Gibbs Family Tree

Christopher Henry Gibbs

Christopher Henry Gibbs

Male 1938 - 2018  (80 years)

 

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Readings and Address at Christopher's Memorial Service



Letter from Christopher Read by David Cholmondeley 

Christopher had many friends of course, but he also had a wide family circle – with reams of cousins on both sides, to all of whom he showed unfailing kindness, generosity and hospitality. I for one came to rely on his sound judgement and advice (always delivered with a characteristic lightness of touch) over a period of nearly 40 years. 

For his memorial Christopher didn't want any tributes or eulogies – preferring the idea of beautiful music instead. However, these few readings chosen for the service may make us think about the many different facets of his life, and be a reflection of his spirit and philosophy, as well as of his taste, his sense of humour, and his unique way of looking at the world. 

When Elizabeth Fleming, Christopher's twin, asked me to suggest a reading, I came across this rather remarkable letter from September 2001, written on board the Talitha G as a guest of Paul and Victoria Getty. He had recently been staying at Houghton for my mother's 80th birthday celebrations, which was just after the terrible events of 9/11. To me, this letter sums up the combination of gentle humour and serious reflection that I'm sure many of you will recognise and remember. 


Dear David 

You made such a wonderful beano for Lavinia and scooped up such a merry crew to feast and frolic in her honour in the newly awakened Picture Gallery. What a vision! - all the old lovelies of the 400 Club tottering to the giddy music of Humphrey Lyttleton, Lavinia shining in beauty and youthfulness at the heart of it all, 

I drove my sister home to Kent, mellow and happy. 

All is sharply-edged since the dreadful events of Monday changed the world for ever. Now I sit on deck as the rain washes over this beautiful north coast of Majorca; bristling crags pricked with Crusader watchtowers, looking out for Muslim fanatics. How can these things be done in the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful? How can we do so much of what we do in the name of the Lord of Love? 

I go for long swims in these rolling waters, reflecting on the events and attitudes that have over centuries shaped them happening. I think with wonder of the way that Moslem, Jew and Christian co-existed in Morocco when the Arab hordes poured into Spain, and of the philosophers and mathematicians of all faiths who wrangled in the sunny courtyards a thousand years ago, and of the rise and rise of Mammon that has helped bring us to this pass - and then of the white deer in the oaken shadows of the park at Houghton, and the supple little ankles of those old dancers. 

With love and thanks from Christopher

 

Extracts from The World of Interiors written by Christopher Read by Orlando Rock 

This characteristically poetic and eloquent passage was written by Chrissie for his great friend and ally Min Hogg's World of Interiors in 1982. Chrissie had just taken over the cavernous gallery formerly occupied by Paul Kasmin - and it was to this Aladdin's cave that I was sent by my own father as an undergraduate in search of wisdom. My father had long before fallen under the intoxicating spell of Chrissie's impeccable taste - and thus it was to Chrissie that I turned for guidance on where gainful employment could be found in the art world. 


Long ago, when I was a lad, I was drawn, as the moth to the candle, by the antique shop window. At first I would press my rosy snout to the glass and marvel at the wonders within, but pretty soon I dared to push open the door and explore, and to question in my piping treble the kind guardians of all these unfamiliar things. I was swiftly seduced by this new-found world, and learned how to beat down prices to something just beyond my slim means, punting my pennies on a cracked Persian tile or a grubby drawing. By the time I 

discovered the cornucopia of the country house sale. I was hooked and when I strayed into Christie's months later, in my grey flannel shorts, my case became hopeless. 

We who suffer the passion for beauty are a small band. Not for us the dismal realms of polite mahogany and satin-wood served up with Crown Derby and a whiff of Antiquax. We must learn the hard way to temper our crazy yearnings with learning and wisdom. Our Via Dolorosa, paved with ruinous mistakes, has other Stations: architecture, the antique world, the melting pot of the Renaissance, the glazy heights of Chinese porcelain, the frozen glory of gold ground primitives from Florence and Sienna, the woven gardens of carpets from the orient, colour, line, form and mattière. Possessed, like all lovers, with the desire for conquest, we stop at nothing, and when we have conquered and won, like Don Juan, cannot wait to be in pursuit again. Some means of disposing of the contents of our Bluebeard's chamber becomes imperative and so a shop is born. Thus, for me in my hot youth, and now years later, after modest beginnings in Islington and blossomings in Chelsea, I find myself on the Rialto itself at 118 New Bond Street. 

 

Address Given by The Revd Lucy Winkett 

Those of you who knew Christopher well will not be at all surprised to know that he left very clear instructions for this service in capital letters: NO EULOGY. 

And so it is my task, as one of Christopher's several vicars – he came here very often on Sundays when he was in residence at Albany and was incredibly supportive of our work with rough sleepers and refugees - to preach a sermon not a eulogy - knowing that his faith was deep and enduring, sustaining him especially in Tangier as well as London. 

Obituaries necessarily mention the stories of a life – snatches of conversation, events, remembered gatherings, parties, achievements and endeavours at work. And Christopher's obituaries are peppered with his one liners, revealing his own talent for the mot juste.

