Holman Hunt’s Hovel

When I was little, and at Sunday School, I was most impressed by Holman Hunt’s “The Light o3a73c-lotw.jpgf the World”. I used to get the figure muddled up with ‘Good King Wenceslas” as you do when you’re six.
The saintly looking figure, barefoot, lantern in one hand, the halo of a full moon, obviously, is waiting patiently outside, right hand outstretched – the knocking must have been going on for quite some time, given the look of patient resignation. The house itself – rather overgrown externally, whatever vegetation was supposed to curl cheerily round the doorposts seemed badly in need of pruning.

I had always imagined that the interior was like Ratty’s house, or Mole’s, from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, snug and warm, a roaring fire and couple of overstuffed armchairs in a Laura Ashley type print where a weary traveler might sit down and toast his feet. But it’s really not like that at all. The outside is a dead giveaway. Inside, it’s a hovel.

That’s the way some of the great patristic writers spoke about Jesus. They described the heart as a house for Jesus – but a house in sore need of reconstruction and repair. To start with, it’s far too small. If Jesus is going to live here, there will have to be extensions. And it’s all looking pretty rundown. The roof leaks. Mould is growing on the walls. The front door is hanging off its hinges. The wind whistles through cracks round the window frames. There are strange smells in the hallway. Weeds are growing up through the floorboards. Jesus is moving into our hearts not because the surroundings are fit for him, but because he enjoys the challenge of fixing up places like this – a broken-down old wreck of a house.

In recent times- let it be clearly understood, I do not live in a hovel- nevertheless I have been asked to do some fixing up. Those who know me will realize how potentially disastrous such a request might be. First, I have hands like violin cases and have no concept of the correct tool for a particular job, thus might well attempt to screw in a screw with a hammer drill. I bought a small saw on the naïve assumption that I might use it to bisect a piece of wooden flooring and within seconds had bled all over the floor. Several hours later, tasks which an accomplished craftsman would have polished off between a barn raising and a bathroom extension, with blistered hands and a backache worthy of a late trimester pregnancy, the jobs were finished. I gave myself three out of ten for competence and two for artistic impression.

34411-eey.jpgI suppose I ought to be grateful that He who remodels my own muddled, untidy, falling-apart inner life has a good deal more skill than I and is expert at repairing damage howsoever caused with a view to making a habitation fit for a King.

 

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2 thoughts on “Holman Hunt’s Hovel

  1. When I interviewed at Keble college they showed me the original – they are quite proud of it but it is kept at the back of a dingy chapel. They also have a very nice wood panneled reading room where coffee is served after lunch from a silver service in front of a huge fireplace. It would have been nice to have got that job …

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  2. Indeed – the dreaming spires produced some great thinkers. Shame about the Hunt – dingy chapels and lights of the world seem curiously mismatched. Keble was the father of Anglo-Catholicism, thus has much to answer for. He died in Bournemouth, in the belief that sea air would be good for him, thus you steal a march on the old man with your own healthy place of residence.

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