Gothic Cathedrals–Books of Stone and Glass Telling of God’s Love

Medieval Gothic churches are like books. Stone, pointed arches, and flying buttresses form the spine and cover, which contain “pages” of stained glass windows telling the story of God’s love for us in Christ, This pane from a much larger window at Chartres tells part of the story of the Good Samaritan.

York cathedral, author photo

York Cathedral in England was the first Medieval Gothic “Book” I ever stood in and therefore, holds a special place in my heart.  I will always remember seeing the tall stone towers soaring above me as we approached and the strong stones holding it all up.

York Minster nave, author photo

Once in the nave I tilted my head back and back so my eyes could travel up slender columns past pointed arches, and clerestory windows to the ribbed vault high above me. All around me “pages” of blue, red, and yellow stained glass sparkled in the light streaming through. And yes, even though it was England, it was sunny!

Each cathedral is as individual as the people who built it, but York has two features that make it a great cathedral to focus on for Valentine’s Day.

1. Not only is York a cathedral because it has the chair or cathedra from which its archbishop speaks authoritatively or ex cathedra but it’s also a Minster and is more commonly called York Minster. Minster is the old Saxon word for missionary church.

York undercroft, author photo

There’s been a minster on this site, bringing the light of God’s love to pagan peoples for over 1400 years. You can still see columns and foundation stones from earlier churches in the undercroft and ruins of the Roman headquarters and barracks for this region lie farther down.

God’s love shines through the stories in the glass and also continues through the many people from this region who ministered  to others in unique  ways. Here are just a few people God inspired to be minsters of gospel light.

There was Constantine, not even a Christian when his legions proclaimed him emperor at York. But God used him and gave him a dream for his soldiers to put the Chi Rho symbol for Christ on their shields. Constantine won a decisive battle outside Rome, and as emperor, legalized Christianity in 313. He was later himself baptized.

There was Ethelbrugh and the courage God gave this Christian princess, to come from southern England to marry a pagan Saxon king in York in the 600s and help bring him to faith.

public domain, wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was Ulf, and the redemption God gave him and other Christian descendants of pagan Vikings who had earlier conquered this region. Ulf gave a 3 foot long carved elephant tusk drinking horn to York Minster in the late 11th century as a pledge for land to help support the minster.  The horn is still part of York’s treasury.

I especially want to tell about Alcuin, a Christian scholar, writer, and head of the York cathedral school and its library. In the 700s God took Alcuin to Charlemagne’s court to advise the emperor on religious and educational matters.

Alcuin set up schools and libraries throughout the empire and worked to revise and standardize the Bible and preserve other ancient writings.

He introduced lower case letters, spaces between words, and punctuation– making it much easier for people to learn to read. He wrote poems, textbooks, essays, and hundreds of letters.

And he mentored younger writers as shown in the photo above.

2. Gothic churches usually have rose windows, but York Minster has a unique stained glass window, completed in the 1300s, that for me symbolizes that God is at the heart of all these stories, the bibical ones in the stained glass and the continuing story of God’s people who minister in His name.

York Minster, author photo

May this window remind us each of us is part of His Story as we shine the light of Christ’s love into a dark world wherever we live and work.

 

 

Notre Dame Faces a Dangerous “Game” of Pick-Up Sticks

Can you imagine a giant game of pick-up sticks with 50,000 tubes of steel scaffolding? Notre Dame workers still face a difficult and dangerous challenge to stabilize the 800 year-old cathedral.

After this short update, there’s a children’s “stained glass” art project to remind us what an important legacy Gothic churches have given us.

On April 26, 2019, we watched in horror, as Notre Dame’s spire leaned, then crashed, all against a wall of flame that heavily damaged the roof.

Notre Dame crossing before the fire, author photo

What is perhaps worse, and not that well-known, is that the intense heat of the fire also melted and welded together scaffolding that had been erected over Notre Dame’s crossing and spire in order to do planned restoration of the spire.

