Six Degrees of Separation: St Gregory’s Mass and 'The Shining'

Everyone knows the game 'Six degrees of Kevin Bacon', right? In the spirit of Halloween, here's how 'The Crucifixion Altarpiece: The Mass of St. Gregory' in the Walker's collection and the psychological horror film 'The Shining' are connected in six steps.

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Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. The theory has been adapted and changed over the years, and in the mid 90s the popular Kevin Bacon game or 'Bacon's Law' was born. It all started when Bacon mentioned in an interview with 'Premiere magazine' that "he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who's worked with them." This inspired three students to invent the Kevin Bacon game, eventually writing a book about it (which Bacon wrote the introduction for) and creating a board game. 

Here's how the artwork 'St Gregory’s Mass' is six degrees of separation from away Stanley Kubrick's movie 'The Shining'. 

1. 'St Gregory's Mass'

'St Gregory’s Mass' is a painting in the Walker Art Gallery's collection and is the left wing of a triptych for 'The Crucifixion Altarpiece'. The centrepiece is in the National Gallery, London. The wings were separated from the centre panel in the early 19th century before or during their export to Britain. The painting depicts Pope Gregory I saying mass and praying for a sign to convince a doubter. In response to the Pope's prayers, a vision of Christ appears on the altar in front of him. He can be recognised by his monastic tonsure (the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the top of the scalp, leaving a ring of hair around the sides). This scene was most common in the 15th and 16th centuries and reflected the assertion of the doctrine against protestants.

St Gregory's Mass
St Gregory

'The Crucifixion Altarpiece: The Mass of St. Gregory' (Reverse of Left Wing), Master of the Aachen Altarpiece, 1492 - 1495

2. Pope Gregory I

Pope Gregory I was the bishop of Rome from 590 to his death. He is known for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, the Gregorian Mission, which aimed to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons in England to Christianity. He is also known for his prolific writings as a Pope and he is patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers.

St Gregory

Pope Gregory I dictating the gregorian chants, Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall, Switzerland

3. Creation of Gregorian Chant

Pope Gregory I is thought to be responsible for the implementation of the Gregorian Chant. The Gregorian Chant is an unaccompanied sacred song in Latin of the Roman Catholic Church and there are 12 different versions. The chants were traditionally sung by choirs of men and boys in churches during mass. The clip below is one of the versions, ‘Dies Irea'.

4. 'Dies Irae'

‘Dies Irae’ is a Latin sequence (translates to Day of Wrath) set to a Gregorian chant melody and is most commonly used during funerals. The Latin describes the Last Judgement, summoning souls before God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames. 

The Last Judgement

The Last Judgement, After Jacopo Tintoretto, in the Walker Art Gallery collection

5. 'Symphonie Fantastique'

The sequence was used by Hector Berlioz in 'Symphonie Fantastique' (At 3.30 in the clip below) without the Latin lyrics in 1830. The section from the symphony is called "Songe d'une nuit du sabbat" or "Dream of a witches' Sabbath". Instead of representing the Last Judgement 'Dies Irae' is used here to depict a macabre witches dance.


6. 'The Shining'

The melody has since been interpreted and adapted for movie soundtracks, where the eerie tone has been used over and over again to create a feeling of foreboding in the viewer. The most famous and terrifying use of this can be heard in Stanley Kubrick's film, 'The Shining'.