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Britishness and Sir Ninian Comper: Scottish views

04 January 2013


From Mr Mark Ballard
Sir, - It is perhaps symptomatic of the general confusion in Dr David Reason's article on Britishness ( Features, 21/28 December) that it should be illustrated with a picture of a re-enactment of the signing of "The Great Charter of the Liberties of England" by King John of England, and by an imagined English patron saint, at the English Church Pageant of 1909.

If Britishness has any meaning, it has to be about more than just Englishness. Equally, for Dr Reason to cite Ralph Waldo Emerson's book English Traits as a guide to the complexities of the British character also seems to betray a failure to understand complexities of national identity in a multi-national state like the UK.

If Britishness is threatened, as Dr Reason suggests, then part of that threat comes from a lack of understanding by people in England that any "British" identity is shared with the other nations of the UK, and that their specifically English identity, English history, and, indeed, English Church need to be given appropriate and separate recognition within this.

So, when discussing Britishness in future, please give due weight and understanding to all the national components of a shared identity - or recognise that what you are actually talking about, as in the case of Dr Reason and the largely English story he tells, is Englishness.

197 Portobello High Street
Edinburgh EH15 1EU

From Mr R. B. Murray
Sir, - The interesting article on the work of Sir Ninian Comper ( "'Unity by inclusion' man", Faith, 21/28 December) surprisingly lacks any reference to Comper's Scottish heritage, and fails to cite any of the fine examples of his work in this part of the country. Ninian Comper was born in Aberdeen, the eldest son of a Scottish Episcopalian priest.

There are many representative samples of his architecture and art in the city and shire, but our congregation at All Saints', Whiterashes, is particularly fond of the beautiful painted-glass windows that he completed about the same time as he was producing similar windows in Westminster Abbey.

The altar reredos, also by Comper, is an important example of his "unity by inclusion". The windows of numerous saints were commissioned in the period 1898 to 1919 by the Irvine family, though it has to be said that the eclectic choice of saints depicted therein owes much to family names, since they are mainly memorial and thanksgiving windows.

All the windows have the typical Comper use of strong, clear colours and gilding, and yet generously allow light to flood into the church. While their presence enhances the liturgical environment, their purpose serves the spiritual growth of this principally lay-led congregation in evensong and contemplative prayer.

There is a simple honesty beneath the signs and symbols of his glorious designs, which is the special gift of this artist, who has produced such harmonious and well-crafted work in this small gem of church architecture in rural Aberdeenshire.

R. B. MURRAY (Reader)
Rowanbank, Kendal Road
Kemnay, Inverurie AB51 5RN

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