The Hospitality of Abraham

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Altarpiece, Church of The Most Holy Trinity, Oxford Road, Reading.

Genesis 18: 1-16


1. AND the LORD appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2. And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
3. And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I prey thee, from thy servant:
4. Let a little water, I prey thee, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
5. And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes upon the hearth,
7. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.8. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
9. And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
10. And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.
11. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
12. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
13. And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
14. Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
15. Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.
16. And the men rose up from thence and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.

hallowing

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commission

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One idea came from the representation of the story in San Vitale, Ravenna, c 540 AD where the angels appear like men, without wings, and the loaves have crosses.

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Another came from a boss in Norwich Catherdral, from an interpretation of the story where the spectator takes the place of Abraham - seeing an Angel at his table. The table itself has a white cloth like the Laudian frontal alter cloth used in The Church of England, inviting comparisons between the two tables.

photo courtesy of  Julia Hedgecoe

 

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People's faces were an inspiration. Rowan was a graphic design student with a saturday job in a local greengrocer's. He kindly agreed to model for an angel
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A full size paper cartoon was used to try the composition in situ. Smart braces were worn by Fr Card-Reynolds.

The New Altarpiece of the Holy Trinity as The Hospitality of Abraham

From the service book for the first service with the painting installed

When the Mother Church of Western Christendom, Santa Maria Meggiore in Rome,
came to be adorned by the emperor in c.420.AD he placed into the nave a large mosaic
of the Holy Trinity as the Hospitality of Abraham. This was one of the first times in Christian art that the Trinity had been represented. The new altarpiece in the Holy Name Chapel deliberately recalls these most ancient forms of iconography and the recollection of Santa Maria Meggiore in particular denotes the strong commitment to ecumenism and Christian unity that is the special vocation of our parish. 

The story of the Hospitality is drawn from Genesis 18 and tells of a mystical meeting between Abraham and the Triune God. It is a story rich in meaning and is particularly appropriate to be figured at an altar for it reminds us of the blessing that we receive when we encounter the Trinity at the table of His lavish hospitality. 
It would be wrong to say that the painting is to be read in a one certain way.

It can be understood on many levels. You will see the unity of the Trinity expressed
in the similar heights of the figures and if you look carefully you discover that their robes seem to weave into each other. The gestures of the hands are significant. Together the hands trace the shape of a triangle, the symbolic form of the Trinity. The central figure holds His hands as the priest does at the celebration of the mass. The other figures gesture welcome and blessing. One the table are the differing foods as described in Genesis. The perspective of the tabletop is tipped forward so we gain a sense of sharing the extravagant meal. Overhead a flock of migrating birds fly past. This recalls a medieval artist devise to show the uniqueness of the event. As the birds fly in migration just once a year, so the event we see was only to be seen once. Below the table is a cock and hen sparrow, representative of the male and female in creation. The three faces tell their own stories and are actual portraits. Above all is the vivid blue of heaven. The simplicity of the image speaks of the unity of the Trinity

Like Abraham and Sarah we too can encounter God, often unexpectedly, and when we
do it requires of us a joyful willingness to share God's great generosity and hospitality.

Fr Card-Reynolds

Paintings and prints available. For information, images and all other enquiries please contact

Email: st@stephentaylorpaintings.com

Phone: +44 (0)1353 667014

Letter: Coach House, 7 Douglas Court, Ely, Cambs, CB7 4SE, UK

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