some years ago a friend of mine was suffering from depression and decided to see a psychiatrist. His parish priest, also a good friend of mine, went with him for support. After the consultation, my friend was not impressed: 'He did not tell me anything you have not already said, Father.' 'Well, that is because I have two thousand years of experience behind me, and I come free,' said Fr John Dudley.

Martin Williams brings the volume to a polished conclusion with a consideration of The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare's more problematic plays nowadays. Is it a chauvinist romp or a sustained essay in irony? Fr Augustine Baker was a contemporary of the Bard of Avon, a Welsh-speaking Welshman who was one of the last Benedictines, and his teachings were gathered in Sancta Sophia. The texts are compared as two texts springing from 'a world of intellectual and spiritual turmoil' and Fr Williams looks to a contemporary spiritual writer in Augustine Baker to illumine his search for a spiritual reading of the Shakespearean play. It is a fascinating piece of close textual reading which provides insights at once spiritual and literary. It is a worthy contribution to a worthy exercise.

William Davage is Custodian of the Library, Pusey House, Oxford

 

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

Steven Croft

DLT, 254pp, pbk 023252680X,9.95

How do you write something that could help people in a post-Christian culture get intrigued by something of the wonder of Christianity? Or for that matter excite committed Christians with new aspects of something as familiar as the Christmas celebration?

Archbishops' Missioner Steven Croft seems to have worked the trickin an appealing story set in the run up to Christmas. With shades of Narnia and Harry Potter the heroes step out of time to make friends in another world. Through them their imagination is fired to consider the freeing of captives, forgiveness, the overcoming of death and their own inadequacies. Meanwhile as days run to Christmas in the story frayed relationships are attended to as people get a touch of inner transformation as the good news of Christ becomes real to them.

At one level it is an engaging story of a family in which members struggle with divided loyalties, unexpected pregnancy, children falling out with their teachers and granddad's health crisis. At another level it is a fantasy but if you know the riches of the Bible and Christian tradition the fantasy is recognized as out of this world in the profoundest of senses. The Advent Calendar is a powerful reminder of Christian basics which puts Mary central in weaving the joys and sorrows of life with those of her Son.

Like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code it has a good story line moving forward through pursuit of codes. Unlike Da Vinci Code it woos its readers for and not against Christianity. The Archbishops are fortunate to have a mission officer capable of a deep, thoughtful 'sell' through his evident skills as a writer and novelist.

John Twisleton is Canon Missioner of Chichester Diocese

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