The Apostles Speaking in Tongues

This artwork of terracotta figures by Nicholas Pope is currently situated in the Trinity Chapel at Salisbury Cathedral.

The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps is a dramatic re-enactment of events narrated in the New Testament. On the Jewish feast of the Pentacost, the Holy Spirit was said to have come upon the Apostles in Jerusalem enabling them to speak in tongues to all those present. The Holy Spirit descends amidst a ‘rushing mighty wind’ and appears in the form of ‘cloven tongues of fire’. Nicholas Pope’s Apostles are likewise the bearers of fire. Made in brick clay of earth-colours, each figure supports a primitive oil-lamp backed by a halo of beaten metal. The lamps provide a pulsating glow which is reflected from the polished metal.

Just like individuals who make up the average Anglican community – the clergy, the parish council, the parishioners – the twelve apostles came from ordinary walks of life, from agriculture, teaching, the world of commerce. Like members of the congregation, some were good and trusting souls, others turned out to be less wholesome. Pope doesn’t take a neutral view of the twelve. His figures are breathtaking and imposing but at the same time they include aspects of the hideous and the comical. Each figure is identified by his attributes: Doubting Thomas sports trunk-like bloodsucking appendages; Mathew, a tax-collector, carries a heavy paunch while the two-faced Judas has fleshy protruding lips.*

The Apostles Speaking in Tongues

Acts 2:1-6:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak his own language.

The Apostles Speaking in Tongues

*From a Salisbury Cathedral leaflet on the exhibition

14 Comments CherryPie on Jul 3rd 2014

14 Responses to “The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps”

  1. ....peter:) says:

    They are strange looking terracotta figures Cherie… but your explanation helped me understand what they were about….peter:)

  2. Amfortas says:

    So, Pope thinks Judas was amongst them. Hmmmmm

    This sort of ‘art’ does little for me other than raise a small derisory urge against the ‘artist’. I am obliged to hold it in check. I do not always succeed.

    Call me old fashioned but there are many, many ways of expressing wholesomeness, spirituality, even ‘events’ of some confusion and ‘moment’. But this sort of expression, replete with distortion and (to me) ugliness, has no place in a Church.

    It is a useful thing to record it in pictures so that future historians can see the movement of gargoyles from outside, where they were meant to scare away evil, to inside where they scare away the Good.

    • CherryPie says:

      Judas has actually been placed off to the side. This can be seen more clearly in the following link which also shows the lit lamps. I wasn’t convinced by this artwork although after reading what it was about I found it an interesting concept.

      You will be pleased to know it is only a temporary exhibition placed there to co-inside with Pentecost. It will be leaving at the beginning of August.

      I am not generally a fan of modern art either although there are exceptions. Modern art doesn’t make me rage, but it often makes me laugh! I remember my visit to the Tate Modern. One of the temporary exhibitions consisted mostly of daubed bits of hessian cloth, rope, sticks and abstract objects all strategically placed within the rooms.

      I took one look at it and smiled to myself. Then two people entered the room. One of them was obviously an art aficionado and was giving vent about all the ins and outs of the art installation and the works within it. I had to move away from them because it was all I could do to refrain from laughing.

  3. Ginnie says:

    I’m very familiar with that story, Cherry, and find this artistic interpretation most fascinating.

  4. JD says:

    “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.”

    This is a different vision of the Apostles-

    Don’t know if it meets with the approval of Amfortas :)

  5. Amfortas says:

    I rather like that picture, JD. But it still would not Grace a church. Maybe an ‘art’ gallery.

  6. wiggia says:

    Cherie, interesting story and terracotta figures, in a similar vein you might like this, came across them them in the ceramics institute in Castelli in the Abruzzo Italy, these giant ceramic figures (there are about forty in all) are used to line the streets once a year for a religious festival.
    Went there to see the tiled ceiling in the church (known as the Systine chapel of tiles) as so often in Italy it was locked up and no one could find who had the key so the institute gave us a guided tour of their place and inside were these.

  7. Natalie says:

    Those figures are amazing!