Newport Cathedral Exhibition
At last, despite the major restoration work going on along half the length of the building, ‘Re-Making Maps of the Mind: Medieval & Modern Journeys‘ is now on show in a Newport Cathedral exhibition. I find this gorgeous early medieval space inspiring on so many levels – it’s full of light and so uplifting, even though it’s nowhere near as lofty as the all-the-way-to-heaven cathedrals we all know and love. They were built in the later medieval period in’gothic’ style, whereas ‘Newport Cathedral of St. Woolos, King & Confessor’ was earlier, built in the simpler Norman style with gentle arches and archways. The Victorian pews that hold so many churches in their somewhat heavy grip have been removed, leaving the whole nave free, which feels expansive. One can get a sense of how this space functioned when congregations stood gathered together, not necessarily in neat straight rows.
Hanging the St Thomas Way touring exhibition was quite challenging. The nave has a long white wall screening the building works off running its length – 13 8ft high panels in all (one for each place on St Thomas Way!). You may think that white walls are more artist-friendly than random church walls, but this exhibition was designed with medieval sacred spaces very much in mind. Each time the exhibition moves. it adapts really well to a new space of this kind, with the building’s quirks, nooks and crannies suggesting where each artwork needs to hang. A featureless white wall isn’t the same at all! Plus, since the exhibition at Lighthouse in Poole where it was last shown, there are 4 new mapworks, all on identical square canvas panels. So it took quite a while to decide how to hang the works without having a too-repetitive plonk-plonk-plonk feeling – how to build in some sort of variation and rhythm and how to weave the viewer along a mini-pilgrimage in 3-dimensions around this beautiful space.
Improvisation with Norman Arches
Central to the exhibition is the largest piece, The Map of Mundi, (inspired by Hereford’s Mappa Mundi) which normally goes up first, then the rest of the artworks seem to follow. Here at Newport Cathedral, this strategy wasn’t possible – there was no obvious place to hang this delicate paper piece. The white wall panels were too short, the tall cathedral windows were inaccessible without a cherry picker, and the walls simply had nothing to hang it onto. So, at the end of the day, we finally came up with a solution, tying (with string of course!) the wooden pole of the Map onto a longer plastic pole in order to suspend it between two of the lovely Norman arches in the nave – with the aid of a couple of hymn books to give it a few inches of extra height!
To take the mini-pilgrimage tour of the exhibition see here:
A Sense of Pilgrimage
Newport is the exhibition’s 5th stop along the St Thomas Way, having already been on show for visitors at Hereford Cathedral, St Mary’s Priory Abergavenny, St Mary’s Church Swansea and St Illud’s in Llantwit Major (near Ewenny Priory). It will be here for the next 6 weeks until 30th June. Then, on a pilgrimage of its own, it will move along the trail, eventually returning to Hereford Cathedral in the autumn for the 800th anniversary of the canonisation of St Thomas Cantilupe, the venerated saint at the heart of the St Thomas Way story. Meanwhile, enjoy it here in the peace of lovely Newport Cathedral.
- Visit Newport Cathedral‘s website here: NewportCathedral.org.uk
- Find out more about St Thomas Way here: thomasway.ac.uk