Every Friday in Lent prayers are said at Fenwick Lawson’s powerfully moving Pietà in the Chapel of the Nine Altars at Durham Cathedral. The theme of the Pietà has been widely represented in both painting and sculpture since around the 13th century, being one of the most poignant visual expressions connected with the lives of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. On a literal level the dead Christ is shown brutalized and defeated. The face of the Virgin is haunting, spent of sorrow, bearing the weight of man’s fallibility. The flaws and cracks in the wood enhance the raw and emotional effect of the piece. And yet more is to be found here… one arm reaches out toward the mother, the vessel that gave human life to the incarnate God and subject of Christian worship, indicating regeneration and resurrection. At the root of Lawson’s sculpture is a deep spiritual calm, a looking past the suffering of the Passion to the promise of life from death and reconciliation with God.
Stephen Miller is an MA graduate in Christianity and the Arts of King’s College London (in collaboration with The National Gallery, London). He is a member of the Association of Art Historians and the Science & Religion Forum.