Article: Curious Light

An article by Revd Will Gibbs for the Redbourn Common Round

Candles don’t feature quite so prominently in our 21st century lives as they did for our forebears. We are not so dependent on them as they were (although candles are really handy if a power cut comes along, and we do get a few of those in Redbourn!). Nowadays, we’re more used to seeing them in comedy programmes (did Hyacinth Bouquet’s candle-lit suppers ever take place?), and the Two Ronnies’ four candles sketch lives on in the memory with fondness. We’re also used to seeing candles in period costume dramas; Downton and the like.

But it is in church that candles play the most prominent role these days – at a baptism as a sign that the candidate has received the light of Christ into their life, on the altar reminding us that Christ is the light of the world, and in memorial candles lit in memory of loved ones. And we still experience that magical, excited anticipation of a candlelit Carol Service at this time of year.

But when I think of candles, one particular image comes to my mind. A picture by a Dutch artist called Gerard von Honthorst entitled ‘Christ before the High Priest.’ A marvellous use of light with the High Priest seated at a table on which a single candle burns. A passive Christ stands the other side – their faces are highlighted – the High Priest wags an admonishing finger at Christ who gazes serenely down at him. Shadowy officials lurk in the background, foretelling the brutality to come. The picture has an immense intensity and like all good art, it draws you into its very substance and immerses you in what is happening. And, incredibly, each time you look, although Christ’s face has not altered, every time you can read different thoughts passing between them. Sometimes Christ seems to be rebuking the High Priest – at other times it’s almost as if there is an immense pity and sorrow in Jesus’ gaze. However you view it, I find it absolutely mesmerising.

Gerard van Honthorst - Christ before the High Priest - WGA11650

Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


I hope that candles will have featured in some way in your Christmas and New Year celebrations. But there are continuing opportunities to enjoy the importance of candles so why not join us for our candlelit Epiphany Carol service at 6.30 pm on 5 January or one of our Candlemas services on 2 February?

In our Christmas services we’ve been welcoming the Light of the World once again with the words. ‘The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.’ Amazing – all this can be found in a humble stable and a simple candle.

May 2020 be for you, and your loved ones, a year of light and peace and blessing.



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