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Two new glass windows to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Birkenes Church 7.12.2008. Artist´s speech.


Down the centuries sacred symbols and legends have for many reasons been linked to plants. In Birkenes Church white Lilium Candidums - Madonna Lilies - are painted on the resurrection motive of the altarpiece, flourishing at the entrance to the tomb. According to legend this lily in the garden of paradise was originally red. Red lilies sprang in the fertile moisture of Eva´s tears - falling to the ground as she wept and repented at having picked the forbidden fruit. One day, however, an angel came to comfort her and promised that man´s sin should be atoned for. For a sign the red lily would turn white. This happened on Easter Day.


One of the choir windows therefore echoes the Madonna Lily from the altar piece. The other window has the branch from a Birch. A plant I felt had to be included in Birkenes is of course the Birch - which has given its name not only to the church, but to the whole parish. In my research to find out whether the Birch had some equivalent sacred meaning, I wrote to Eiliv Grue, the author of Jomfru Mariablomar. Eit knippe legender (Luther 2007). Unfortunately he had nothing, but the author was inspired by my question. After a good skiing tour he went home and wrote his own legend - and dedicated it to Birkenes Church! Eiliv is here today and will himself read his legend about the Virgin Mary and the Birch for you.


The glass for the new windows is an exclusive, milky white, mouth blown glass from France. The factory that made it also produces glass for the restoration of great European Middle Age cathedrals. The committee that contacted me on the occasion of the jubilee, gave me the following task: The two windows were to be “a greeting from the present, in reverence to the past, for the future”. Whoever tries to run after the past will never reach it. If we are honest with our own present story, however, we may be able to go into a dialogue with the past. Only thus can something essential be created for the future.


The committee showed courage when giving this commission to an artist who, even though well experienced with church art, had little practice with glass. That might have been a disadvantage. On the other hand I was maybe for the same reason freer to find new solutions. As subscriber to the BBC Gardens Illustrated I discovered some years ago a feature on X-ray photographed plants. I was struck by an idea: Would it be possible to transfer X-ray photos onto glass? Glass is a transparent material. The electromagnetic X-rays do not stop at the object´s surface, but penetrate right through. Likewise the metaphysical dimensionin life is about letting oneself be radiated, X-rayed so to speak, by the divine light.


I contacted the X-ray centre in Kristiansand and was made welcome with my plants whenever I needed it. For my first visit I had to go in the Christmas Holiday when there would be no patients. Numerous tests were carried out on different machines. We ended up with mammograms. What more suitable for a Madonna Lily? Madonna Lilies are, by the way, not easy to purchase. The florists don´t sell them. And those who are lucky enough to have them in their garden commit themselves to a perpetual war with snails and small red lily beetles. My father did so and cultivated some first class specimens for me.


The mammograms could not be used raw, the way they came out of the machine. Fragments had to be patched together, converted from negatives to positives, organized into a balanced composition and then edited. For the latter I was assisted by a specialist in this domain, my good friend Roald Andreas Hauper Sandøy. Not to forget Tone Stensrud, Norsk Kunstglass AS, Oslo, who with an impressive will to try out new things, and with a steady hand, undertook the responsibility of transferring the mammograms onto the panes of glass and then firing them. A great thank you to all good helpers!


It is my sincere wish that the new windows benefit the congregation and visitors to Birkenes Church. Thank you for trusting me with the commission. I wish you much luck with the 150th jubilee year. Receive my tribute - from Lily and Birch!


Barbro Raen Thomassen


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