Here now is the second post on Sting and the New Testament by my colleague Evyatar Marienberg. To learn more about Evyatar and his book on Sting (Sting and Religion: The Catholic-Shaped Imagination of a Rock Icon, Cascade Books / Wipf & Stock, Oregon 2021) see yesterday’s post.
Those who checked the Wikipedia’s page about Sting (and many other online sources), might have noticed that it is said his “real” name is “Gordon Matthew Thomas.” I did not mention “Thomas” in his name, following his birth certificate, and still the reality of Sting’s legal name. Some might have also noticed that a saying attributed to the New Testament’s figure of Thomas was mentioned above.
Thomas, in fact, is some kind of a ghost around Sting.
In his most recent album, The Bridge of 2021, the ninth track is called “The Bells of St. Thomas” (full disclosure: Sting shared with me an early demo of that song, and asked me for comments). In this song, the interlocutor wakes up in an unknown bed, in the house of a rich woman. He is confused, but he knows it is the Lord’s Day, because of a sound coming from a nearby church:
I know it’s a Sunday
For the bells in my head
As they call to the faithful
The quick and the dead
The last days of judgement upon us
And the bells on the roof of St. Thomas
Those belles continue to call him, even though, or maybe because, their sound, and the name of the church’s they are in, are of special significance, a special mystery, for him:
The bells of St. Thomas
Are aching with doubt
They’re cracked and they’re broken
Like the earth in a drought
I’ve searched for their meaning
I just never found out
Whatever they’re expecting from us
Or why the bells on the roof of St. Thomas
The sound is so captivating, he has to go there, and to see for himself an actual painting that is said to be in that church (even if, in reality, it is not there):
I walk to the church, though it’s empty by now
The roof like an overturned ship, and a prow
For a pulpit, and there it is upon the wall
St. Thomas inspecting the wounds for us all
It’s a painting by Rubens
Painted from life
And it’s flanked by a rich man
And his elegant wife
The wounds we all share
And yet still need the proof
You can feign your indifference
Pretend you’re aloof
But the wounds we’re denying
Are there all the same
And the bells of St. Thomas
Start ringing again
Then, Sting speaks, very clearly in the first person, about his own relationship with Thomas:
The saint I was named for
The sceptical brother
The description is slightly misleading. Sting named himself “Thomas”; it was not done by others. In fact, on February 21, 1965, Gordon received the sacrament of confirmation in a ceremony celebrated by Bishop James Cunningham in his home parish of St Columba’s, together with another 134 boys and 130 girls. In many places, including in Britain, the “confirmand” chooses before the ceremony a “confirmation name”: a name of a saint she or he identifies with.
Gordon, who was thirteen, chose the name “Thomas.” He was the only one to choose this name. There were a few other children that chose a name that no one else did (for example “Frederick,” “George,” and “Gerard,” among the boys, and “Anastasia,” “Bridget,” and “Monica,” among the girls), but they were the exception. Most children chose names that were selected by others as well: among the boys, there were seventeen Johns, twenty-five Pauls, eleven Peters, six Christophers, six Anthonys, six Patricks, nine Michaels, and eight Josephs. Among the girls, there were nineteen Teresas (and twelve Theresas), eighteen Mary/Maria/Maries, fifteen Bernadettes, ten Catherines (and two Katherines), nine Annes (and three Anns), nine Margaret’, eight Veronicas, and five Elizabeths.
The choice of “Thomas” is peculiar. The first famous Christian Thomas, “Thomas the Apostle,” appears for the first time just after the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. There, and in some other places, he is not particularly skeptical. Later though, in John 20, he doubts the claim of the other disciples, that the person they reported seeing was the resurrected Jesus. Only after he sees Jesus, and is invited by him to touch his wounds, he begins to believe that Jesus has indeed returned. He gets mildly rebuked for this by Jesus: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” He is thus popularly known as “Doubting Thomas.” Did Gordon want to hint that he was a skeptic? Or at least, a “sophisticated” believer? Or maybe he chose the name after another Thomas? The answer might be a mix of all. This is how Sting explained me his choice: “I chose Tomas as my confirmation name after my paternal grandfather, but yes, I always thought the disciple’s initial scepticism was reasonable in the circumstances.” Did you ever add it to your official name, I asked? No, he laughed. “It is not in my passport.”
Finishing with his own interpretation of the wounds on Jesus’s resurrected body that Thomas is said to have touched, Sting describes them, shortly before the song ends, as “the exit wounds of a love that’s gone wrong.”
The skeptical Sting of today, the possibly skeptical Gordon of the 1960s, and the two skeptical figures of the first century CE, Pontius Pilate who we are told doubted Jesus’s guilt, and Thomas who was said to doubt Jesus’s return from the dead, all come together in the work of a famous doubting, but not at all not-believing, rocker.
© Evyatar Marienberg, 2022. Copyrights of Sting’s lyrics are his (and possibly, by now, of Universal Music). Some parts of this piece are taken from a relatively recent book I published on the topic, Sting and Religion: The Catholic-Shaped Imagination of a Rock Icon.