Peter Hitchens not quite like his atheist big brother

Rogier van der Weyden’s “Last Judgment”

A far-Left cultural revolutionary in the 1970s, Hitchens was in his early 30s, and had experienced life behind the Iron Curtain covering the Polish shipyard strikes when he began to feel strong unease.

“I no longer avoided churches,” he writes. “I recognised in the great English cathedrals, and in many small parish churches, the old unsettling messages. One was the inevitability of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skill and engineering genius, a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it.”

On a cycling trip to Burgundy he saw Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th-century Last Judgment, and this made a lasting impression. “I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of hell. I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.”

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