Archbishop Miller blesses reproduction of a legendary multi-panel Catholic painting
By Nathan Rumohr
A copy of one of greatest works of art in the Catholic Church is now accessible to Vancouver Catholics at Sts. Joachim and Ann Church in the Aldergrove area of Langley.
Pastor Father William Ashley wanted something special to commemorate his parish's 10th anniversary, so he looked to the art world. For the occasion he acquired a reproduction of Jan van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, blessed the multi-panelled painting, along with two accompanying portraits of St. Joachim and St. Ann, Aug. 12 at the anniversary Mass.
"It gives me great pleasure to bless this magnificent reproduction of one of the most beautiful theological masterpieces of Western art," Archbishop Miller noted.
The archbishop said it is important the Church manifest beauty, which he said is shown by the Ghent altarpiece. "By beauty I don't mean luxuriousness or, God forbid, ostentation," he said, "but a beauty that calls the human spirit to be able to see the beauty of God."
Archbishop Miller called the Ghent altarpiece "one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art." He saw the original at St. Bavo's Cathedral in Belgium once as a seminarian and later while he lived in Rome.
The archbishop explained the features of van Eyck's work. He said the realism of the painting was astonishing. "This was one of the first oil paintings ever produced." He also marvelled at the detail van Eyck put into each panel.
He explained each panel and its meaning. The centre top panel has a man in a red robe seated at a throne who Archbishop Miller said could be either Jesus or God the Father. He joked that it is up to us to find the answer by meditating about the piece.
The Ghent piece, Archbishop Miller added, highlights the colour red. It is depicted on the robe of the man in the top panel and it is seen in the lower centre panel on an altar where a lamb (representing Christ) spills blood into a chalice. This, he said, was painted to represent the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist.
Archbishop Miller said he hoped parishioners would view the Ghent altarpiece in the coming months, calling the work of art "part of our Catholic tradition."
Father Ashley said he was inspired to obtain the painting after reading a feature about it in the National Post. He thanked parishioner Bob Moore and his late wife Juliette for making a generous donation which made the purchase possible.
"I never thought we could afford (the paintings)," Father Ashley told The B.C. Catholic. "Then Bob came to me and wanted to donate something to the parish."
Father Ashley said the Ghent altarpiece has received positive reviews from parishioners, who have told him the painting is a tremendous aid in prayer. "This is what all sacred art is meant to be."