God is tenderness - a new sculpture from Fr Rory

Published on 15 Dec 2017

by Sally Harper

Friends who happened to be present at the second Friends of St Beuno’s weekend back in April 2016 may have heard Fr Rory Geoghegan SJ talking about his work, before making that unforgettable trip down the hill to his workshop. On that occasion you would have seen Rory’s newly completed ‘Nativity’ sculpture still on the modelling table, surrounded by tools and plaster.

That sculpture, ‘Nativity – This is God: God is tenderness’, is at present gloriously displayed in St Asaph Cathedral for Advent and Christmastide, and is already attracting great interest and appreciation among the hundreds of people who visit the building at this time of year. The sculpture sits high on its own plinth in the enclosed glass porch at the west end of the building against the backdrop of the great west door. All are invited to enter this gently-lit area to spend time with the sculpture, and to explore it in the way Rory suggests we respond to all of his work: to walk around it ... to consider it from different angles … to touch it ... to ponder … to notice what we see and feel … and to pray with it, if we are so drawn.

God is tenderness made the short journey from St Beuno’s to the cathedral at the end of November, swathed in blankets and strapped onto a trailer. It then stayed hidden under an artist’s drape in full view of the congregation for a whole week, until the formal unveiling on the first Sunday in Advent, at the end of the choral candlelit Advent procession. Rory himself assisted with the ‘revelation’ in the presence of a large congregation – including several friends and fellow team-members from St Beuno’s. The Dean of St Asaph, the Very Revd Nigel Williams, spoke of the unique incarnational message God is Tenderness brings to the cathedral at this time of year, and of the joy with which it has been received. Unsurprisingly, Dean Nigel also mentioned his own delight at finally meeting the sculptor himself! 

God is Tenderness is one of Rory’s very largest works, evoking the same sense of movement and space as many of his other works, and with a beautiful golden-bronze ‘shot silk’ finish. It depicts the Holy Family in a lovingly intimate pose, with Mary seated on a traditional birthing stool gently supporting the baby’s head and Joseph half kneeling as he supports her. Jesus himself, arms flung wide, surrenders trustingly to their embrace.

How did the sculpture find its name? There is a story behind that. Rory tells of how he happened to be reading Austin Ivereigh’s biography, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014), as he was finishing the work. The Epilogue to that book speaks of Francis’s great call to the Church to share the mercy of God, and how, while he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he would offer a wonderfully concrete image of that merciful God at midnight mass. As he lifted the infant Jesus from the crib and held him up to show the congregation, he would use the words ‘This is God: God is Tenderness’. What a wonderful image for us to hold this Christmas – for as Francis himself tells us in Evangelii Gaudium: ‘The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness’.

Fr Rory’s sculpture is on display in St Asaph Cathedral during opening hours into January. An exhibition of his work is also planned there for August 2018. For further information (and to read Fr Brian McClorry’s poetic appreciation of Rory’s work), see http://stasaphcathedral.wales/cathedral/the-nativity-sculpture-in-the-cathedral.