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MVNU professor to speak on Gothic art, medieval religion

MVNU professor to speak on Gothic art, medieval religion

By Peter Frost

For Dr. Rebecca Abbott, adjunct professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, what began as a summer stuck on campus turned into an introduction to one of her life’s major passions.

Spurred on by an empty school and newly acquired free time, Abbott decided to make the most of it: “I went to the library and began looking up the original text of my favorite hymns, and I started noticing that many of the translations had dates from the late 19th century,” she said.

Her interest piqued, and she investigated further, eventually leading back to a group of undergraduate students that began what we know today as the Cambridge Movement.

Dr. Abbott’s upcoming lecture, titled “The Cambridge Movement and the Reclamation of the Gothic in English Churches,” explores the origin, expansion and meaning of the movement in today’s society, examining the ways this 19th century dialogue about Gothic art and medieval liturgy can still be felt in modern worship.

The event, which will be held tonight in the Bemis Room of Peirce Hall at 4:10 p.m., will connect the movement to greater themes relating to the Sacrament, beauty and the role of the past in present-day religious expression.

Founded in 1839, the movement began simply as a shared interest among a group of students in restoring Gothic churches. This project soon evolved into a major cultural moment in British history, marking a revived interest in the art, architecture and culture of the Middle Ages. Led by John Mason Neale, the group began as an offshoot of the earlier Oxford Movement, individuals that identified themselves as “defenders of God’s truth,” with the subsequent Cambridge Movement choosing to identify themselves as “defenders of God’s beauty.”

Tracking the group’s movements from 1840 to 1870, Abbott found Neale emerging as her primary area of focus. “John Mason Neale has been such an inspiration,” Abbott said. “I’ve learned through his perseverance what a gift a person can be to the worship of the church.”

Subject to persecution for his beliefs, Neale remained a steadfast believer.

Through copious research and readings of secondary sources as well as Neale’s letters, Abbott also discovered that the scholar’s interests varied as well, uncovering that he also played a major role in translations of Christmas carols that are still popular today including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Good King Wenceslas.”

“He had a real poetic sense,” she said. “He was able to make such beautiful translations that people loved them and they endured.”

For Abbott, the lecture serves as an entry point into a dialogue that began hundreds of years ago about the role of beauty and history in modern religion.

“Worship is not just about learning facts about God, but about having a particular experience,” Abbott said.

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