Tuesday, June 19, 2012

John Rogers Herbert and St. Thomas More

Thanks to this blog, I have discovered John Rogers Herbert of the Royal Academy, who depicted the famous episode of St. Thomas More standing at the window of his cell in the Tower of London on May 4, 1535 and seeing the five protomartyrs of the English Reformation led out to Tyburn and their brutal executions:

[His daughter] Margaret visited him on May 4 for the last time, and from the window of his cell they watched three Carthusian priors and one Bridgittine [plus the parish priest John Haile], who would not acknowledge a civil supremacy over the Church, go to their execution. "Lo, dost thou not see, Meg," he said, "that these blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage? . . .Whereas thy silly father, Meg, that like a most wicked caitiff hath passed the whole course of his miserable life most sinfully, God, thinking him not worthy so soon to come to that eternal felicity, leaving him here yet still in the world, further to be plagued and turmoiled with misery." A few days later Cromwell with other officials questioned him again and taunted him for his silence. "I have not," he said gently, "been a man of such holy living as I might be bold to offer myself to death, lest God for my presumption might suffer me to fall."

Since three more of the Carthusians, the successors in leadership to St. John Houghton and his companions, were executed on this date in 1535, it seems appropriate to remember how much the Carthusians influenced St. Thomas More:

More was seriously perplexed as to his vocation. He was strongly attracted by the austere life of the Carthusian monks, and had some leaning too towards the Friars Minor of the Observance; but there seemed to be no real call to either the monastic life or the secular priesthood. Though he remained a man of the world, he kept throughout life certain ascetic practices; for many years he wore a hair shirt next his skin, and followed the rules of Church discipline for Fridays and vigils; every day he assisted at a Mass and recited the Little Office of Our Lady.

John Rogers Herbert was influenced by his friend A.W. Pugin to convert to Catholicism in 1840, and from then on, Catholic and religious subjects dominated his ouevre:

Herbert had been childhood friends with architect A.W. Pugin, and the two men were very close. Pugin, who was co-architect for the New Palace of Westminster, was a convert to Catholicism and had an influence on Herbert's decision to join the Catholic Church, which happened around 1840. It was in 1840 that Herbert painted his first 'Catholic' picture, Boar Hunters and Pilgrims of the 15th Century Receiving Refreshments at the Gate of a Convent. Herbert's conversion to the Catholic faith is a defining point in his career. His art gains a deeper purpose and becomes much more personal.

When joining the Catholic church creates a change in an artist's creative output, I think that's evidence of true dedication and devotion.

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