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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Chichester Cathedral: a reconciliation of the Artist and the Church

One of the distinguishing features of Chichester Cathedral, is the use of modern works of art to invigorate and beautify the cathedral. This idea, initiated by Bishop George Bell in the early 1950s, was largely put into effect by Walter Hussey during his deanship between 1955-77.

On 27th June 1929, the day he became Bishop of Chichester, George Bell famously expressed, in his enthronement address, his commitment to a much closer relationship between the Anglican Church and the arts:

‘Whether it be music or painting or drama, sculpture or architecture or any other form of art, there is an instinctive sympathy between all of these and the worship of God. Nor should the church be afraid to thank the artists for their help, or to offer its blessing to the works so pure and lovely in which they seek to express the Eternal Spirit. Therefore I earnestly hope that in this diocese (and in others) we may seek ways and means for a reconciliation of the Artist and the Church—learning from him as well as giving to him and considering with his help our conception alike of the character of Christian worship and of the forms in which the Christian teaching may be proclaimed.’

The concluding sentence of the rationale that Canon Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, provided for Marc Chagall as a brief for his stained glass window at the Cathedral based on Psalm 150 read as follows:

‘… it has been the great enthusiasm of my life and work to commission for the Church the very best artists I could, in painting, in sculpture, in music and in literature.’

Between these two statements, both in terms of concept and commission, lie many of the works still to be seen in the cathedral. These include:
Stained glass:
  • a window by Marc Chagall, based on the theme of Psalm 150 '...let everything that hath breath praise the Lord' (1978). 
  • a panel behind the bishop's throne designed by Joan Freeman (1993), and hassocks in the Presbytery designed by Sylvia Green (1995), were all were worked by members of the cathedral's Seffrid Guild
Cast aluminium:
  • All by Geoffrey Clarke - candlesticks and communion rails in St Mary Magdelane's Chapel (1960-62); Pulpit (1966); Lectern (1972).
  • Font - polished polyphant stone and beaten copper by John Skelton (1983) 
  • Altars - in the retro-choir, St Mary Magdalene's chapel and the high altar by Robert Potter. 
  • 'Virgin and Child' by John Skelton (1988)
  • 'Christ in Judgement' by Philip Jackson (1998). 
  • 'The Refugee' by Diana Brandenburger has been loaned to the Cathedral in memory of George Bell, as he was a "Champion of the oppressed."
  • Outside the cathedral, a magnificent statue of St Richard by Philip Jackson, a gift from the Friends of the cathedral to mark the Jubilee. 

Leonard Bernstein - Chichester Psalms.

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