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Inspired through Art: The Beauty of Mercy
A manuscript illumination from the medieval Bedford Hours How can we understand mercy? When mercy flows, it washes away time and place. Mercy is a mystery that springs from the heart and contains a borderless charity that does not point at the sinner nor to sin; instead, mercy restores unity. According to St. John Paul the Great, mercy also removes any hierarchy between subject and object. In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Richness in Mercy), he writes that mercy does not set the forgiving person against the one being forgiven; rather, mercy creates a destination to which all may arrive and invites the participants into this place of restoration. Our participation in this boundless quality of mercy is an outcome of divine grace, outpoured upon us as a result of the Paschal Mystery; it helps us to grow in holiness and be more like our merciful Father, the Author of mercy. This image is a page from a book that has come to be known as the Bedford Hours, an early 15th century illuminated manuscript form of a “book of hours”—a devotional book of prayers and meditations set to the readings in the Daily Office or Liturgy of the Hours. We don’t know who commissioned this Bedford Hours, but it took its name from the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster, when his wife Anne of Burgundy, purchased it for him sometime after their marriage in 1423. Recent scholars believe that the “Bedford School,” a group of artists, produced the book. The “Bedford School” included one anonymous master called “the Bedford Master,” who produced this crucifixion, which accompanies the prayers for the Hour of None, the ninth hour or 3:00 pm. The book took many years to become what we see today. The image, as many illuminations found in the late medieval period, contains figurative scenes, enlarged and complex letters, carefully executed lines of text, and elaborate border decoration. The artist uses an entire banquet of visual forms: banderoles, which are unfurling banners that provide spaces for dialogue text, especially the last words of Jesus; roundels, which are small openings with supporting scenes of other moments from the Passion; elaborate capital letters, such as the “D” to start the words Deus and Domine and the “O” to start O God and O Lord; as well as expansive marginalia filled with lavish decoration.