Lacrimosa I: “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too”

For the week running up to Christmas at 35 Chapel Walk we are holding an exhibition which focuses on the stories we hear about Bethlehem, 2000 years ago and in 2014. For most of us the events of Jesus’ birth and the current situation in the city are distant in time and space. All we have are the stories we hear; some are hopeful and some are heart-breaking.

The three pieces I have made for the show are based on an icon of Mary and Jesus from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Painting over this foundational image I have begun to dig deeper into how the stories I hear from Bethlehem impact my soul.

Here is the first painting:

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Lacrimosa I: “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too”

Oil, spray paint, gold leaf, nails on found board 80cmx60cm


The universe has few more violent acts to inflict on us than the separation of a mother from her child; be it through family circumstance, miscarriage or rocket shells fired onto a beach where boys play football. “A sword will pierce your own soul too” is what the prophet Simeon says to Mary when she takes her child to the temple (Luke2:35). So soon after Jesus’ birth the shadow of what is to come 33years later is already evident.

In this image red gloss paint explodes, vibrant as a firework with joyful loops of colour reminding me of a TV serial killer crime scene. It obscures the child and clods of paint hang on three hundred nails like blood clots.

And yet Mother Mary’s smile is serene and her gaze is calm. Perhaps she has found a deeper source of peace or maybe is in denial, misunderstanding the seriousness of the situation. Or could she be one more of the strong women putting on a brave face even though she knows that some wounds are too deep to be soothed with a simple “Let it be”.


These paintings will be on display at 35 Chapel Walk Gallery, Sheffield, S1 2PDfrom Tues 16th December – Christmas Eve

2 thoughts on “Lacrimosa I: “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too”

  1. Richard, what were your feelings as you were on the point of obliterating Jesus in his mother’s arms? and what were your feelings immediately after you had actually done it? In a nutshell, if it were me I think I would actually have found it extremely hard to bring myself to do it and then might well have desperately and immediately wanted to Un-Do what I had just done. How was it for you???

    • Thanks for this David,
      Each of these 3 paintings has tapped into a deep well of sadness for me – I’ve used the same icon for each painting but what has happened to each of them is very different. Painting for me is a form of prayer and meditation so I pay attention to those feelings you describe as I enter into the process.

      In some ways there was a sense of childish exuberance here – a kind of iconoclastic (literally) joy. The red gloss paint feels wonderful as it loops off the knife that I used to scoop out the paint pot.

      To stand back and consider ‘what have I done’ afterwards tapped into that sadness. but there is something about Mary’s calm constant presence that anchors the image in a place of peace rather than chaos (for me anyway). Mary doesn’t occupy a significant place in the Christian tradition I’m from but I’m beginning to see the appeal of taking her more seriously.

      I was most surprised at how affected I was by hammering the nails, expecting a routine task the effort, and vibration of the metal, my fingers getting grey from handling the iron and the rhythmic action all felt like prayer. Hammering the nails was for me a lament and a sacrament.

      I’ll post the other two images next week so you can see what happened to them too.


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