It is a few weeks yet till we start singing carols, but one particular carol has been in my head since I heard a superb piece on Radio 4 on Thursday evening, all about a sculpture of an angel which is suspended over a baptismal font in Güstrow, a town in Germany. It is called Der Schwebende–The Hovering, and was made by the German expressionist sculptor, Ernst Barlach. The carol is…
- It came upon the midnight clear,
- That glorious song of old,
- From angels bending near the earth,
- To touch their harps of gold:
- "Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
- From heaven's all-gracious King."
- The world in solemn stillness lay,
- To hear the angels sing.
- Still through the cloven skies they come,
- With peaceful wings unfurled,
- And still their heavenly music floats
- O’er all the weary world;
- Above its sad and lowly plains,
- They bend on hovering wing,
- And ever o'er its Babel sounds
- The blessèd angels sing.
However, some courageous friends had managed to find the plaster mould from which the sculpture was created – and they made, and hid, a second cast, which was then hung in the Antoniter Church in Cologne after the end of WW2. This time, the sculpture commemorated two World Wars.
During the time of the Cold War in the 1950s, the parish of Cologne [West Germany] made another cast of the Angel and presented it in a gesture of friendship to the parish of Güstrow cathedral [in East Germany]. In 1981 Helmut Schmidt, the Chancellor of West Germany, met Erich Honecker in East Germany, and they visited Barlach’s Angel in Güstrow cathedral. Schmidt said ‘Barlach is indeed part of our common memory of the past. May I add, that Barlach could also stand as a representative of our shared and common future.’ Schmidt was right. Eight years later, in peaceful demonstrations, East Germans brought the wall between East and West down – there was reconciliation - on 9th November 1989
Today is Remembrance Sunday – 100 years since the start of WW1, 75 years since WW2. And still the wars go on…We remember all those who have died in conflict, and their bereaved families, we pray for those who have been injured, both physically and mentally - and above all we pray for peace and reconciliation.
[This sculpture is currently on loan to the British Museum, and can be seen there until the end of January, as part of the Germany, Memories of A Nation exhibition]