This twisted mass of steel scaffolding still sits over the crossing.  (the “crossing” is where the transepts “cross” the nave, giving most Gothic cathedrals the shape of a cross)

In this photo taken in the fall of 2018, you can see the beginnings of the scaffolding going up around the crossing. It eventually enclosed the crossing and the spire.

That old scaffolding weighs a whopping 250 tons, and  threatens the vaults or arches that held up the roof and, therefore, the stability of the entire cathedral.

So before any restoration begins, the old scaffolding must be removed.

Here’s a link to The Art Newspaper with recent pictures    https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/notre-dame-enters-a-new-and-high-risk-phase-in-its-restoration

Here’s the strategy to remove the twisted maze of steel:

  •      Wrap 3 bands of steel around the whole cathedral to help stabilize it.
  •      Erect cranes and new scaffolding above the crossing so workers can be lowered into the mass of melted tubing. Like in a game of pick-up sticks, they must analyze each section before they remove it, to prevent large sections of the old scaffolding falling. If that happens, workers don’t just lose a turn—the cathedral could suffer irreparable damage.

Here’s the good news:

  •      In the photos you can see that, thanks to the early heroic work of firefighters and the continuing work of many others, Notre Dame still stands.
  •      Its flying buttresses were saved, along with its priceless and stunning stained glass windows.

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And here’s a “stained glass” art project for children to do as we watch and pray for those workers who will risk great danger in the ongoing effort to save Notre Dame.  (this is a project for older elementary children or for younger ones with help with cutting)

Supplies:

  • Sketchbook or paper for exploring ideas and making patterns
  • Black construction or cardstock paper
  • Pencil, colored pencils, ruler, scissors, glue
  • Colored tissue paper
  • Waxed paper (waxed paper keeps your project from sticking to things as you work)

Directions:

Tips: It’s hard to see pencil on the black paper, so use a light colored pencil, such as yellow. Make all pencil marks on one side only of your black paper. It will be the back of the stained glass design.

1. Experiment with designs in a sketch book or on white paper

2. Draw a one-inch frame around the black paper

 

 

3. Cut a piece of white paper to fit the inner square, then fold the paper and draw and cut out a heart. The heart must touch the outer frame in several places.

 

 

4. Draw your design, then refold your heart and cut out the sections that will be in color.5. Place the white heart pattern over the center black square and trace around the cut out sections.6. Remove and make any needed adjustments. (I found that my spaces weren’t large enough, so I enlarged these. As long as your marks are on the back, they won’t show in the end.7. Cut out the black shapes that will be covered with colored tissue paper.  Keep your cut out shapes as patterns for cutting the tissue paper.8. Choose your color scheme (this was hard for me. I wanted to use all the colors I had, But this can lead to a design that is too busy! So after some sketches, I chose warm colors with some repetition here and there, but you might choose cool colors, like the blues with just a little red in this window from Sainte Chapelle. Or…

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, author photo

 

York Minster, author photo

choose primary colors as in this  window from York Minster.

 

 

    9.For each color, trace around the black cut out shapes, leaving a half inch margin for gluing.

 

 

 

 

Before gluing, place your black paper face down on a sheet of waxed paper. If the wax paper gets too gluey, replace it so glue doesn’t get on the front of your project.

10. On the back of your black paper, spread a thin line of glue and carefully place your tissue paper shape over the opening. It takes a light touch with the tissue paper and just a little glue (I rubbed the line of glue into a thin, smooth layer before applying the tissue paper)

11. Continue this process until all the empty places are covered with tissue paper and let dry.

Molly says, “Voila!” French for “There you are!” (she’s using French because they built the first Gothic cathedrals)

 

 

 

 

 

Now you have a stained glass design you can use for a card or display in a window so the sunlight can bring in that beautiful light that Abbot Suger of Saint Denis called, “somewhere between heaven and earth” that still fills Gothic cathedrals today! And we hope will someday again fill Notre Dame!

