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Hallo again to all.

We were mesmerized by the news this week of the discovery, under the nave of Lichfield Cathedral, of the final burial place of St Chad and significant pieces of a shrine to him. An article in The Guardian (London) notes that

Any Anglo-Saxon figure sculpture is a rare survival, but the discovery of a virtually complete figure, albeit a broken one, with so much of its original painted surface intact, has astonished archaeologists

and continues on to explain that

The angel ... bears glowing witness to the understanding that the sober white and grey interiors of Europe's historic churches once blazed with colours as lavish as any fairground carousel.

Angel GabrielPhotograph of the Lichfield Angel by Shelley StratfordWe've toured ancient cathedrals and churches across the British Isles, and all of the sculpture and stone decoration that we've seen is stark, pure lifeless stone. This discovery of an 8th-century shrine whose stonework is painted vivid colours, wings a passionate red, reminds us that a reverence for the past need not be somber.

So many of the places that we go to feel a link with the past — museums, churchyards, old cathedrals, libraries — seem lifeless, somber, and oppressively silent. We sometimes feel overcome by the starkness, and miss the whole point of what we're looking at. We tend to forget that joy and a passion for life, song and dance, running and jumping, were as much part of that past as of the present. We visit these shrines for anamnesis, to amplify our visit to the past via physical objects that were in both times. This discovery of the painted angel makes us realize that we've been led somewhat astray; the life has drained out of those physical objects during the centuries that they waited for us. The paint itself can trigger an anamnestic reaction: we recall when seeing the Tutankhamun exhibit that the all-too-human imperfections in the paint gave us an immediate sense of the painter, millennia ago, applying it with a primitive brush. Sculpture is usually too perfect, or too weatherbeaten, to evoke that reaction.

Besides this painted angel, there is other evidence of life among God's Frozen Chosen. The forty children from the cathedral academy who sang exuberantly at their diocesan convention were too young to know that they're supposed to be quiet in church. And we saw reports that the annual Zydeco Mass on Shrove Tuesday at St Paul's Cathedral in San Diego, California included dancing in the aisles, with the bishop leading the dance. Perhaps your image of bishops being formal and somber is also in need of some adjustment.

It is now Lent, of course, and we're to be somber and penitential and not say 'alleluia'. But soon the Resurrection will bring Lent to an end. While reflecting on your mortality, don't forget your exuberant humanity. It's part of your link to your Anglican forebears.

(A closing note: Cynthia McFarland, managing editor of Anglicans Online, has just been diagnosed with cancer and has already had surgery to remove one tumour in her spine. She awaits further reports from her oncologist. Please join us in prayer for her speedy and complete recovery.)

See you next week.

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Last updated: 5 March 2006

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