One that caught my eye was his comment that Taste, he said, is "something you catch, like measles or religion.” 

Well Christopher had caught not only his famed taste – but also he had caught religion, perhaps rooted in his morning prayers around his mother's bed with, as Elizabeth remembers, the Bible Reading Fellowship notes in hand. He always asked a lot of questions she recalls - and this lively faith as a child found expression as an adult in an enduring belief in the transcendence of life as well as its immanence. Which in turn found expression not only in church but in his commitment to beauty, wild places, in his free-spirited believing in people, an insatiable desire to live well and an irreducible kindness. 

Faith, as Christopher knew, ebbs and flows. Scripture knows this well too. It occurred to me that our incomparable reading from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, with its famous seeing through a glass darkly, was particularly appropriate for someone whose taste in interior design was legendary. The Bible doesn't have many references to ancient furniture - perhaps we could say this is one of them. But the poetry of St Paul tells us that three things remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. Greater therefore than hope, and greater than faith.

And love itself is not uncomplicated, often indescribable, but is the path to a living that takes us to the edge of ourselves. And the price we pay for love is grief. 

There is an ancient prayer used in the Eastern Christian tradition when someone dies, which is the kontakion. The astonishing and brave prayer, more Moroccan than Church of England you might say, contains these words: 


we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth, 

and unto earth shall we return: 

for so thou didst ordain, when thou created me saying: 

"Dust thou art und unto dust shalt thou return." 

All we go down to the dust; 

and weeping o'er the grave we make our song: 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 


This prayer, 1,500 years old seems to tell us some truth about love and grief. Unlike Western tendencies to try to neaten and explain everything, this ancient song has spare language and is full of paradox. The name kontakion comes from the word for & scroll - and its meaning is really to unfurl a scroll, which perhaps is something like what it is to pray. There is something deeply wise in this. We learn more and more about what it is to live and to die as life goes on, as the scroll unfurls - and we know too that without trying to make anything better when someone dies, there is a truth in the paradox that even as we go weeping to the grave, alleluia is sung still by humanity, by creation, in the abundance of the earth which has received the body of the one we loved. Our fears, of what happens when we die, are carried by the knowledge that somewhere, the battle is over, the storm has ceased; alleluia can be sung, even though sometimes we think we will never sing it again. 

The promise we can carry with us through life is that although we now see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face. These are mysteries, but the imagery is fitting for a man whose life was spent looking for, looking at beautiful things. We can only see partially, however hard we look for the truth of what life is about - and in his own search for and appreciation of beauty, Christopher seemed to me to be a man at peace with mystery, ambiguity, and the messiness of life that so many of us try to neaten or tidy up. 

And like the basket of fragments collected after the feeding of the five thousand, there is a miraculous abundance in this gathering of Christopher's friends and family: in a profound way, it is the fulfilment of a promise made long ago that nothing and no one would be lost. That love is enduring, that faith and hope abide within and between us because he lived and lives still. A promise made by God in Christ that is never fully understood, but a promise in which we can place our trust. 

So that even while we weep over the grave to which we know we must return in time, we can still hear the song of the angels in which we are invited to join: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. 

Amen. 

Tangier written by Christopher Read by Sarah Wheeler 

This reading is a piece written by Christopher, chosen by Peter, his nearest and dearest friend, about El Foolk, his home in Tangier, a place he loved and was loved - and where he now rests. 


For me, home is my mirror, my life story, my peace. It's where I keep my treasures, cherish my friends, eat and sleep. It's where I keep my books, and read and write, so it's densely packed with memories, touchstones and talismans. Thus, all these rooms contain things of every age, from far and wide, making fresh conjunctions, new music. 

All is rooted in my native land – our island's story – as it were – with echoes of many great houses: the chair I'm sitting on is from an Ascendancy pile in Ireland; the great table I write upon is from Keir House in Scotland; the pedestals are from Chatsworth; the Brancusi-like marble kouros fragment is from Delos, via Venice and the Villa Malcontenta; the gay pelmet, from a jubilee street party in the 1930s. 

Then there are sprinklings from home, things I've known since childhood, photographs, prints and drawings of forebears and family houses. 

Since we are here in Morocco, there are many beautiful textiles from Tangier, Tetouan, Fez and Chaouen. There is some zouac, as Moroccans call their painted woodwork, and some zillij – their mosaic tiles in exploding arabesques - as well as paintings and drawings of the town from the 17th century, through to works by Sir John Lavery and the Mcbeys. 

There are brass beds made for Morocco in 19th century Manchester, rescued from collapsing houses in the medina, worn marble fragments of antiquity, that have baked in the Mediterranean sun for two thousand years, and relics from our colonial past: stools from Africa, chairs, cupboards and tables from India and Ceylon, 

Since the paradise of the world to come remains a mystery, the least and most we can do is to strive for an earthly one. Here goes!! 


And, as Christopher would say, Hamdulillah 

 

 


Date15 Nov 2018
Linked toChristopher Henry Gibbs

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