Visiting Chichester is getting to be a habit with us. It gives a chance to see wonderful paintings and sculpture, fine townscapes and buildings, attend exciting productions at the theatre and visit one of the most loving cathedrals in the country.
It may seem contradictory to see the performance we saw was “Assassins” by Stephen Sondheim. Whoever knows his work also knows the deep humanity it expresses. We left the theatre impressed by his sympathy, not for the actions of people who killed or tried to kill US presidents but for their flawed personalities. A reflective mood was all the more important prior to visiting the cathedral.
There is always something memorable there, from the permanent beauty of its Norman architectural features and commemorative statue of St Richard to installed art works and transient exhibitions. Resilience and sympathy predominate. The prayer of St Richard, for non-believers as well as adherents to any faith, must resonate. Whatever you believe, to see it more clearly, love it more dearly and follow it more nearly, is all that can be sought. In its current exhibition, “Resilience in Clay,” the cathedral exemplifies it in abundance.
The key works are sculpture portrait heads of people who have sought refuge in the city, for various reasons. These are complemented by the works of previous refugees, from the German Hans Feibusch, fleeing the Nazis, who contributed a neo-Romanesque painting in the baptistry, and the Russian Jewish exile Chagall, with a vibrant stained glass window in the north aisle. The aculptor-in-residence, Kate Viner, has portrayed five people from several continents in the south transept. All are currently living in the city. Each portrait bust has short text identifying and explaining the reason for exile.
To offer local people an experience of art Kate Viner has run workshops in clay. I hope they were well attended.
Wherever one goes in the cathedral there is something to provoke reflection. The chapel of St Thomas and St Edmund, dedicated to a Guards regiment in memory of a fallen officer, is one such. The chapel of Dean Hussey, responsible for bringing works of art to the cathedral as well as to Pallant House, is another. It has ironwork by Geoffrey Clarke and a painting by Graham Sutherland, “Noli me Tangere”.
With a limit on the number of photographs I struggle to select. One has to come first, if only for its text: “We are here; we are independent; we are unbreakable; we are Ukrainians.” An African, also depicted by Kate Viner, attests to the interpendence of human beings, while another has a paraphrase of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in “miles to go before I sleep.”
Freibusch appropriately chose the Baptism of Christ, while the Chagall is a characteristic riot of colour, his figures in disequilibrium expressing the state all refugees experience, no matter what unsympathetic comment is made about them.
Just walking around Chichester cathedral is an emotional experience. When enhanced by an array of deeply felt art works it can only be described as spiritual. It is more than a building, more even than a place of worship and observance, it is the presence of a lived community.