Here at Ripon Cathedral, as in churches all around the world, we are looking forward to Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas when we celebrate the arrival of the Saviour of the World.
Such a statement this week might leave you thinking that we are preparing for a very exclusive art exhibition, following the selling of The Saviour of the World, or Salvator Mundi, at Christi’s in New York last week.
This now-famous piece of art, painted by Leonardo da Vinci five hundred years ago, attracted the highest price for any painting sold at auction, a staggering $450 million in total. This is an eyewatering amount, especially when some people had questioned its authenticity.
There is bound to be much speculation about who was so entranced by its qualities to be moved to pay so much. It sold for only £45 in London 60 years ago when it was thought to be the work of merely a follower of Leonardo da Vinci.
The tragedy for me is that Salvator Mundi now attracts attention because of its monetary value, not because of its content.
A piece of art, of course, can speak to people in different ways.
I know very little about paintings, but I love to spend time visiting galleries and looking at them. I had the pleasure of being at an event promoting the work of northern artists at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle last Friday.
I realise that when I look at a painting, the talent and inspiration of the artist are combing with my tastes, my life-experience, my worldview, and my state of mind and heart at the time, to generate a response in me. Something happens to each one of us when we pause to engage with a painting, whatever its subject. Of course, with some styles of art, we might find the response to be profoundly negative!
The Salvator Mundi is probably a long way from that, and it is a shame if its monetary value now gets in the way of appreciating it as a piece of art.
It is a tragedy, though, if the value and the art obscure the subject and the message that Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world.
Art can help to put us in touch with the spiritual, I truly believe that, but it cannot save the world from its ills and shortcomings.
At Ripon Cathedral we seek to be open and welcoming to visitors – there is no entrance charge. And we want people, whether they have any religious faith or not, to engage with and be moved by the beauty of the place. This in itself is life-enhancing.
My hope, however, is that in being moved by the building and its contents, people might experience something of the love of God who so loves them that he sent his son to be the Saviour of the World.
There is no doubt that many visitors find themselves turning into pilgrims as they experience the place.
Do join us on Saturday 2 December at 7.30pm for the concert, The Story of Christmas, that tells that great story in a wonderfully entertaining way using the performing arts: music, singing, ballet, even belly dancing! The actor John Middleton, famous as the one-time vicar on Emmerdale, will be the narrator.
Also, on Sunday 3 December at 5.30pm we have our spectacular Advent Carol Service, itself a work of art in music, movement, singing and readings.
It is a great way for any of us to begin preparations to celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the World.