There was a time 1000 years ago that the Catholics built great churches. Now the oh so modern warehouses that hold the secrets of the Vatican are as dull as community centres. Maybe thats the idea. So those scurrying from Leicester Square to China Town past the Prince Charles cinema would be forgiven for ignoring the modern place of worship, Notre Dame de France. After sixty years of scurrying past, my dear friend Eric(the Unready) recently introduced me to one of London’s artistic gems.
The church was bombed by the Bosche in the War and in its rebuilding in the late 1950s someone had the brilliant idea of asking Jean Cocteau to paint a mural. The three panels of distinctly Cocteau colour and line right go to the heart of crimson red Catholicism. The Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. But in 1959 when Cocteau did the work he was deeply into some of the more outrageous cults which thrive under the skirts and the idolatry of the bells and smells which dominate the Roman Church.
For Cocteau the multi talented drug addict and bi sexual was into Mary Magdalene worship. Just as a few lunatics (William Blake etc) feel that Joseph came to England’s green a pleasant land even more nutters in France feel that at least Mary Magdalene made the trip to la belle France. Pourquoi pas, among all the other nonsense things Catholics believe in, this is obvious. And as the Notre Dame de France(oui c’est Mary) does, why not mix her up with Joan of Arc.
So when you look at the mural seek out the big M this is part of the clue, the code as are the numbers on the dice, frankly there is more intrigue in the mural than on the cover of Abbey Road. For instance where is Jesus, isn’t he part of the Crucifixion? For those who cry false news, I say thats a very difficult concept when talking about religions. Meanwhile off Leicester Square the addicts and the homeless sleep on, oblivious to the fact that France’s greatest polymath once spent a week in the same church.