Jun 10 2019

Manchester Cathedral evensong honours John Ruskin's bicentenary

June 10th 2019

Guild Master Clive Wilmer to preach at a special evensong at Manchester Cathedral on 12 June to honour the bicentenary of John Ruskin.

Ruskin bicentenary service                    Manchester Cathedral, 12.vi.19


This year sees the bicentenary of the birth of John Ruskin (1819-1900), who was a writer and thinker and a master of English prose. He was also an artist, a naturalist, a social reformer, a connoisseur, a philanthropist and much else besides.

Born in London and brought up on the southern edge of the metropolis, he found himself increasingly drawn to the north of England in middle life and settled in the Lake District in 1870. In his writings, he often finds himself at odds with the city of Manchester, which he thinks of as the chief engine of brutal industrialisation and the home of heartless laissez-faire economics. In 1857 he expressed such views in the heart of the city when he delivered his lectures on The Political Economy of Art to coincide with the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition of that year. The first Ruskin Society was established in Manchester during his lifetime and the first exhibition devoted to his work was shown in the city in 1904.

This service of Evensong is designed to give thanks for Ruskin’s life and work, especially his Venetian work. It was planned in collaboration with Manchester Cathedral by the Guild of St George, the utopian charity founded by Ruskin in 1871 and still active today. It forms part of the Guild’s Ruskin in Manchester festival, organised by Dr Rachel Dickinson of Manchester Metropolitan University, and the address in this service will be given by the present Master of the Guild, Clive Wilmer.

The Guild would like to express its warm thanks to the clergy and staff of the cathedral, in particular to Marion McClintock, whose initiative it was.

Though troubled by doubts for much of his life, Ruskin was from first to last a profoundly religious man. For this service of Evensong we are using the Book of Common Prayer (the 1660 revision) and the Authorised Version of the Bible (1611), commonly called the King James, with both of which Ruskin was deeply familiar, He knew large tracts of the King James by heart and it is generally thought to have influenced the striking beauty of his literary style.

The hymns and the readings from scripture in this service have Ruskinian associations. He profoundly admired the poetry of the seventeenth-century Anglican priest George Herbert, so two of the hymns we shall be singing are settings of Herbert poems. The Christian understanding of labour expressed in one of them, ‘Teach me, My God and King’, is very close to Ruskin’s own reflections on that subject and is quoted with warm approval in one of his books.

We shall be singing three hymns on this occasion. The third and last of them was written for Ruskin’s funeral at Coniston in 1900. The author was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a disciple and former student of Ruskin’s, who, as Vicar of St Kentigern’s Church at Crossthwaite, near Keswick, was a fellow Lakelander. He was also – with Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter – one of the three founders of the National Trust.

The two Bible readings are both passages used in Ruskin’s books. The story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10-22) is explored in the lecture ‘Traffic’ in a collection of lectures called The Crown of Wild Olive (1866), while the Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-14) inspired Ruskin’s first foray into economics, the four lectures entitled Unto this Last (1862)

Clive Wilmer

Cathedral details here.