We are proud to welcome you to Chester Cathedral’s ARK Exhibition. We are delighted that this varied and challenging exhibition is taking place in the cathedral. Originally a Benedictine monastery, Chester Cathedral has been a place of hospitality and worship since its foundation in 1092. The cathedral itself is a work of art, the result of generations of craftsmanship commissioned and offered for the glory of God.
Christians believe that God is creator and sustainer of the known universe and all that is in it. As such, God is continuously creative, the ongoing source of transformative renewal. Gothic art and architecture, such as here at Chester, is especially engaged with such a view of divine activity as it seeks to reflect ongoing mixtures of change and permanence. Humanity is privileged to participate in this divine innovation in many ways and to reflect the goodness of the created order. Humans are co-creators with God; we are all involved in the ‘making’ of things that express our thoughts and identities and which are the products of our minds and hands, reflections of our whole selves.
The ARK Exhibition plays with the multiple ways in which the cathedral is a place of salvation. An ark is a vessel, often traditionally associated with the story of Noah and the flood as a place of refuge and deliverance for both humanity and the rest of the animal world. The main space of the cathedral is called the Nave, a word whose roots (like the term ‘naval’) are suggestive of how the building is a ship of sanctuary, a place of safety and security, of health and wholeness. Vessels of all kinds appear often in works of art with similar metaphorical functions. Intriguingly over the centuries many animals have been woven into the fabric of the cathedral, from mice to monsters. The ARK Exhibition rejoices in making that long-standing tradition especially alive once more.
We hope that the 90 works of art will appeal to a broad audience and that there is something for everyone. New commissions appear alongside established works of art. Several items are on loan from private collections. The accompanying education programme is aimed at involving students of all ages as well as all visitors with an interest in art and sculpture.
The cathedral building offers an unrivalled local space for sculpture. People may respond in various ways, a contagious smile, a thoughtful deliberation, a stronger reaction. In recognition that the cathedral is a place of worship there is an interpretation board near the exhibition exit, which attempts to link some of the sculptures with aspects of the Christian faith. For example, we draw your attention to how the Peacock by Geoffrey Dashwood is placed near the font, echoing the carving on the font’s side—because of an ancient legend about the peacock’s inability to decay, the peacock was adopted by Christians as symbolic of immortality and those who are baptised take up such immortality.
As a sacred place, Chester Cathedral, houses an exhibition which offers us a glimpse of divine creativity and its human counterparts. We hope as you walk around you are inspired to reflect on the glorious gifts God has given to humanity.
Gordon McPhate, Dean of Chester
Jane Brooke, Vice-Dean