‘St Francis and the Hoopoe’
edition of 9
bronze and gilding
height 510mm x max depth 330mm x max width 350mm
Exhibited in Winchester Cathedral, Guildford Cathedral and the Cork Street Gallery, London.
St Francis of Assisi sits with a gilded hoopoe in the palm of his hand. In the Christian tradition St Francis was reputed to have had a deep awareness of God in nature, exemplified most memorably when he preached to the birds. The composition is also inspired by the allegorical story The Conference of the Birds by the 12th Century Persian poet and mystic, Farid ud-Din Attār. In this story the hoopoe, the symbol of inspiration and the soul’s guide, gathers the birds to begin the search for their King, the Simurgh – essentially a quest to find their spiritual self.
There is an interesting historical connection with the poet Attār. In 1218/19 Francis travelled to the Middle East and Egypt accompanying the 5th Crusade. While much of his ministry appears to have been focussed on the spiritual well-being of the crusaders, there is an intriguing story that after the defeat of the crusader army at Damietta in Egypt, Francis decided to walk into the enemy camp and confront the local Muslim leader (and soon to become Sultan of Egypt) Malik al-Kamil, who was Saladin’s nephew. He turned out to be very different from his militaristic uncle; he was about the same age as Francis, with a refined intellect and a passion for religious poetry, including all the work of Attār, whom he had met in his youth. Despite the considerably tense military situation, he received Francis with good will and over several days they shared a series of searching philosophical discussions which impressed both men. They seem to have parted with a greater understanding, and a deeper respect, for each others’ beliefs.
This sculpture is intended to evoke memories of those meetings and the power of honest discussion.