THE diocesan newspaper where I serve is called The
Bridge. As the Bishop of London loses few opportunities to
remind those of us south of the Thames, the "river runs
At each Epiphanytide, clergy from the parishes on both sides of
London Bridge come together to bless the Thames, but that is about
as close as it gets. Stipends in the ancient see of London are
distinct from those offered in Southwark, and our churches are
rated very differently for the "quota".
The establishment of the mega-diocese of West Yorkshire &
the Dales might suggest a way to bridge the gap to bring together
two dioceses where the Church Commissioners currently pay for two
diocesan bishops, a suffragan bishop, eight area bishops (soon to
be nine), and 11 archdeacons, all largely within the M25.
By their nature, bridges span a gap between two fixed points
that never can meet. Although they may allow for passage and
engagement, that can only be by mutual recognition and deliberate
agreement. Horatius valiantly defended the Sublician Bridge against
Lars Porsena in the sixth century BC and, in J. I. M. Stewart's
short story, the self-preoccupied buffoon Charles Hornett quite
failed to recognise his former wife on the Bridge of Arta.
Caravan is an American NGO, based in Chicago, that seeks to
build bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East
and the West by using the arts. It has now brought a show of
contemporary visual art to London.
The artists exhibiting in this seventh exhibition come from the
three great monotheistic faiths, and live in the Middle East and
throughout the diaspora, coming from 13 countries. Forty-seven
contemporary Arab, Persian, and Jewish men and women have each been
invited to treat of the theme "The Bridge" in frames of the same
The cavalcade (News,
16 January) set off from Paris in February, and was welcomed
into Trafalgar Square by the Primates of All England and of
Jerusalem and the Middle East, both of whom spoke of the need for a
greater understanding between people of all faiths at the London
opening of the exhibition earlier this month.
No religious leaders from the Muslim or Jewish communities
spoke, leaving it to the artists to do the work for them, although
none of the artists' statements (perhaps deliberately) included any
indication of their individual faith background.
When St Martin-in-the-Fields has staged exhibitions previously,
they have been shown to good effect in one of the larger rooms in
the complex around the crypt. In July 2014, the evocative line
drawings of Annie Vallotton for the Good News Bible were showcased
here. Previously, illuminated pages from the seven volumes of the
St John's College Bible, from a scriptorium in Wales, for a
Benedictine abbey at Collegeville, Minnesota, were exhibited here
to great acclaim.
Regrettably, the 47 works forming the current exhibition are
hung too closely together on wall panels lumped in behind the
crowded brass-rubbing tables, the box office, and shelves of
publicity material, as if they are an afterthought for a year-end
graduate show. This does not make it easy to assess the hang, for
which there appears to be no obvious curatorial intervention.
Although I understand that several artists are represented
internationally (two with Janet Rady, for instance), few of the
works cried out for more than a second glance over the shoulders of
the good and great. The artists use a range of media, including
volcanic ash on paper (Valérie Rauchbach), photography (Nagla
Samir), and, inevitably, acrylic, but there seems little diversity
in the overall effect.
The cause supported by the exhibition is, without doubt, a
worthy one, and it cannot be just about money. Forty per cent of
sales will support an educational project in a deprived part of
Cairo, but a year-long tour seems a hard way to raise just
Rather, the invitation for us is to cross the bridge and to
embrace those whom we encounter.
The opening reception was sponsored by the Ambassador of Egypt
at the Court of St James, Nasser Kamel. Minority groups in Egypt,
whether members of the previous administration or Copts or gay,
might see in this a sign of the present Egyptian Government's
greater willingness to meet diversity, and to engage with
"The Bridge" runs at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar
Square, London WC2, until 31 July.