Christ in Androgynous Majesty

Anthony Brockway is transfixed by the womanly gaze of Christ in Majesty, the sculpture in Llandaff Cathedral by the controversial artist Jacob Epstein, and reveals the story behind its ambiguous features, before travelling to Manhattan in search of its glamorous twin…

Llandaff is home (for now) to BBC Wales and to St Michael’s College (from this summer a Church in Wales conference centre) where R.S. Thomas learned how to be a vicar. It is a district with strong literary associations, counting among its former residents Roald Dahl, Terry Nation, and louche rock critic Nick Kent. Yet it is the cathedral that forms the true cultural focal point of Llandaff. This venerable edifice has had a long and far from serene history. In 1400 it was smashed up in the great rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr; and during the second world war it was almost obliterated by Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe. On the fateful evening of 2 January, 1941, a bomb exploded outside its walls causing extensive structural damage. The roof of the nave was blown off, its spire broken, and most of the Victorian fittings inside destroyed. Fortunately a triptych by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and stained glass windows designed in the studio of William Morris had already been removed for safekeeping. A decade after hostilities ceased architect George Pace was hired to carry out restoration work. A keen follower of Le Corbusier, it was his bold idea to erect a concrete parabolic arch upon which Jacob Epstein would mount a statue of Christ.

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