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Finding Faith: The bishop has always been powerful in chess

Photo by Lucien de Guise; courtesy of the British Museum

Lucien de Guise - published on 05/10/20

This 12th-century chess piece features a bishop holding a crozier.

A series that looks at the visual arts for signs of the universal Church in sometimes unexpected places.

Interest in board games and other old-fashioned home entertainment has gone up greatly during lockdown. Sales of Lewis chess sets have been especially brisk. Made of walrus ivory, the original 12th-century set shows the cross-cultural exchange that existed at the time. Probably carved in Norway and found in Scotland, it is among the first sets to have a piece that is recognizably a bishop. These clerics had acquired considerable status in Scandinavia and were occasional warriors. The game itself reached Christendom from the Islamic world more than a thousand years ago, and soon became a favorite pursuit among monks. The Islamic originals did not feature human figures, and certainly not bishops.

bishop; chess
Photo by Lucien de Guise; courtesy of the British Museum

Lucien de Guise is on Instagram @crossxcultural. As a Catholic writer, editor, curator and former museum director, his aim is to build bridges through art.

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