What are your thoughts about the challenges ahead for Notre Dame?

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Sign up to receive my posts! The next few will explore the beauty and history of another great Gothic cathedral and provide some lessons to help teachers and children explore the history and architecture of these great churches, which are a testimonial to the Christian faith of those who built them long ago.

 

 

 

Ten of My Favorite Paintings

Here are Ten of My Favorite Paintings (and it was hard to do just 10!)

Please follow this link to  https://jeanmatthewhall.com/art-and-children/   to my guest post about how Art Benefits Children Cognitively, Socially, and Physically on Jean Matthew Hall’s blog, then come back here and look at ten of my favorite paintings and try some of the activities I suggest with your children.

The Lindisfarne Gospel, c. AD 700, made at the Lindisfarne Priory on Lindisfarne, Holy Island, off England’s northeast coast, the British Library, London

Chi Rhi page, Lindisfarne Gospel, public domain

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434, National Gallery, London

Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, public domain

Puppy Playing with a Pheasant Feather, c. 1499, Yi Om, Korean, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Puppy Playing with Pheasant Feather, by Yi Om, public domain

The Hare, Albrecht Durer, 1502, Albertina, Vienna

The Hare by Albrecht Durer, public domain

The Philosopher in Meditation, 1632, Rembrandt, The Louvre, Paris

The Philosoper, Meditating by Rembrandt, public domain

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, 1658, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Milkmaid by Vermeer, public domain

The Oxbow, The Connecticut River near Northhampton, 1836, Thomas Cole, Metropolitan

Museum of Art, NYC

The Oxbow by Thomas Cole, public domain

Children on a Beach, 1884, Mary Cassatt, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Children on a Beach by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Rouen Cathedral, 1892-1893, Claude Monet, Rouen Museum, Rouen, France

Rouen Cathedral, Facade and the Tour d’Albane, Gray Weather, Claude Monet, Rouen Museum

Moonlight, Wood Island Light,1894,  Winslow Homer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Moonlight, Wood Island Light by Winslow Homer, public domain

This last one by Winslow Homer was painted in Maine–near where I grew up.

What are some of your favorite paintings?

How I Almost Missed Jesus Devotion plus a Christmas Art Project for the Family

I almost missed this painting of Jesus. Small and tucked away in an out-of-the-way gallery, it was overshadowed by the larger, more famous paintings at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

In this post the devotion is first, followed by an art project the whole family can enjoy together. Next is a very short bio of the artist Gerrit van Honthorst.  And last of all a couple of photos of Molly and me in the snow. I hope you’ll enjoy any or all of these.

The Uffizi, author photo

Devotion:

Like other famous museums, the Uffizi is crowded. People fill every gallery. Many are tired. Not everyone is polite. As we stood in front of one especially famous painting, someone in the crowd actually rested a camera attached to a selfie stick on my husband’s head! (selfie sticks are now banned in most museums!)

 

But to visit the Uffizi was a once–in-a-lifetime experience,

The Holy Family by Michelangelo, photo by author

so we persevered, even though we often had to wait and then stand our ground for space to gaze at great Renaissance art. I marveled at the rich colors of Michelangelo’s Holy Family and so many other beautiful paintings.

 

 

 

At the end of the day when we trudged into a small, plain gallery, my feet ached, and my head was on art overload (yes, even art teachers get there!) I collapsed on a bench, like this guy I photographed at the Louvre, and didn’t even look at the art on the walls.

 

 

 

 

So my husband saw it first—a small nativity painting by Gerrit van Honthorst that uses light and shadow to focus on Jesus. I had come to the Uffizi on a mission to see the big Renaissance artworks for real. It took a small painting by a relatively unknown artist to show me I was missing Jesus.

Long ago people had to go to Bethlehem for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a Roman census. Crowds of tired people were on missions to find rooms. Not everyone was polite. Tempers flared, and children cried.   And most missed Jesus. He was small, like any baby, and He was tucked away in a stable behind one of those inns. No halos, crowns, or beautiful garments made Him stand out. Instead Mary had wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger.

