Dear Friends

The first notable ‘feast’ (ie Church festival) of February is, of course, Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (at Jerusalem). This normally takes place on 2 February but this year we shall celebrate it on 3 February, to coincide with our regular Family Communion service on the first Sunday of the month.

It is called Candlemas because the service starts (probably this year in the new parish rooms) with everyone being given a candle to carry into church, thus reflecting the words of the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, usually sung at Evensong. Sadly, we rarely have Evensong here at St Mary’s but, nevertheless, we shall say or sing the Nunc Dimittis at our 10.00am service, to recall the understanding that Jesus as the ‘light of the world’ was to be the ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’, and that he was presented, as Mary’s first-born son, in accordance with the requirements of the Jewish Law.

Many paintings have been executed on this subject over the centuries, notably by the brothers-in-law Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, who produced works which were almost identical, showing the Christ-child tightly swathed in bandages from neck to ankle, with no room to move his arms, as was the practice of the time. I believe that Bellini, the younger of the two, traced Mantegna’s painting to another canvas and thereafter produced his own rendition of the subject. A recent exhibition at the National Gallery in London indicated that the brothers-in-law often reproduced each others’ work. Mantegna, as the elder of the two, was highly respected, especially due to his capacity to innovate, but the general consensus is that Bellini, who was painting in Venice, whereas Mantegna was based in Mantua, eventually became the more talented. Several centuries prior to either of these artists, Giotto, painting in Padua during the late medieval period, made a fresco of the same subject, which startlingly prefigures the Renaissance style.

Why do I let myself go when writing about art in this way? Perhaps it is because, when we imagine these biblical scenes, we tend, subliminally, to take such old Masters as a pattern for our own meditations. Whatever the case, Candlemas offers us an opportunity to continue to celebrate Christmas for a little longer, at least in church!

Stephen