This afternoon, as part of my heritage overload I have been to look at a selection of miners banners, (as explained in the Durham Times ). They were breathtaking in their beauty and beyond their value in terms of their place in social history can be regarded as works of art.
The size of the banners and beauty of the paintings on them surprised me, being familiar with embroidered rather than painted banners. In terms of their content it was varied one of the banners depicted Edith Cavell whilst others had a religious theme, particularly depicting the good samaritan and Jesus welcoming the children to come unto him. Others were more architectural in focus, with pictures of the cathedral, rest homes for miners or other relevent local buildings. Some, of course, had a more explicitly political theme depicting key figures in the Labour movement including: Kier Hardy, Bevan, Wilson, Benn and Gormley.
They could also be related to the times in which they were produced. One produced in the aftermath of the 1984-85 strike and “lost” for some time depicted a woman putting her hand up to protect a man holding a baby from the approaching mounted, riot policeman. Similarly one produced around the same time by “Red Wedge” had Scargill included. Several of the more recent banners made reference to the closure of the pit(s) that their lodge was representing. This, also on occassion, included remembering those miners who had lost their lives within their job. Therefore, some of the banners were quite moving.
Looking at them now another striking feature, most noteably summed up in a banner depicting progress and the hopes that progress was intended to give, was the way they are visual representations of modernity and the way those hopes have been in part achieved, partly not materialised and in part been betrayed.
There was also a photographic exhibition of one of the recent miners Galas, that happens in July. The pictures contained a mix of images including the service in the Cathedral where Bishop Tom Wright was officiating, the community enjoying themselves in the streets and pictures of Dennis Skinner addressing the crowd.
Thus, I was yet again reminded of the links between religion and politics in this country. Whilst both are seperate, the ideals of both are often the same (and this applies to paternalistic conservative politics as much as socialist politics). Our heritage and history is rich in examples of how men and women of faith have simply lived out their beliefs in an attempt to make life better for the many. Whilst these ideas of community and stepping outside the secular, religious divide are put forward as new ideals of the emerging church sometimes if we are honest they are much older ideas which many of those in an earlier modern age believed in. For example the use of these banners in worship, as occurs with the miners Gala is something which has much cross over with the way the emerging church seeks to incorporate art into worship. Perhaps part of the way for us to move forward is to look back, beyond the 1950’s, and re-engage with some of the ideals of modernity, whilst seeking to see how those ideals can be lived out and developed in the late / post modern age.
Whatever, the banners were strangely beautiful and quite moving. They are part of our heritage and works of art which should be valued. I was very glad I went to see them.