The First Viral Sensation: How a Pre-Raphaelite Painting Inspired a Generation

william_holman_hunt_-_selfportrait

Holman Hunt, one of the three founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

In preparing for an upcoming talk of stained glass in West Cork, I was struck by a single image that seemed to crop up again and again. The image was described as The Light of the World, or occasionally as Christ Knocking at the Door.

St Matthias Light of the World by Clokey of Belfast 1945

Christ as the Light of the World. This window, by Clokey of Belfast is in St Matthias Church of Ireland in Ballydehob

Curious, I searched online to find out more about the window and discovered to my astonishment that the painting upon which the window was based was The Light of the World by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt and, in the words of Robert Fulford, although…Hardly anyone today admires The Light of the World as art…it remains a historic moment in mass culture, the beginning of the great age of reproduction, the first image that millions of people knew intimately, and often loved.

hunt-light-of-the-world1

Holman Hunt’s Light of the World. It was based on Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Hunt’s first version light-of-the-world-engraving(he eventually painted three) was begun in 1851 and was widely admired. But it was two other media that carried it to the status of international icon. The first was engraving (left) – the photography of its age in its ability to convey images to a mass audience – and the second was stained glass, just coming into its heyday as a result of recent innovations in church architecture and decoration.

The painting toured the world and attracted enormous crowds wherever it went. It is estimated that four fifths of the population of Australia viewed it, for example. Fulford describes it thus: In Melbourne in 1906 visitors stampeded, anxious to see it the moment it was open to the public. But if the crowd was rowdy at first, Maas writes, soon “an air of reverential awe descended on the gathering.” Men removed their hats, voices fell to a whisper. Some people stood or sat gazing at it for hours. A few visitors fainted. Later it toured South Africa and in 1907 returned in triumph to Britain and its final destination, St. Paul’s.

Rosscartbery Light of the World Mayer 1934

This window in Rosscarbery Cathedral is by Mayer of Munich. Christ as The Light of the World was often paired in a two-light window with Christ as the Good Shepherd

How to explain the appeal of this image? Holman Hunt himself gives us a clue. Writing in The Victorian Web, George Landow states that Hunt …believed that The Light of the World created its symbolic language in precisely the same way that men had formed language to express abstract and spiritual ideas. The important point is that, since the symbolism derives from what he takes to be essential habits of mind, it would be immediately comprehensible to any audience, because such “natural” symbolism does not require any knowledge of iconographic traditions. It appears he was correct, since the symbolism employed in the painting spoke directly to masses of people who took its message to heart and hung engravings and reproductions in their homes.

Rosscarbery Cathedral Light of the World detail

Detail from the Mayer window

And in their churches. In its listing of the glass in Church of Ireland churches, the website Gloine* lists 70 examples of Light of the World windows and a few others labelled Christ Knocking at the Door. Of these, about 65 are modelled directly on the Holman Hunt painting. Most of the stained glass studios are represented in the list – it was such a popular request that every studio had to have it in its catalogue. While there are more windows devoted to, for example, the Resurrection, or the Four Evangelists, they are all quite diverse representations, rather than being based upon a single original source. A similar list does not exist for Catholic churches, but it is unlikely that the Light of the World would be as prominent in them, mainly because most stained glass windows in Irish Catholic churches are later than the high point of popularity for Hunt’s painting.

Timoleague Good Shephard and Light of the World, 1890 Clayton and Bell

This window by Clayton and Bell dates from 1890 and is in the Church of the Ascension (C of I) in Timoleague

So here’s a challenge for you, Dear Reader. Have you seen this image in stained glass, or elsewhere? Were you familiar with the painting and aware of its impact? Do you have photos, stories or memories to share? Or is this an image that had its moment, particular to its day and time, and then disappeared from our consciousness like so many others have, before and since?

Timoleague Good Shephard and Light of the World, 1890 Clayton and Bell Detail

Detail from the Clayton and Bell window in Timoleague

*My grateful appreciation goes to Dr David Lawrence and the website Gloine – Stained glass in the Church of Ireland. This is a magnificent resource that contains information on almost every stained glass window in almost every Church of Ireland building in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is awe-inspiring in its scope and erudition. The site lists two more examples from West Cork, Durrus and Caharagh.

Black Pudding

Breakfast at Budd's

Breakfast at Budd’s of Ballydehob – all local ingredients

When did black pudding assume foodie status?

Breakfast Pack

Black pudding (a blood sausage) was always a popular breakfast staple in Ireland – served in all decent bed-and-breakfasts on a ‘Full Irish’ plate along with white pudding, sausages, rashers and eggs, and sometimes tomatoes and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade brown soda bread. I never liked it – “Please, no black pudding on mine.”

West Cork Pies' Black Pudding 'Brunch' Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

West Cork Pies‘ Black Pudding ‘Brunch’ Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

But somewhere in the last ten years black pudding has been transformed into the gourmet must-have ingredient du jour: added to scallops or crab, used to lend interest to staid sausage rolls and scotch eggs, served as canapés with the requisite goat’s cheese and caramelised onions.

The black pudding selection at Field's of Skibbereen

The black pudding selection at Field’s of Skibbereen

And it’s delicious! Artisan butchers and food producers all over the country have been developing their own recipes and flavours, although the basic ingredients (pig’s blood and oatmeal) have remained the same. Some credit Clonakilty Black Pudding with leading the charge. They use beef rather than pork and their exact formula is a closely guarded secret. Their website has lots of recipes and the history page features a video on how the pudding is made. This has become such a celebrated West Cork product that there has been talk of a Black Pudding Visitor Centre!