But the shepherds stopped everything and hurried to see Jesus, because they believed the angels’ announcement:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12 (NIV)

Adoration of the Christ Child by Honthorst, photo by author

They truly saw Jesus. They saw the One who created the stars lying humbly in a manger. They saw God’s most amazing miracle of all time–Immanuel, God come to dwell with us and in His great compassion save us from our sins. They worshiped Him with wonder and delight. Let’s make sure we don’t get so focused on our holiday missions of shopping and gift-wrapping, concerts and parties, that we miss Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us—Himself.

Take time with your children or grandchildren to look at this painting together. Ask them to tell you what they see and share with them the wonder of Immanuel, God with us.

Art Project—a pop-up card to help everyone see Jesus!

Supplies

  •      pencil, ruler, scissors
  •      1 piece of medium blue cardstock, cut a little smaller than the white card
  •      1 piece of white or other light-colored cardstock
  •      small pieces or scraps of yellow and/or brown construction paper
  •      old Christmas cards with nativity scenes or scraps of white cardstock to draw on
  •      markers
  •      white glue and glitter or glitter glue

Directions (This is a fun project to do as a family—adults or older children helping younger children)

1. Score and Fold both blue and white cards in half

2. The blue card:

     A few inches from the top on the inside draw a wavy line for some hills and add a few small   buildings and palm trees. Leave room for the big star!! (look at towns on old Christmas cards for examples). Use blue marker to color the buildings and trees.  Leave some windows and doors to fill in with yellow marker after blue marker is dry.

3. To make the pop-up section on the blue card

Refold the card and on the outside at the fold, place a dot at the middle. About an inch on each side of the dot draw one line that extends 1 ½” up from the fold and with the card still folded, cut along the 2 lines. Do not cut across the top.

Open the card and poke the cut section through to the front. Scoring for the folds helps.

Crease along the two scored lines so the cut portion stands up like a bench.

4. The Star

In the sky above the little houses on the blue card, draw a large star and outline in glue. Make dots for small scattered stars. Sprinkle glitter over the stars and allow to dry.

5. Attaching the blue card to the white card

Turn the blue card to the back and thinly spread glue over its back, being sure not to get glue on the poked-to-the-front section. Center the blue card on the white card, lining up the folds and press to stick.

 

6. The Manger Scene

Cut out a manger scene from a Christmas card (You don’t have to cut out every figure—maybe just a shape that includes everyone). Or you can draw and cut out your own from another piece of cardstock.

Glue the manger scene to the front of the “bench” so when the card is opened, the manger scene will stand up. Cut yellow and brown paper into small, thin pieces and glue at base of manger for straw.

Place your manger scene where everyone can see Jesus!

If you’d like to send your card to someone, turn the card over to the white front and add a Christmas message about Jesus!  Decorate around your message with markers

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A very short Bio of Gerrit van Honthorst, who painted The Adoration of the Christ Child:

Gerrit van Honthorst was born in the Netherlands in 1590. He studied art in Italy, learning how Carravaggio created dramatic lights and darks. While in Italy, Honthorst painted many night scenes, mostly religious. Although not very well-known today, Honthorst helped bring the dramatic Baroque art style to northern Europe, and influenced Rembrandt in the Netherlands and Georges de la Tour in France.      

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 Molly and I wish you all a blessed Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog this year, and we hope to see you back here for more great art, devotions, and fun projects in the New Year!

 

 

 

 

Easy and Fun Thanksgiving Art Project for Children

This easy and fun Thanksgiving art project for children will help decorate your Thanksgiving table and remind us all of our need for prayer, not just at Thanksgiving, but in all situations. It follows a brief outline of Albrecht Durer and his artwork, the Praying Hands.

