The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps, Nicholas Pope, Salisbury Cathedral, until 4th August.
This installation in the Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel consists of thirty-three terracotta figures representing the Apostles and others gathered together when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire.
Pope has identified the Apostles individually by characteristics or attributes. ‘Doubting’ Thomas for example has “trunks” which represent his doubt sucking the life-force out. Each Apostle has a beaten metal “halo” with a circular opening in which an oil lamp can be lit and the resultant flames powerfully evoke the story of Pentecost and the light of God on the other figures around them.
It is very heady stuff and atmospheric and invites contemplation and prayer.
They had been shown at Tate Britain in 1996-7 but the artist’s original intention was as he says “I originally conceived the ‘Apostles’ as part of a larger project initiated in the early ‘90s called the Oratory of Heavenly Space. It was intended as a non-denominational chapel, a place of contemplation without doctrine. The Apostles were to be the source of light in the chapel, guiding lights as it were and took the form of abstract hollow figures, essentially human, flawed, rough, displaying character, elements of the grotesque and comical. When the lamps were lit for the first time I felt great. I knew I’d made something good, something that mattered: self-contained yet belonging to the world. They felt like the first part of a satisfactory answer addressing both belief and the lack of it”
To my mind he has achieved this spectacularly in Salisbury.
The Apostles lamps will be lit daily. Mondays to Saturday, 7.00am – 8.00am, 11.00am – 12 noon and 3.00pm – 4.00pm: Sundays, 12noon – 1.00pm. A recording of the actress Harriet Walter narrating the story of Pentecost from the Bible will be broadcast whenever the lamps are lit.