YESTERDAY was my birthday, an occasion for me to trot out that old cliché “I’m too old for birthdays” – and at the same time get as excited as the child in me as I opened each card and thoughtful present.
A cheque from my mother offered up the annual opportunity for a little self-indulgence. This year I decided it should be a year’s membership of The Art Fund, a cause close to my heart and a passport to exhibitions that will excite and enthral me, as long as I can get to them from all the way down here in Dorset. Most are, of course, in London, but an occasional awayday is not impossible.
I applied online for my membership and ticked the box to receive email news bulletins. How exciting, and what a lovely present I’d chosen for myself.
An hour or two later I headed for Hinton St Mary, about nine miles away, to meet my sister for an evening talk and demonstration on The Horse Boy method of helping children with autism. The ticket for the event was one of the cache of birthday gifts chosen for me by my sister, since both of us are suckers for anything to do with horses. It was, of course, as wonderful and inspiring as we knew it would be.
Our surroundings were sublime. Dorset’s glorious landscape provided the backdrop as we sat on straw bales in the evening sunlight to watch the method explained by its founder, Rupert Isaacson, and demonstrated by the world-class event rider William Fox-Pitt. Later, we moved into the ancient Tithe Barn for a talk and questions, rounding off an exceptional evening.
Today, I received my first email newsletter from The Art Fund. Well, they didn’t hang around, I thought. Twenty-four hours a member and I’m already made to feel one of the gang.
The first item I chose to click on was headed ‘Incredible places to see mosaics’. I don’t know why I chose that over all the other enticing items, but for some reason I did.
This is what I read, with the hairs gradually standing up on my neck:
British Museum, London
Free to all
The British Museum is a trove of rare and beautiful mosaics, including examples from across England, Italy and North Africa. Perhaps the most famous is one discovered in Hinton St Mary, Dorset, in 1963, depicting a clean-shaven man – possibly the earliest known image of Christ. The picture is accompanied by the Greek letters chi [X] and rho [P] – the first two letters of Christ’s name – and when placed together as a monogram they form the symbol for Christianity at this time. If it is Christ, then this is the only such portrait on a mosaic floor from anywhere in the Roman Empire.
As I researched and read about it, I realised it was familiar to me and I had even listened to the BBC Radio Four broadcast of A History of the World in 100 Objects when the mosaic chosen by the British Museum’s director Neil MacGregor.
This link reveals much more about this mosaic and even includes a comment by a man who remembers his father unearthing it Hinton St Mary in 1963.