Thursday, June 05, 2014

Wolsey`s Angels

Benedetto da Rovezzano (1474-1554)
Bronze candle-bearing angels
"The Wolsey Angels"
C. 1524-9
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is trying to raise £ 5 million to buy and keep together a set of 4 bronze angels called "The Wolsey Angels"

They were commissioned by Cardinal Wolsey as ornaments for his tomb

Wolsey (1473– 29 November 1530) statesman and Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor fell out of favour in 1530 and died shortly thereafter

His disgrace and downfall came because he could not secure a Papal divorce for his master

The angels never did adorn his tomb. 

He has no memorial and his efforts at securing eternal fame and remembrance were set at naught.

The bronze angels were then seized by Henry VIII for his tomb

The king`s own tomb was never completed and the angels were dispersed

Benedetto da Rovezzano was one of the greatest sculptors of his age

Most of his great remaining works can now only be seen in Tuscany and Rome

His sculptures are exquisite and his works were highly prized and in demand in his day

Tomb decoration seems to have been a lucrative source for commissions for Benedetto among the elite of his day in that perpetual and elusive desire for immortality after death

Often the commissioner was at the height of his power and on the way down such as his work for the tomb of Pier Soderini

St. Thomas More was also a servant and Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII

But although he was the king's good servant, he was  God's better servant.  He was the king's good servant because he was God's better.

Bronze angels did not adorn his tomb either. His body and tomb were hidden

But he was a witness to the belief that all earthly power is ultimately from God, that his Kingdom is our first and lasting concern and that obedience to his laws is more important than any other obligation or loyalty.

By his death he earned the martyr`s crown, the reward of the Kingdom  and our undying admiration and remembrance.

The trial of St Thomas More for treason took place in Westminster Hall on July 1, 1535

Angels have decorated the ceiling of the Hall. They still do

Four hundred and seventy five years after the Trial, a German born Pope stood in the same Hall to deliver a lecture to the British Parliament. He said:
"As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. 
In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. 
The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process. ... 
And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. 
Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? 
These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.... 
The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. 
They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. 
And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation."

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