The Holy Night Statue in Manchester’s great cathedral -

Christmas Miscellany 2010

The Holy Night Statue, by the artist Josefina de Vasconcellos, who was in her eighties when this beautiful image was made.

The Holy Night Statue, by the artist Josefina de Vasconcellos, who was in her eighties when this beautiful image was made.

Mary Johnson is a frequent reader of the Old Galway page, and at times makes some good comments. She was not impressed at my description of the first ‘crib’ set up by St Francis of Assisi at Greccio, on a snowy December night in 1223, more than 780 years ago. She felt the description of the Virgin was as sweet as barley sugar. Instead she wrote about her visit to Manchester’s cathedral and Josefina de Vasconcellos’ moving sculpture. Here is what she had to say:

In a hollow dipping down from the ultra glamorous shopping centre in Manchester sits the gothic style Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys, and St George. The cathedral to consumerism towers over the Christian cathedral, but something in the weather-beaten stone, the noble bell tower and the graceful window panes arrests the eye and draws the gaze.

After a Sunday Eucharist Service in the Cathedral of St Mary, St Denys and St George, I wandered through the cathedral stopping at a sculpture, The Holy Night Statue by Josefina de Vasconcellos.

The sculpture is a representation of Mary, Joseph and the newly born Infant Jesus. Mary, her knees drawn up, half lies, half sits, in the crook of Joseph's left arm, leaning her back against a bale of hay.

She looks exhausted. Her hair hangs on her shoulders, drawn back from a high forehead by a thin fillet. The strong, beautiful, clear-featured tired face is drawn inexorably to the infant placed on her thigh. Her eyes are on a level with those of her baby. Though her face is tired and drawn, Mary's expression is one of wonder and awe. Here at last is the child she has carried and nourished from her own body since the Angel of the Lord told her she was to bear and give life to the Incarnate Word, the Messiah. She has laboured to bring the baby, to be called Jesus, into the world and now she, like all mothers, is filled with awe at the miracle of birth.

Joseph, a handsome young man with a strong nose and good chin, kneels beside his beautiful wife, one arm over her shoulders, drawing her head towards him in loving and grateful embrace. His right arm circles Mary's drawn up knees, the new baby in the crook of his right arm.

Joseph's eyes, too, are fixed upon the infant. His face is filled with relief at Mary's safe delivery, sorrow at the pain it has caused her, awe at this everyday miracle and a hint of worry at the responsibility of this new life.

Jesus is wrapped in a blanket. His eyes are scrunched up in sleep. The small button nose, plump cheeks, tiny mouth, chin, typical of the new infant, invite the gesture of touch. Gingerly I stroked the perfectly formed stone head, feeling the scalp veins through the tips of my fingers, then stroked the tiny hands.

Mary's feet rest on a sleeping lamb. The small body fits around her bare feet, warming, comforting. The lamb and the baby sleep, the fate of the lamb symbolic of the fate of the Infant Jesus. The lamb will be offered as a temple sacrifice. The Lamb of God will sacrifice himself for the salvation of men.

I tiptoed away; leaving the young parents Mary and Joseph to this most precious time with their Infant Jesus.

Mary Johnson ([email protected] )

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