Simon Keyes is director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London
A Muslim imam, a Kurdish refugee fashion designer, a Franciscan priest from Israel, an American tourist. What brought them together?
They found themselves, and each other, sitting in the unique atmosphere of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in the heart of the City of London. The walls of this tiny mediaeval church had recently (1993) been blown apart by an enormous bomb planted outside by the IRA. Like many victims of conflict the church was not the target, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rebuilding the church became an act of peace-making, transforming the ruins into a symbol of the way conflict can be transformed by creative energy, and becoming a unique meting space visited by more than 5,000 people a year from round the world.
This intimate circle of 15 people sat in a circle surrounded by birds, plants, and elemental forms of light and matter. Around them the old and new walls displayed paintings from Dorit Kedar’s remarkable, visionary artwork the “Book of Peace”.
In total the book is comprised of 108 pictures, painted on squares and circles of plywood in bold strokes and subtle colours, but Dorit could only carry 20 as hand luggage. But they seemed to fill the space even when the building was empty. The following evening 60 people came to listen to a concert of music from Cuba and Argentina, musicians sharing the stories of the tragedies and loves of their own countries with a cosmopolitan crowd of Londoners, who come to the Centre to celebrate peace and friendship across cultural boundaries. The Book of Peace watched and echoed.
Even when the building was empty, the pictures seemed to fill the space. Sometimes a single person would sit in this ancient modern space and just listen to what the paintings were whispering. At other times, during the few days they were on show Dorit would guide groups of visitors round he four quadrants of the circle, sharing her vision, answering and asking the questions of strangers.
The Book of Peace is an extraordinary statement, expressed with a rich and eloquent
grammar. It’s a life-enhancing affirmation of the fundamental connectedness of all creation, in all its magnificent diversity and detail. It springs from the artist’s life-time experience of struggling to express values of harmony in the middle of violence, hatred and disorder.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to give it a temporary home in London, and to observe how it spoke of better things to so many people. Sitting in that circle of travellers, converging for a short moment in the sacred space created by The Book of Peace, no-one could doubt that we are all unique expressions of a Divine one. Something infinitely good and impossibly strong. Thank you Dorit for bringing us together as pages in the Book of Peace.
London, February 2006