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Small Chapel at Harvington Hall

Small Chapel at Harvington Hall

I love this painted wall from Harvington Hall. What look like falling rose petals are actually drops of blood and water – a depiction of the blood and water that poured from Jesus’ side at his death.

A Roman soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to ensure that Jesus was dead, “Immediately blood and water flowed out.” (John 19, 34) Blood, a sign of his life, flows upon those standing beneath his cross. Water, which signifies the Spirit living within him, is poured out upon the world they represent. Death, far from ending his life, becomes the moment he shares his life. “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ.” (I John 5 and 6)

Blood we might expect at a crucifixion – but, from a medical point of view, the presence of water is surprising. The early believers would have lived in much closer proximity to birth and death, as would the Tudor builders and residents of Harvington Hall, than we do today. For them water and blood in close conjunction would be associated with childbirth – and so this report of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ would have led them to think of Jesus giving birth to the Spirit and to the Church, and even of him giving birth to creation as the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, as is described in the prologue to St John’s gospel. For more on this see The Kindness of God by Janet Martin Soskice.

Dame Julian (Click photo to see owner)

Dame Julian (Click photo to see owner)

Dame Julian of Norwich, who lived as an anchoress attached to a church in Norwich in the late 14th century wrote in the Revelations of Divine Love,

[Christ] our natural mother, our gracious mother, because he willed to become our mother in everything, took the ground for his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb…. Our high God, the sovereign wisdom of all, arrayed himself in this low place and made himself entirely ready in our poor flesh in order to do the service and the office of motherhood himself in all things. …. A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life. With all the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously. http://www.gloriana.nu/mother.htm

The wall painting looks like it could have been done by a member of the household at Harvington. It is a homely decoration that reflects the faith of the family; drops or petals of death and birth.

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