Finding each other again in the Paradise of free souls
Lent Art Installation 2020 at Southwark Cathedral
Part of Becket 2020
850 years ago Thomas Becket gave his last sermon at Southwark Cathedral, then set off on his horse back to Canterbury. The route he took later became The Pilgrim’s Way, made infamous in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ and travelled by 1000s of people through the past 8 centuries.
In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Way, not least because of the work of Pilgrimage leader Marion Marples and her husband, the author Leigh Hatts. Together they mapped the details of the 85.6 mile journey, and published it in the book ‘Walking the Pilgrim’s Way: To Canterbury from Winchester and London’ (Cicerone Press).
In this artwork for the Sanctuary at Southwark the route from Cathedral to Cathedral snakes its way in a single drawn pencil line vertically up 10m long lengths of tracing paper. It begins in London on the left-hand side near the altar rail, then winds upwards through the first 40 miles towards Canterbury along the towering paper sheets, which resemble theatre flats. There are 4 sheets on each side and together they form a mini-pilgrimage around the space of the Sanctuary, performed by walking around it via the Lady Chapel and thus arriving at Canterbury back near the altar rail on the opposite side.
The delicate pencil line connecting them all is barely visible, picked out in places when sunlight hits the paper at certain times of day. Like the Pilgrim’s Way itself, it fades away at night…
As dusk takes over, the 12 candles in the piece are lit, ready for Evensong, and the feeling of the whole artwork changes. Each candle was handmade to the exact height of a real person, echoing a medieval practice called Measuring to the Saint. They are delicate and fine and smell softly of beeswax.
Somehow these candles are perfectly placed to catch the eddying draft from a nearby door. As the wind whispers and whips gently around the space, the flame in each of the candles responds, apparently each in its own particular way, as each candle, after just a week of being lit once a day, is now remarkably different.
At the top of each of the handmade candles, there are new forms and landscapes – from mini volcanic wax eruptions to long delicate threads of wax string, from smooth elegant flows to bobbles and bumps, and from cascades bubbling over the candle’s edge to stalactites clinging on for dear life. Even though they’ve been making candles since 1845, the representative from Charles Farris says she hasn’t seen their candles behave quite like this before.
So, please come and take a walk, or a mini-Pilgrimage of your own, around the Sanctuary at Southwark during Lent.
What you experience will vary, depending on the time of day, the weather, your own mood or reflections, who or what you are thinking about and, of course, the light. The artwork is in an evolving and constant state of change. You’re invited to pause here awhile, even momentarily.
The candles will last for ‘over 100 hours’ and will be lit every day just before Evensong until the Cathedral closes throughout Lent until Easter Saturday (10th April).
I will be giving a short talk/guided tour of the work on Sunday 15th March, after or during the 11am service at Southwark Cathedral.