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CHAGALL WINDOWS & my friend, Sara

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

About 10 years ago I employed a lovely young English girl, Sara, who had recently arrived in New Zealand. I was probably a bit of a mother hen and took her under my wing. Sara was going to be at a loose end on Christmas Day that year so she came to us to enjoy the day, and stayed the night. Since her return to the UK we have stayed in touch and on one of our later trips to London her parents, Viv and Toby, very kindly took us to High Tea at Fortnum and Mason to say thank you for looking after Sara while she was in New Zealand.

While we have been living here Sara and I have met up and recently we trained out to Tunbridge to have lunch with her and Viv & Toby. Unbeknown to us, Toby had decided we would eat at one of the old country pubs in Kent instead of at home.

Jumping in the car, Toby told us we were going sightseeing before lunch. I was very happy with that. I love the Kent countryside. Toby ducked and dived through narrow lanes until we came to a very nondescript road and turned into one of these many lanes. Sitting at the end in a muddy patch of land is the Capel United Church in a little area called Tudeley.

Once inside, both of us were very taken with the stained glass windows. Toby began to tell us a fascinating story of how Chagall (the famous Russian Jewish artist) came to create the images for these windows, particularly the one behind the altar. This is the largest and the most important one in the church and is a memorial tribute to Sarah d'Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye. Sarah was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d'Avigdor-Goldsmid; the family then lived at the fine Jacobean house Somerhill (now a school) which is situated nearby.

Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid had seen Marc Chagall’s work during a trip to Paris with her mother in 1961 and had fallen in love with his creations. After her tragic death in 1963 (aged 21) Sarah’s parents approached Chagall and commissioned him to create a stained glass window in her memory.

Toby told us that Chagall himself came to oversee the installation of this window and was so taken with the little church he offered to create new windows to replace the existing ones. They are very striking as you will see. The original stained glass windows were moved to a little room at the rear of the church and have been backlit so you can still appreciate their beauty.

Within this little church there are a number of items relating to Judaism and what I loved about it was that instead of focusing on the differences between Jews and other faiths they prefer to concentrate on all the things they share. What a beautiful ideology. As I said, Chagall was Jewish (born in Russian Belarus) and so was Sarah’s father. Chagall has a very interesting history and came through the First World War unscathed and lived in New York through the second. I just loved his use of colour, not only in his stained glass windows but through his paintings. It was such a special and spiritual visit.

Back in the car Toby drove us for miles through the hedgerows, down dips and up dales and past beautiful old oast houses, one of which Sara hopes to own one day! In the middle of nowhere we pulled into a car park bursting at the seams with customers and piled inside this fabulous old pub called The Bull Inn. We almost had to duck our heads coming in the door, the ceilings, in parts, were that low. It’s a very gorgeous 14th century place, serving great food with wonderful humour.

Cake and tea back at Viv and Toby’s and then the train back to Teddington. It was a super day.

This is the window dedicated to Sarah.
Original stained glass windows that are now in a smaller room and back-lit.

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