Self-portrait, Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

The Artist
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) lived in the German city of Nuremberg, an important center of the new technology of printing. Life was hard. The German states often warred with each other, and there were military threats from outside, frequent famines from crop failures, and recurring outbreaks of the plague. Durer was one of just 3 in his family of 18 children to reach adulthood.

Durer had 3 years of school to learn to read and write, and at 15 he apprenticed to a Nuremberg painter and designer of woodblocks for book illustration.

At 18 he traveled as a journeyman, making and selling woodblock designs to book printers. Twice he traveled to Italy to study the art of Raphael and da Vinci. Durer was one of the first northern artists to do this, and his work shows a mingling of the Northern artists’ careful observation of detail and the Italian concern with the rules of perspective and form.

Although a great painter, Durer was one of the first to make the major part of his income from woodblock prints and engravings, which were affordable by all. In these Durer used fine lines to produce life-like details and shading. One project, 15 large woodblock prints from Revelation, instantly became a bestseller, making Durer famous throughout Europe. Some were later used in Luther’s German New Testament.

The Great Piece of Turf, Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

Wherever Durer traveled, he studied and painted ordinary places and creatures with the interest of a naturalist. He painted dandelions, hares, and crabs he saw in the fish markets of Venice. Once he tried to see and draw a beached whale, and it’s believed he contracted malaria from that excursion, and later died from it.

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

The Artwork
The Praying Hands have become an enduring symbol of faith. They were done as a study for a large painting that was part of an altarpiece for a church.  We know the painting only from a copy, because the original was destroyed by fire in 1729.

The Praying Hands study was drawn with a brush on a greenish blue paper. They show careful observation, but go far beyond mere recording, to illustrate humble faith and trust in God.

Durer followed Luther’s writings closely, often requesting copies of new pamphlets from Frederick the Wise’s secretary. When Luther was “kidnapped” Durer was in the Netherlands. He, along with most others, thought the kidnapping was real and that Luther might be dead.

This quote from Durer’s journal shows his worry as well as his desire to understand the ways of God. “Oh God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound to us the holy Gospel with such clearness? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?”

This well-educated, hard-working, spiritually-seeking artist, who loved to investigate and depict the simplest things of God’s creation, shows us in The Praying Hands a wonderful symbol of our need for prayer. Perhaps as an artist, he realized more than most how wonderfully made the hand is, and what amazing tasks God has designed it to be able to do.

Which brings us to the EASY and FUN ART PROJECT:

This project can be done very simply in about 20 minutes with crayons while everyone is waiting for dinner to be ready.

At the end I’ll show an extra step you can do if you wish. It’s a little messier, but fun if you’re game!

Materials: basics–brown, white, or Thanksgiving-motif paper lunch bags, scissors, pencils, a little glue, and crayons or markers. Add poster-type paint and a largish brush, if you want to do the extra step. And some paper towels!!

20151124_1442261. Place a folded paper bag flat on the table with the folded bottom of the bag facing up. Have the child place his or her hand flat on the bag with finger tips pointed toward the top of the bag and their wrist at the upper edge of the folded bag bottom.

2. With a pencil, trace around the child’s hand.

3. Keeping the bag folded, cut in from the sides of the bag (just above the folded bag bottom) to the child’s wrist. Then cut up and around the traced hand (through both thicknesses of the bag) and out to the bag’s other edge on the other side of the hand.20151124_152726

The child may then decorate or color the hands.

 

20151124_144928The extra step: before opening the bag, fold the two hands away from each other and the bag bottom. Spread a thin layer of paint on the child’s hands (too much paint just smears and doesn’t show the lines of the hand. If you’re not sure how much to use, have some scrap paper handy and do a couple trial prints)

20151124_145709Then help the child to make hand prints on what will be the inside or palm of their praying hands.

20151124_145718They need to hold their hand still and just press down gently.

