No Jew or Anglican, American or Russian: Holding onto humanity through Art and Beauty
written by Peter Bradley
There is a beautiful stained glass in the small church of All Saints Tudeley in Kent. The east window at Tudeley is a memorial tribute to Sarah d'Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye. Sarah was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d'Avigdor-Goldsmid; at the time the family lived in a large Jacobean house which has now become a school which is situated nearby.
Sarah was fond of and quite talented at art, and when she and her mother were visiting Paris in 1961, they saw the design for Marc Chagall’s Hadassah windows and both were enthralled by them.
When Sarah died just two years later, using some of their own and some memorial money commissioned Chagall to design a memorial window for Sarah. This was quite an undertaking, Sarah’s father was an American Jew, her Mother, English Anglican, and Chagall a Russian Jew, who was fascinated with the ‘holy book’ as he called the Bible. Considering his Jewish background, it is speculated that Chagall had some difficulty depicting Jesus and the crucifixion.
At first Chagall was reluctant to take the commission but was eventually persuaded - and when in 1967 he arrived for the installation of the east window and saw entered the church, and saw the light he said, 'It's magnificent! I will do them all!”
During the next 15 years, Chagall designed all the remaining eleven windows, the chancel windows were finally installed in 1985, the year of Chagall's death at the age of 98. The Church is open each day for people to view the windows, asking for nothing more than reverence and a donation.
The trouble with racism, racial discrimination, racial injustice or however one wishes to name it, is that it is a rejection of the beauty of creation in its rainbow magnificence. What God made was good in its magical diversity. In the creation of women and men in God’s image, what was shared was not just aesthetic likeness; godlike creative potential was imparted too. Racism, in its institutional and individual manifestations, makes a mockery of this wonderous mystery. When it is transcended, humanity is freed to fulfil its original purpose, which is to be generous co-creators of wonders and marvels. I hope that the story below illustrates this simple truth well.