You may have read that John Ruskin was born 200 years ago this week. Ruskin was educated in Camberwell and moved opposite to what is now Ruskin Park in 1843. There are also local schools and streets named after the great man – and we have a very special connection to him here at St Giles’ too…
As well as being the most influential art critic of the Victorian era (Ruskin almost singlehandedly turned around the legacy of the artist J. M. W. Turner) he was a draughtsman, art patron and water-colourist. He was a prolific writer and wrote on subjects such as geology, ornithology, education, botany, myths, architecture and political economy. He even found time to write travel guides.
Ruskin was appalled about the way the industrial revolution was dehumanising workers and was concerned about the effect industrialisation was having on the environment. Using lectures and magazine articles, he encouraged workers to improve their lives through self-education. He believed that everyone was capable of developing their own creativity and founded a drawing school in Oxford, now known as The Ruskin School of Art.
It’s appropriate that Camberwell is now home to UAL: Camberwell College of Arts and that Camberwell Arts Festival has been flourishing since 1994. And at St Giles’, our beautiful stained glass East window was designed by John Ruskin in 1844 and continues to be enjoyed to this day.
If you happened to be walking past St Giles’ on a Saturday in mid-December, you might have been surprised to hear the sound of over 400 people singing Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ with the church organ. You might have heard Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ as well or even Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree’ along with many other pop classics through the course of the evening.
Of course, it could only have been ‘Organoke’, our joyful ‘alternative carol service’. Our ‘authentic’ carol service took place the very next evening, and this year it was Victorian-themed. The church looked splendid, bedecked with holly and ivy, and we also welcomed a very special guest..
‘Boris’ the wild boar cake was carried into church as the choir sang the boar’s head carol, which dates back to the 15th century. Our church was packed again and there was a wonderful atmospheric as carols were sung by candlelight. ‘Boris’ was a Victoria sponge cake covered in chocolate – he was very tasty indeed!
After all the excitement, ‘Music for the Winter Solstice’ was our way of providing a short escape from the Christmas buzz. A meditative programme of mostly 21st Century organ music by candlelight was well attended and we hope to do something similar again next year – or perhaps even for the summer solstice in June.
Thank you to all who have helped us to make St Giles’ a very merry place in the run-up to Christmas. Best wishes to all in advance of the big day.
After four years of conflict, at a cost of more than 18 million lives and over 20 million casualties, the First World War came to an end at 11am on Monday, 11th November 1918. A century on, we know that this conflict wasn’t ‘the war to end all wars’. More was to come – as it always has done. Barely twenty years after the first, the Second World War brought more untold suffering on global scale.
Between the W.W.’s life and death struggles, now considered historical footnotes by some, continued as they had done long before. And arguably, in the second half of the 20th Century, the bloodletting stepped up a gear – some of it in the gaze of international scrutiny and condemnation; much of it conveniently forgotten. The pages of history document episodes which have each added names to the unfathomable list of those who have suffered and died as a result of humanity’s seemingly insatiable lust for conflict. Each Sunday, we continue to pray for those caught up in today’s conflicts around the world.
Whilst the war to end all wars did not result in the end of warfare itself, its global nature perhaps made the end of this particular episode the first opportunity for humanity to collectively pause for thought. The Rev David Railton’s idea that an unidentified British soldier should be buried with ceremony at Westminster Abbey ‘amongst Kings’ is just one example of how this war seemed to make the old presumptions seem preposterous. Perhaps humanity could yet glimpse the forever far-off dream of goodwill and peace on earth.
It was not to be. At least not in the lifetimes of those who were involved in the Great War. But just as the controversial Treaty of Versailles continues to silently shape our modern world, the echoes of music and stories from a century ago can still shape our future.
Please do come and listen to our two remembrance events, Music & Stories for a past century and Fauré’s Requiem on the 7th and 11th of November, respectively. Along with all the First World War commemorations taking place throughout the world, in their own way they help us to share our common humanity and our collective hope for the future, as those that lived to survive the Great War did a century ago.
When we fail to learn from the past.
Lord, have mercy.
When we let national and personal interests blind us to the suffering of the world.
Christ, have mercy.
When we forget the cost of the freedom we enjoy.
Lord, have mercy.