site unseen; Jesus Christ, Chichester Cathedral, Sussex

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is a truth universally acknowledged among writers and artists that whereas vice and evil are relatively easy to depict, virtue is a real problem.

Just look at the medieval Doom Paintings which adorn several of our churches. Heaven is always shown as a thoroughly boring place, the equivalent of endless cups of tea with well-meaning but tedious vicars, punctuated by the odd game of tennis or Scrabble.

But when it comes to Hell, however, we are really in business. Limbs torn off, bodies mutilated, unimaginable tortures, leering Devils and insatiable imps - this is just a starter for 10.

Let's face it, would you rather spend the afternoon with one of Charles Dickens's impossibly pure heroines, such as Little Nell, dispensing copious quantities of smelling salts, or with Sykes, Fagin and Wackford Squeers? With some dull old bishop or with Samuel Pepys? No contest.

It is probably just as well that there are some exceptions to this general rule. Go to Chichester, for instance, and saunter along its pedestrianised streets, admiring the Market Cross, the delightful Georgian houses and the cloisters which cluster admiringly around the Cathedral.

Chichester Cathedral is precisely where all cathedrals should be: right in the middle of the town or city. It is a salutary experience to be wandering along, consumed by anxieties over the telephone bill and the cat, and suddenly find this 1,000-year-old creation putting everyday worries into perspective.

Inside, the Cathedral is a treasure trove of creation, both Ancient and Modern. The Modern is represented by Marc Chagall's colourful window of 1978 and John Piper's wonderful tapestry, which draws one's eye towards the altar.

But just to the side are two panels which I find deeply, deeply moving. More than 900 years old, they depict Christ coming to the House of Mary and then the Raising of Lazarus. No words can describe the inexhaustible sadness in Jesus's lined face as he raises Lazarus from the dead.

This is a Christ who has seen and suffered - and carries on suffering.

For centuries these panels, which originally formed part of a 12th-century choir screen, were tucked away out of sight behind the choir stalls until their rediscovery in 1829. It makes one wonder what other treasures may remain sight unseen.

More importantly, the two panels confirm that goodness can also, sometimes, be personal and touching.

The stone panels are in the south aisle of the choir, Chichester Cathedral, Sussex

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