The Islington Passion: Wooden and Silk Body of Christ, April 2009

by Graham Kings

Date added: 31/07/2020

The Islington Passion:

Wooden and Silk Body of Christ

(co-published with Faith Online, The Times Online, 9 April 2009)


by Graham Kings


How did the temple guards feel, who had the job of guarding the tomb where Jesus was laid on Good Friday? His execution had taken place in a religiously and politically charged atmosphere. There had been rumours that his friends would try to steal the body.


In St Mary’s Church, Upper Street, Islington, just to the right of the pulpit, there is a Zimbabwean sculpture made out of a tree trunk in 1960. Carved on it are five dramatic scenes from the gospels. Starting from the bottom, these are the nativity story, the call of the disciples, the trial before Pilate, the cross and the resurrection. School children come and draw the sculpture. People are allowed to touch it. A woman, who is gradually going blind, regularly lays her hands on it in prayer.


The final scene has the risen Christ on the front and two guards running away from him, very scared, on the two sides. They thought they had been professionally negligent. The irony of this pivotal moment of the universe, captured on the sculpture, is that it was not their fault. The body had not been stolen. Christ had been raised from the dead, and the whole climate of the world had changed.


On Good Friday, 10 April, the annual Islington ecumenical procession with the cross from the N1 Shopping Centre, along Upper Street, to St Mary’s, begins at 12.00 noon. Sam Stephen, from India, will be carrying the cross this year. As people enter the church, their eyes will be caught by a substantial silk installation of the body of Christ, by Caroline McCleave, slung across scaffolding, behind the pulpit and the lectern. Nikki Groake, vicar of St Stephen’s Church, Canonbury, will be the preacher.


As the service progresses, the body will be taken down, the silk will be billowed out and seen to be a parachute. People will be invited to come forward and pass under the elevated body of Christ and back to their seats. Then the Zimbabwe sculpture will be wrapped with the silk and laid on the chancel. Later, at the end of the service of meditations around the cross, from 1.00pm-3.00pm, it will be buried in the Sheppard Chapel, under the Tower in the crypt, which was recently dedicated in memory of David Sheppard, a curate at St Mary’s 1955-58.


We are included and restored, as wood shapes the story and silk breaks the Fall.


Canon Dr Graham Kings is vicar of St Mary Islington. A BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme report on the Islington procession in 2003 may be heard here.




Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel

A bronze


Wood panel