Pt 5: Spirituality in Marc Chagall’s Tudeley Church stained glass

Conclusion: Thus, we see that Christian spirituality was very present in Chagall’s East window, in Tudeley. The evidence strongly points towards Chagall himself having some form of acceptance of the Christian Gospel, seen through the lens of his Jewishness.

From the 1940s, when he met his Christian friends the Maritains, we can detect a clear evolution in his spirituality. However, art historians who have published works on Chagall deny this.

Meyer claimed that Jesus only depicted suffering humanity in Chagall’s work, completely ignoring Chagall’s last few decades of work. Bohm-Duchen asserted that Jesus was solely a symbol of Jewish persecution. These ideas profoundly affected art historians’ understanding of Chagall’s spirituality. They have not considered that the symbol of the suffering Jew is not the main idea in Chagall’s mind in his late career. As it has been demonstrated, this is an inadequate understanding of the importance of Jesus to Chagall, and of the significance of Tudeley in his late work.

It is widely accepted that Chagall saw Jesus as inextricably Jewish, but he also much more than just Jewish. Despite Chagall not being an adherent to Judaism, he certainly was affected by its spirit. He saw art as a prayerful act. This idea can be seen in the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam, the redemption of the world through retrieving divine light. This may even explain his interest in stained glass. In this prayerful act, Chagall clearly used beauty to bring the viewer to eventually see the Truth. He recognised that the human heart is restless and searches for meaning, certainly after the second world war. However, despite being interested in Christianity, it would seem that he was concerned about betraying his Judaism, hence he asked Rabbis for advice before painting Christian art. Despite warnings from Rabbis, he persevered with Christian art, and eventually said that the Bible gave him peace in moments of doubt.

Jesus is always peaceful in Chagall’s paintings, in the East window, he is not a Jewish martyr. Despite being in steeped in Jewish ideas, Chagall’s Jesus presupposes a Fall and a need for a saviour. Hasidism pushes the redemption of the world through drawing out divine light, but ultimately it talks about a gentle and lowly Messiah. Chagall must have equated this with Jesus, like many Messianic Jews.

There is a clear change between Chagall before and after he became close to the Maritains. This all culminated in the opening of the Message Biblique museum that Chagall opened in 1973. Like Tolkien, he had a gradual spiritual journey; he wanted to subtly embed spirituality into his work. For Chagall, the artist should never be between the art and the spectator.

Tudeley may be seen as the fruit of a spiritual journey that stemmed from the Maritains. Jesus becomes the answer to suffering. The ladder by Jesus in the East window may suggest Jesus to be the Son of Man, due to the angels ascending and descending towards him. Moreover, Chagall’s interest in baptism may be seen in Sarah’s submersion in water, although this is speculation.

Ultimately, we can see the East window as profoundly influenced by Christian theology. Moreover, post-Vatican II, Chagall may have seen himself as a Christian Jew. The window shows Jesus as the way to salvation, the last two windows representing salvation in yellow, bring meaning to the East window. There is no other good reason to explain why these windows look like they do. It is not random. The East window has not been given attention by academics; however, it shows a clear evolution in Chagall’s worldview. Through this, we may see his entire work in a different framework. At the end of all Chagall’s exploring, he arrives where he started, Jesus, and he knows him for the first time.

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