Category: Spiritfest

'Spiritfest', Cathedral on high. photo: Charles Harry Mackenzie

One of the defining characteristics of Festival is its diversity. There is something for everyone on the programme; some might even say that there are too many options. However, the point is they are inclusive and try to cater to everyone. The Spiritfest, however is not like that.

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Illustration: Sarah Rose de Villiers

You may have heard the famous Grahamstown bells, but do you know the story behind those beautiful sounds? Inside the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, behind a narrow wooden door, there are 63 winding stone stairs that lead to a room of dangling ropes and Gothic windows.

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The Very Reverend Andrew Hunter conducts a reading during a special Festival service held yesterday. Photo: CuePix

The Cathedral of St Michael and St George held a special service yesterday to celebrate SpiritFest and its relationship to the National Arts Festival. The Rev Archbishop Thabo Makgoba led the service with a very original programme and message of Finding God in the Arts.

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Instead of church bells or communion, 40 Stones in the Wall, an art exhibition, heralded the opening of Spiritfest 2014 on Thursday 3 July.

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Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is a moving work that demands respect from performers and listeners alike. The complete dedication of violinist Samson Diamond, clarinettist Allan Thompson, pianist Anna Wilshire Jones and cellist Wessel Beukes in performing this awe-inspiring work made for a moving experience.

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Home from Home is Chris Mann’s newly launched collection of poems, containing both new pieces and poems from his previous works. This year, Spiritfest presents Mann’s work as a multi-media musical. “The title refers to identity, and how one is able to find home away from home,” said Cathy Gush, spokesperson of the production. This year, Mann’s work will be exhibited in combination with music and imagery. His wife, visual artist Julia Skeen, is the illustrator of a series of large-scale images which incorporate the texts of Mann’s poems.

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The Shroud of Turin has been the object of religious contemplation and scientific study since 1354. It is said to be the most studied artifact in human history. Spiritfest contributed to this debate with Rhodes University philosophy lecturer, Francis Williamson’s presentation Shrouded in Enigma: a new case for the Shroud of Turin.

Christians and atheists alike have been fascinated by this 4.4 × 1.1 m cloth’s many seemingly inexplicable qualities. The image is so precise it appears to be pixilated. It is only one fibril thick and is not integrated with the fibrils of the linen. With no runover or spillage it is isolated on a fibril to fibril basis; a level of precision unheard of in medieval times. The image appears to be three dimensional, standing within the fabric like a statue.

Debate has centred on when the cloth was produced. Some believe it was produced by the crucified body of Christ; others that it was painted in commemoration of Christ during the medieval ages. In 1988 a sample was taken from the shroud and three separate labs were permitted to analyse it.

Righteous fake
Their results dated the shroud between 1260 and 1390. The subject appeared closed. Williamson called the result “a shock and disappointment to many people.”

However, the self-proclaimed “shroud enthusiast” believes that the dating was inaccurate. During his talk he presented both scientific and historic data to shed light on possible alternatives to the 1988 data.

There are three theories to explain results of the carbon dating. The shroud has been involved in three fires and the amount of carbon present on the linen may have been altered by this. The age of the shroud could have lead to a build-up of organic products on the surface of the linen.

However, the most popular and credible theory is that the section of the shroud used in the 1988 carbon dating was taken from a corner of the shroud that was part of a medieval repair job.
Furthermore, letters and art from as early as 330 document sacred linen with the image of Jesus imprinted on it that sounds a lot like the Shroud of Turin. Williamson argues that this “social data” should not be ignored.

The solution to the controversy would require that samples from areas of the shroud be tested again using modern carbon dating. However, as the shroud is one of the world’s most valued objects, the fear is that new samples would destroy it.

Objects of faith
Despite his interest in the Shroud; Williamson insists it is not the foundation of his faith.
“[If the Shroud was not from the time of Christ] it would be sad but I don’t think people’s faith would be diminished.”

“Whatever else may the case, the Shroud is still profoundly mysterious and worthy of further study. It has not been shown to be a medieval forgery.”

He continues, “On the contrary, best hypothesis which makes most sense of the scientific evidence is that it indeed is an early Christian relic which bears the actual markings of an actually crucified man.” How exactly the image was formed and why it has the properties it has remains enigmatic.

“I believe there is a supernatural aspect to the shroud,” he said.

Joy – an extravagant surge that carries with it a sense of eternal surety. It also filled the sanctuary of the Trinity Presbyterian Church during the Gospel Africa Concert.

It was late to start, but the excitedly expectant crowd seemed to forget the 10-minute delay when music group Still 4 Ever exploded on to the stage with a swinging jazz intro. This talented group of young musicians from Grahamstown, directed by Tatenda Mhunduru, presented a fusion of hip hop, rap, traditional gospel choir music and jazz to usher in a new standard of excellence at this year’s festival.

Mhunduru promised before the concert that the Gospel Africa Concert wouldn’t have the “quiet church service type of atmosphere”. And it came to pass.

Do not expect to stay in your seat during the performance. Mhunduru invites the audience to join in the infectiously energetic explosion of praise, not unlike a charismatic preacher.
Still 4 Ever was joined by the versatile voice of guest artist Mercy Ndlovu for a soulfully jazzed-up rendition of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, as well as Harare-based duo Heaven’s Language, who work in the American rap genre.

Rhodes choir
Not even the few sound glitches could dampen the mood of the enthusiastic audience. Voice of Glory, the evergreen Rhodes University student choir, did not disappoint its affectionate fans. The audience was kept on its feet by rousing performances, which included Kgosi Ratshefola singing You Are Faithful; Omphemetse Ndlovu’s Mmele, Pelo le Moya; a duet comprising Sivuyise Mfenyane and Precious Fatyela performing Sanctuary and choir director

Kgothatso Sethole singing Jehovah is Your Name.
Technical director Matthew Adendorff says the concert is about showcasing the performing Christian arts, not just gospel music.
“It’s also about trying to make it accessible to everyone,” he says.

Celebrate gospel
This is not a show. It is an interactive, intercultural, interdenominational, spontaneous praise experience not to be missed. Gospel Africa, says Sethole, is about celebrating gospel music and making people aware of Christian artistry. “We are here to reveal the face of God,” says Sethole. And what a vibrantly, joyful, smiling face that is.

THE Spirit Festival (Spiritfest) that runs concurrently with the National Arts Festival celebrates the many shades of religious artistry including choral shows, theatre performances, national gospel stars and lecture series. According to Spiritfest Director and co-ordinator Joy Tandy, the Spiritfest, known as Stillpoint until three years ago, is predominantly a Christian oriented faith celebration. Tandy said “the Spiritfest is not exclusively Christian” but is welcome to any individual or religious group. Spiritfest is a fringe event and people who register to perform receive advertising privilege from the National Arts Festival through its website and media offices. Tandy said individuals and groups also promote their own shows and performances in their personal capacity.

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