Today, on the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the Catholic Bishop of the Forces, the Rt Rev Richard Moth, gives a reflection on the painting the ‘Last General Absolution of the Munsters’ by Italian war artist Fortunino Matania.
Bishop Moth talks about the painting, the context, the contribution made by Catholic chaplains – then and now – and how we can pray for peace and remember the dead without glorifying war.
Fortunino Matania was noted for his extraordinary finish and detail gleaned from his many visits to the Western Front.
In this painting, the focal point is the Catholic chaplain on horseback, Rev. Father F. Gleeson, Chaplain to the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers.
He is giving absolution to the 500 soldiers on 8 May 1915 ahead of the Battle of Aubers Ridge that took place at 5:30am the following morning.
The absolution took place outside the outside the Chapel Notre Dame de Seez on the Rue du Bois in Northern France on the Western Front. It was built in 1867 but was destroyed during the war.
The artist, Matania, didn’t actually witness the absolution. The work was commissioned on a description obtained by Mrs Victor Rickard – a well-known novelist in her day.
As Bishop Moth points out in the video reflection, the Battle of Aubers Ridge was not a success. Of the 500 that entered battle only 200 survived. 300 men, including their commanding officer, were killed.