By Richard J. Mammana

A stream of the Church of England’s artistic self-image in the first half of the 20th century reflected the genius of one man: Thomas Noyes-Lewis (1863-1946). The bulk of his work was ephemeral, but it was nevertheless extensive. Postcards, children’s books, cigarette cards, baptism certificates, stained glass, Stations of the Cross, Sunday school attendance rewards, and bookplates all came from his pen from about 1900 through the beginning of World War II. His languages and artistic palettes were English, Christian, and imperial, but rooted also in the outlook of the Faith Press, a major Anglo-Catholic publisher whose influence on the entire Anglican Communion was pervasive. Despite obscurity today next to the reputations of Martin Travers and Ninian Comper, the importance of Thomas Noyes-Lewis in creating the visual culture of early 20th-century Anglo-Catholicism was unparalleled.

Noyes-Lewis was educated at the Tonbridge School and did not take a university degree. His father’s 1859 bankruptcy petition is an indication of a childhood spent in extremity. His earliest commercial work was in illustrating editions of E.F. Benson’s writing and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as popular children’s periodicals at the fin de siècle. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London displays one of his advertising posters from about 1899, showing a mermaid riding a bicycle under water.

The next four decades were a constant stream of fantastic religious creativity, during which he married one Mary Priscilla Horsley and fathered a son who continued his surname and given name. (His clerical father-in-law in the Diocese of Southwark had named all five of his daughters Mary.) His younger brother Robert Walter Michael Lewis was a priest in Canterbury and Southwark who served as organizing secretary of the Additional Curates Society, giving some indication of the family’s embedded churchmanship. His grandson, my occasional correspondent, keeps his name and manuscripts.

The Easter to Whitsun sequence of Noyes-Lewis’s Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By (1919) is a week-by-week illustration of the liturgical Gospels and moods according to the 1662 prayer book lectionary. Against the immediate background of the destruction of World War I, the images marry religious truth with artistic beauty to capture a moment in Anglican culture. The full set of 59 is long out of copyright and available online.

Easter Day

Angels in white albs and Dearmeresque-appareled amices (a standard Noyes-Lewis interpretation) bow with closed eyes before the risen Christ in this depiction of the moment when “Christ is risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” His hand is raised in blessing, and the angels’ wings are still. The tomb is broken behind the Lord, bright light emanating from it in the indication of the place where death was trampled down by death. The colors are vivid and bold, a fit image of Easter radiance.

Easter I

Eastertide is a compressed liturgical season of joy. The fasting of Lent and the rigors of Holy Week have passed away. The Alleluia has returned. The vestments are now white or gold, and today is called Low Sunday or Quasimodo Sunday. The Latin introit begins with Quasimodo geniti infantes (“As newborn babes”). Noyes-Lewis shows an angel washing a sheep, making its wool as white as snow. This is an image of the newly baptized from the Easter Vigil, still in their fresh white robes, marked with the sign of the cross as Christ’s own forever. The cross is still present as witness and reminder as the new life begins in cleansing regeneration.

Easter II-V

The Second Sunday in Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday, and Noyes-Lewis brings forward the newly baptized sheep from the previous week in his portrayal of Jesus with a shepherd’s crook and his crown of thorns. The evocation is tender, but Jesus’ wounds are still evident on his hands and feet, as reminders that the intimacy of the shepherding love was bought with a great price.

Noyes-Lewis takes liberty with the liturgical Gospel pericopes, and stretches them over the other Easter Sundays to depict the several parables about sheep in one continuous narrative. We eventually see each of the 99 sheep, marked with the sign of the cross, and then the shepherd’s departure to find the one who is lost. In the final panel, the Good Shepherd has found the threatening wolf, and stretched out his arms in atoning self-sacrifice for the safety of the flock. The captions could be the text of the appointed epistle reading from 1 Peter:

because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the shepherd and bishop of your souls.

Ascension

Ascension is the 40th day after Easter, always a Thursday, when the traditional introit says “O clap your hands together, all ye people; O sing unto God with the voice of melody.” Here the angels of Easter Day surround the ascended Lord again, and the Church prays: “Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that since we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

The three-day prison of the tomb in the first drawing of this cycle is replaced with a blue sky. The angels still close their eyes in adoration.

Whitsunday

Whitsunday is the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost, when God sends the promised Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. For Noyes-Lewis, this takes place in a missionary context that is decidedly English and masculine. The Union Jack flutters above a crowd of clergy and altar servers who show the crucifixion to gathered men in tribal dress. As was so often the case in the missionary expansion of Christianity from Europe, a boat is anchored just off the coast; it has brought a new religion to a new people.

As at the first Pentecost, the Spirit unites every people in the world with every other, and they can hear the Gospel and one another in their own tongues. The panel is idealizing, and ignores (as was normal for its time) the cultural disruptions that often accompanied missionary activity. That being said, it is fundamentally inclusive as well: “They were all with one accord in one place.” There is one Lord and one faith.

God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

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