This story appears in the Winter 2016 issue of Instaurare. Subscribe today!
Bringing the Faith to York, England.
The University of York is a bastion of research in the United Kingdom. In today’s secular culture, it is not the first place one would expect to find a conference designed to bring the Catholic faith to the center stage. Nevertheless, that conference occurred this past summer, all thanks to a Christendom alumna, a Christendom history professor, and a certain 20th-century poet and painter: David Jones.
The journey of bringing the Faith to York began in 2007 in one of Christendom College’s classrooms, as history professor Dr. Adam Schwartz taught an upper-level course titled “The Catholic Literary Revival.” During the course, Schwartz, the author of the acclaimed work The Third Spring, spoke at length about the aforementioned David Jones, a figure perhaps not well known in some academic circles, but whose literary influence contributed to the rise of hope and optimism in England following the First World War.
Jones, a native of London, fought in the trenches in World War I, an experience that crucially shaped his imagination. He discovered his other source of inspiration in the Catholic Faith in the 1920s, leading to paintings and writings directly tied into the traditions of the Church, perhaps most explicitly seen in his 1952 work The Anathemata, which traces the course of Western culture using the Mass as a framework.
Schwartz’s knowledge and passion for Jones’ work was palpable in his class, causing a profound impact on one of his students, Anna Svendsen. After graduating, Svendsen carried the memory of Jones with her to places that neither she nor Schwartz could have anticipated at the time, carrying on the mission of Christendom “to restore all things in Christ” as a result.
“Dr. Schwartz was an enormously inspiring professor, and my conversations with him particularly helped me to see that I wanted to study literature more in depth,” says Svendsen. “After Christendom, I did a specialized UK masters in modern and contemporary literature and culture at the University of York. At York, I rediscovered David Jones and fell in love with his book-length poem about his experience in the First World War called In Parenthesis, which sees the horror of war not with the despair of his contemporaries but in light of history and ‘myth’ in the sense beloved by Tolkien and Lewis, especially the ‘true myth’ of the Passion.”
The rediscovery of Jones inspired Svendsen to bring her love of the Catholic painter and poet to an even wider audience—her secular one at York. In the midst of preparing for the start of her third year of Ph.D. studies at the university, Svendsen began the process of organizing a major international conference on Jones, driven by the desire to make his work better known. With the aid of Schwartz back in the United States, Svendsen contacted speakers, scholars, and artists, discovering a great interest in rekindling the public conversation on Jones in academic circles.
After years of studying Jones and months of preparation, Svendsen opened the conference, titled “David Jones: Dialogues with the Past,” at the University of York this past July, welcoming guests from all across the world for the special event.
“Dr. Schwartz was an enormously inspiring professor, and my conversations with him particularly helped me to see that I wanted to study literature more in depth.”
Held over the course of three days, the conference featured keynote speakers from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the latter in the person of Svendsen’s beloved history professor, Dr. Adam Schwartz. Between the keynote talks and the presentation of papers on Jones, Svendsen orchestrated a true multimedia celebration of Jones, including two art exhibitions, a screening of lost David Jones interviews, and a performance of Opus Anglicanum’s 2015 commissioned musical sequence, “David Jones: July 1916, ‘The Battle of Mametz Wood’ from In Parenthesis.”
Each of the events, together, worked to bring the work of David Jones back into the academic conversation for the 21st century, resulting in a conference that received great acclaim and had an impact on all who attended.
Restoring hope into the culture means affecting every corner of it—even the most secular parts of it. The work of David Jones helped a country through the terrible aftermath of the Great War. Thanks to Svendsen, Schwartz, and others, his work has the chance to help not just England but the world, planting seeds at the University of York that will produce great fruit in the years to come.