Friday, March 29, 2013


Three views of Good Friday, from William Wyler via Lew Wallace; from English author G.K. Chesterton, sometimes called "the prince of paradox"; and from English painter L.S.Lowry.

Lew Wallace's novel Ben Hur, A Tale of the Christ (1880) was to become William Wyler's movie Ben Hur almost 80 years later, in 1959. The movie adaptation strayed from the novel in a few places, it was less "A Tale of the Christ" than "A Tale of the Adventures of Judah Ben Hur" - and, really, none the worse for that. In the movie the scene where Judah Ben Hur first encounters Jesus occurs when Ben Hur was being taken, with a band of other slaves, across the desert. He was desperately in need of water, cruel Roman guards cynically refused it to him. In a village the slaves pass by an onlooker, Jesus, who sees Ben Hur's distress and offers him some water. This scene links to another, later in the movie, when BenHur encounters Jesus and the two thieves hauling their crosses to the place where they are to be crucified. Jesus stumbles and falls, a bystander helps him and BenHur offers him a cup of water....reflecting a reversal of the earlier scene. The crucifixion scene follows later.

In G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man (1925) the author had this to say about the events of the original Good Friday:

All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask:

‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

Lastly a northern English painter, L.S. Lowry, in 1946 painted a very different Good Friday scene: Good Friday, Daisy Nook. On 8th June 2007 it was sold for £3,772,000, the highest price paid for one of Lowry's paintings at auction.

Daisy Nook, near Oldham, in Lancashire, has hosted an annual Easter Fair since the 19th century - and possibly even earlier. Traditionally, Lancashire cotton mill workers of the region were confined to just two statutory days of holiday every year, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The fair attracted huge numbers of people. The painting depicts this annual fair in 1946, the year after the end of the hostilities of the Second World War. A local newspaper had reported at the time that there were "Record crowds at Daisy Nook", as people celebrated a return to the fair, which had not taken place for the duration of the war, and a return to normal life. The painting reflects post-war cheer and relief.
(See HERE)

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