They will also need to do each hand separately so thumbs and fingers match. (To cut down on the mess, as you finish printing with each of the child’s hands, fold a paper towel around and into their hand so they have the towel to hold until you get them to wherever you’ll wash up)

20151124_152705I like to do this additional step if possible because when children see their hand print, it’s a great time to talk to them about how wonderfully made they are and that they are so special to God that even their finger prints are different from anyone else’s.

Last step: Whether you do the printing part or just the coloring, now open the bag. To form the praying hands, glue the tips of the fingers together. (just a little glue so you can still put things into the bottom of the bag)20151124_153112

Whichever way you do these, it’s fun and a great reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about!! At the Thanksgiving table guests may write prayer requests or things they are thankful for on slips of paper and put these in the bag.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to relax and remember the Lord’s love for you and His many blessings!

Interview with Jean Matthew Hall, Author of the Picture Book, God’s Blessings of Fall

I’m happy to welcome Jean Matthew Hall as a guest on my blog today. She and I share a love of God and His creation, and her debut picture book, God’s Blessings of Fall, has recently been released by Little Lamb Books.

It encourages children to use all their senses to experience and celebrate the blessings of that season, while pointing them to the Lord! It’s a great read-aloud with lots of fun sound words to delight readers.

It’s also a book that will help you and your children celebrate God’s blessings this Thanksgiving!

Hi, Jean! Welcome to my blog.

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

A: As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!

I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.

 

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know” Watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.

 

Q: God’s Blessings of Fall has lots of fun words and sensory images for readers to savor. And I know you’re a mom, a grandmother, and a teacher like me. Any suggestions to help parents enjoy these with their children?

A:  Kids love the “sound” words. They love to be the ones to read those words aloud. Also let them try to think of other words that start with the repeated consonants on the pages of the book. Or play a game of finding things around the house that have the same sounds as the words on the page. Second and third graders can “borrow” those words and create their own stories using them.

Q: Tell us about your illustrator

A: Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world. I love all the adorable animals she created.

 

Q: How can parents use these beautiful illustrations to help tell the story?

A: Again, using the illustrations (like the words) as bridges to things in the child’s everyday world works well. If you live near a wooded area, or a wildlife museum, go on an animal hunt. If that’s not possible do it at the library! Find books about the animals on the pages of God’s Blessings of Fall. Olya’s illustrations are water color, so it’s great fun to let your kiddos create their own illustrations, or animals, using their watercolor sets. Hey! If parents would like to take photos of their activities and post them on my FB Page that would be awesome!

Q: What would you like children to take away from God’s Blessings of Fall?

A: That God is our loving Creator and Designer of this beautiful world and of us.

 

Q: Where is your book available?

A: Parents can order it from LittleLambBooks.com, Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. They can also request that their favorite local bookstore order it for them.

 

Q: I understand that God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in a series of four books. Can you tell us a little about the rest of the series?

A: Two more books in the series should be available in 2020. Then the last book in 2021. I’m not sure which book, Summer, Winter, or Spring, will be next. They are about basically the same animals and their activities and habits in each season. The lyric language carries through all four books. I think I’m most excited to see the Winter book, myself.

 

Q: Where can we learn more about you and your upcoming projects?

A:  My website and blog are at www.jeanmatthewhall.com.

My FaceBook page is JeanMatthewHallAuthor.

My twitter account is Jean_Hall.

And the most fun place to catch me online is at Pinterest at JeanMatthew_Hall. I have boards about crafts for kids, recipes, gluten-free recipes, crochet patterns, picture book reviews, and even advice for parents of young children. Sort of eclectic!

Thank you, Jean, for sharing with us about your new book, God’s Blessings of Fall! You’ve given parents lots of good ideas for sharing your beautiful book with their children!

Thank YOU! It’s a joy to share on your blog. Blessings!

 

 

 

Devotion for The Hay Wain

The bright red on the harnesses draws your attention right to the hay wain  and the three horses pulling it. It’s the focal point of the painting, and it’s where I’m focusing these devotional thoughts, too.

