“Hail, thou that art highly favoured!”
In the Christian calendar, we are nine months from Christmas, and today is the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we are ‘The College of the Blessed Mary of Winchester’, it is right that we mark the day. The event is recorded in the Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-38. It also appears in the Quran. The Archangel Gabriel announces to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus.
The Annunciation is the most beautiful story in Scripture, and arguably the most important one, for in it is contained the DNA of Christianity. It is through Mary, a girl of no more than 16, that the Incarnation takes place. The salvation of the entire cosmos is vested in the ‘yes’ of a young Palestinian girl. The foolhardiness of that divine project is surely the wonderful scandal of the Christian faith.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
It is one of the most popular subjects for artists and writers, particularly of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Winchester has its own Annunciation. The early-eighteenth-century painting by the French artist, François Lemoyne, is currently on loan to the National Gallery. Commissioned by the then headmaster, from 1729 it hung as the centrepiece of the Chapel.
Edwin Muir's poem rather beautifully contrasts the vastness of the Annunciation with its intimacy.
The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.
Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.
But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.
There seem to be several stages to the Annunciation that speak to the crisis we currently find ourselves in.
It starts with, “Do not be afraid!” We are met, often in times of fearful crisis; liminal moments; moments when we wouldn’t expect to encounter transcendence; dark moments; moments when we are very afraid. And suddenly we know that we have nothing to fear.
It proceeds with, “You have found favour.” We are chosen. We have not chosen, but we have been chosen.
And then the mission impossible follows: “And now, you will conceive … and bear …” A plan is annunciated for us; a mission is imparted; a call to bear that transcendence into the world; to incarnate it into the places where we live and move and have our being.
And the next voice is invariably ours: “How can this be?” Mary’s reply is all too familiar. You’ve got the wrong guy – or girl! You must be mistaking me for someone else! Doubt and fear.
And next? “Nothing will be impossible.” We are equipped to bear all this, despite our doubts and fears.
And the final stage is agreement to partnership: “Let it be.” Let us sign up to this craziness, for all will be well in the end.
20th October 2020
In the final instalment of our focus on Wordsworth, in this 250th anniversary year of his birth, we reveal a previously undiscovered treasure within the school's collection.
16th October 2020
'A Winter's Night' is a wonderful collection of Christmas classics and choral music from Winchester's Chapel Choir. Released on Signum records on 16 October 2020.
13th October 2020
The texts pupils study in Div, English and other lessons provide springboards for discussion about a range of topics. Ensuring there is content that is both diverse and international in outlook encourages depth of study and understanding.
9th October 2020
As the school considers how it celebrates the diversity of its community, Black History Month provides an opportunity to focus on how pupils are learning about different voices and cultures, and their inseparability from our "own" histories and experiences.
29th September 2020
To mark the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth, Fellows' Librarian Richard Foster explains the importance of one of the school's latest acquisitions.
19th September 2020
Science School has a diverse collection of fascinating objects, from an 18th-century microscope, fossils and taxidermy birds, to apparatus used to teach physics in the early 20th century. Twenty-four of the most interesting and unusual objects from the collection are now online.