A new sculpture depicting the Nativity has gone on display in St Asaph Cathedral.
The artwork, entitled Nativity – This is God: God is Tenderness is the work of the local artist and sculptor Fr Rory Geoghegan SJ, a Jesuit priest who lives and works at St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in nearby Tremeirchion.
It was unveiled during the Advent procession on Advent Sunday (3 December) and will be on display inside the Cathedral throughout Advent, Christmas and into January.
The Dean of St Asaph, the Very Reverend Nigel Williams said: “We are really fortunate to be able to have this remarkable new sculpture ‘in residence’ in the Cathedral. It has been hidden under an artist’s drape for a week, but can now be enjoyed not only by the regular congregations, but also by the many hundreds of visitors who come into the Cathedral at this time of year.”
The sculpture is a prayerful reflection on the theme of the Incarnation (the human nature of God), and shows Jesus, Mary and Joseph in an intimate, lovingly supportive family pose.
Rory only decided on the title for the work just as he was finishing the sculpture. By chance, he came across a description of the people of Buenos Aires, Argentina, recalling how at Christmas, their Archbishop used to take baby Jesus from the crib to show to the congregation, saying: This is God. God is tenderness’. That Archbishop is now Pope Francis.
Fr Rory said: “The position of the Nativity sculpture in the Cathedral, gently lit behind the glass doors of the west porch, is ideal as it allows visitors to see the sculpture from all sides. I invite people to come close to the sculpture and take time looking at it. Wander around it. Make your time with it a time of discovery and personal enquiry.”
The Nativity sculpture gradually came to life over a period of several months in Rory’s workshop. Though it looks like precious metal, the basic shape was constructed over pieces of chicken wire and foam blocks covered in many layers of plaster, which were then cut back, shaped and smoothed. The ‘shot silk’ finish is achieved by meticulously applied paint of assorted colours, again built up in layers. Like much of Rory’s work, space, intimacy and movement within and around the figures are all very important.
Fr Rory himself is now well into his eighties. Though he has worked in various places during his time as a Jesuit – including Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and the Shetland Isles – he only returned seriously to sculpture when he came to St Beuno’s twenty years ago. His work has been widely exhibited (including at the St Asaph Festival) and much of it can be seen in the house and grounds at St Beuno’s, especially in the ‘Hopkins Gallery’ on the lower floor. His sculptures are much loved by people who come to St Beuno’s on retreat, and find them a great inspiration and focus for prayer and reflection.
There is a little guide to accompany the sculpture at St Asaph Cathedral and you can leave a message for Fr Rory in a comment book. St Asaph Cathedral is open every day. Services over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are at:
- 7pm Nine Lessons and Carols
- 11.30pm The Midnight Mass
- 8am Holy Eucharist
- 11am Choral Eucharist with Carols
- 3.30pm Evening Prayer