But first, don’t miss the two related study suggestions especially for homeschoolers at the end of this post. One is a literature study and the other is a Christian history study. Both are related to the time period of this painting and would be good to introduce or expand on a study of the Industrial Revolution.

Now on to The Hay Wain and the three powerful, black horses that made it possible to quickly bring in more hay than men and women on their own could have done.

They were likely descended from Friesians, black horses that originated long ago in Friesland, a northern area of what is today the Netherlands.

  • As early as AD 122 records show that the Romans brought Friesians and their owners to Britain to help build Hadrian’s Wall.
  • In Medieval times Friesian mercenaries rode their large, powerful horses into battles in Britain and elsewhere.
  • In the 1500s more Friesian horses came to the eastern parts of England (where Constable’s family later lived and farmed) with Dutch engineers to help drain the marshes.
  • In the 1800s Friesians were sought after as coach horses, and were often used to pull hearses for funerals.

Because of this, the all-round Friesian horse has contributed to several large and small horse breeds originating in England, including the largest, the Shire horse.

At the time of this painting, although the Industrial Revolution was under way, Friesians and other horses were still indispensable.

Steam may have powered the engines for railroads and machinery in factories, but the coal to produce steam had to be mined. In those mines thousands of small ponies, called pit ponies lived underground and pulled coal carts through the tunnels.

Above ground, railway companies in Great Britain still owned thousands of draft horses to make local deliveries and even shunt engines and cars around in railway yards. In London, over 11,000 horse-drawn cabs took people to work, to theaters, and to railway stations.

Wherever there were canals horses pulled barges and small boats. Here’s another of Constable’s large landscapes that shows a horse leaping a barrier as it pulls a boat along a canal near where Constable lived.

The Leaping Horse, John Constable, wikimedia

The 3-foot barriers kept cattle from straying, so canal horses had to be strong and well-trained to not only pull a barge, but leap the barriers along the way.

Even as more machines were developed to speed up planting and harvesting, large teams of horses had to pull the machines.

Of course people also rode horses everywhere, and livery stables existed for people to rent a horse the way today we rent a car.

Little wonder that we still use the term “horsepower” to determine how much power an engine can produce.

James Watt, whose steam engine helped power the Industrial Revolution, came up with the term “horsepower” to describe how much power it took to raise 550 pounds 1 foot in 1 second. He based the measurement on the work of ponies in mines.

For thousands of years the power of horses has carried armies into battle, allowed people to hunt large game such as bison, taken people to settle new areas, and once there, pulled plows to grow food and wagons to get products to markets.

Yet in Psalm147, we see that God warns us not to put our hope in even that great power.

      His [God’s] pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

             Nor is His delight in the legs of a man;

       The Lord delights in those who fear Him,

              Who put their hope in His unfailing love. Ps. 147:10-11.

As we put our hope in God’s love, the Lord can use even our weaknesses for His glory!

As Paul says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor.12:9.

Have you experienced a time when God used your weaknesses for His glory?

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Ideas for Homeschoolers studying the Industrial Revolution:

1. Literature study: Read Black Beauty. Anna Sewell wrote the story in the 1800s about a gentle, black horse that worked in many of the capacities I’ve written about. When horses filled city streets and toiled in mines, they were often overworked and abused. Sewell wanted to encourage people to treat horses more humanely, and the book did succeed in bringing better treatment to horses. Today we read it mainly because it’s such a good story, but it can still spark a discussion about kind treatment of all animals or introduce a study of that important historical period.

2. Christian history study: Learn how the revivals of the Wesleys and George Whitefield helped the many people who had left rural life for jobs in factories. Children and adults worked long hours in unsafe conditions and went home to unsanitary slums. But many Christians who came to faith in the Wesleyan revivals worked to better the conditions of poor working people. The Sunday school movement began because working children only had Sundays off.  Others worked to end child labor in mines or start orphanages. They worked to improve hospital and prison conditions.