Clon web page

Nowadays, every supermarket meat section will sport an array of artisan black and white puddings. Here in West Cork we find local varieties such as McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Putóg De Róiste (an Irish-speaking black pudding from the Ballyvourney Gaeltacht), Hodgins of Michelstown, as well as Rudd’s from County Offaly, further afield. There are mass-produced varieties too, and supermarket chain generic puddings, all of which have their fans.

Avril Allshire at a function in Rosscarbery, handing around her black pudding swirls – our first taste of them; The Rosscarbery Recipes range of products on sale at Fields

My own favourite is made by Rosscarbery Recipes. This is totally attributable to Avril Allshire, the cheerful producer whom I have met on numerous occasions demonstrating ways to eat their black pudding or serving it up at events. She’s always up for a chat and she loves to share her enthusiasm and her recipes. She and husband Willy and two sons run Caherbeg Free Range pig farm (the Facebook page is full of adorable piggy pics), as well as the Rosscarbery Recipes food range and are totally committed to food quality, to provenance control, and to traditional curing methods that result in delicious pork products. They’ve even developed a gluten-free black pudding!

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

Avril’s Black Pudding Swirls have become my go-to appetiser recipe and I am sharing it at the end of the post, taken directly from her website but adapted for our non-West Cork readers.

An Chístín Beag's black pudding potato cakes.

An Chístín Beag’s black pudding potato cakes

The other way I have come to love black pudding is in potato cakes. As served by the fabulous An Chístín Beag (The Little Kitchen) in Skibbereen, this is a way to start your day off right, especially if you’re planning a hike! According to Pauline, you simply add chopped up black pudding to mashed potato, shape it into cakes, and fry. There’s got to be more to it than that, I insist – egg? flour? But no, that’s it. I think it helps if you leave them in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit before you cook them.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie's Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie’s Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below

What about you and black pudding? Love it? Hate it? Got a favourite? Figured out how to get hold of it outside Ireland or the UK?

Making the swirls

Making the swirls

Rosscarbery Recipes’ Black Pudding Swirls

By Avrill Allshire (additional notes by Roaringwater Journal)

Ingredients:

1 pack of Field’s Puff Pastry; (any ready-to-bake puff pastry will do, 500g or 1lb)

1 Rosscarbery Recipes Black Pudding; (Any good-quality black pudding can be substituted, 300g or 11oz)

1 large egg.

Method:

About an hour beforehand, take the puff pastry and the black pudding from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Whip the egg.

Roughly chop the black pudding and blitz in the food processor with half the whipped egg. If you don’t have a food processor, use a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is to get it to a spreadable consistency.

Dust your rolling surface with flour and roll the puff pastry into a large rectangle. Lay the Black Pudding mixture on the puff pastry. Spread it out evenly but not to the edge of one long side which should be brushed with a little of the whipped egg. Roll from the other side. Finish the roll by pressing gently onto the whipped egg end. Slice in 1cm slices and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with the whipped egg.

Put in the oven and bake until a golden brown. This will take anywhere from 12 to 15 mins, so keep an eye on it.

Remove and allow to cool. Makes about 50 swirls.

swirls finished

Yummers!

Shauna and Robert tasting

March Back in Time

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa at the head of the Demonstration. Photo © Ian Flavin, used with permission.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa at the head of the Demonstration. Photo © Ian Flavin, used with permission

100 years ago this month all Ireland was galvanised by the news that Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s body was to be brought from New York to be buried in Ireland. As an acknowledged leader of the Fenian movement, he was as infamous in America and Canada as he was revered in Ireland, and his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Dublin. 

Rossa, born in 1831, grew up near Rosscarbery and experienced the dreadful time of the Great Famine, watching his father’s death and his family’s eviction. Left alone in Skibbereen while his mother and siblings emigrated, he made a life for himself as a shopkeeper, all the time growing in his hatred of tyranny and nurturing revolutionary thoughts. He founded the Phoenix Society in Skibbereen which, although called a literary society, advocated ‘force of arms’ as a means of liberation from British rule.

It was during this period, in 1863, that he organised a demonstration in Skibbereen in support of Poland. There were many analogies between Ireland and Poland at that time: Poland was ruled by Tsarist Russia, which had imposed the Russian language on the Poles, closed universities and Catholic churches and dealt ruthlessly with resistance. The march was a barely-concealed act of sedition, of course, watched closely by the police.

Polish Contingent in national costume

Polish contingent in national costume

This week, as part of the launch of the annual Arts Festival, Skibbereen re-enacted that demonstration – and it was thrilling! Declan McCarthy (of Baltimore Fiddle Fair fame) took the role of Rossa, ably abetted by members of the Kilmeen Drama Group and the Skibbereen Theatre Society

Banners

Everyone who could manage it was dressed in period costume, shop windows put on special displays, and the streets were closed to all but pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic.

Phoenix out front

The demonstrators paraded through town when night fell, lit by flaming turf torches and led by Rossa and an enormous Phoenix Society emblem. A contingent of Poles had come from Cork and marched in costume. Banners were hoisted and a pipe band played The Minstrel Boy.

Finally, lit by the flaming torches, Rossa ascended the platform and delivered a fiery speech about tyranny and illegal occupation, punctuated by cheers from the crowd.

Firebrand Speech

The atmosphere was incredible. We were transported back to 1860s Skibbereen, surrounded by threatening policemen, firebrand revolutionaries and Victorian citizens, all getting into the spirit of the times.

AudienceIt was the high point (although not the culmination yet) of two months of Rossa commemorations in West Cork which has included lectures, a play, a walking tour, exhibitions and the unveiling of new monuments in several places including the impressive Skibbereen installation inaugurated by President Higgins.

Rossa and torch bearers

More about Rossa in a future post, including his three wives and 18 children, his Fenian career and his connection to events in Canada. To end, a link to one of the classic Fenian songs, Down by the Glenside.

Pitchfork torch