From Rome to Ripon

12th April 2022

Artists are putting the finishing touches to new pieces of work for a unique arts programme that will breathe new life into Ripon Cathedral’s story as it celebrates its 1350th year.

Artists bring Rome to Ripon in new works specially created to celebrate the life and legacy of Ripon Cathedral’s founding father, Wilfrid

Syrian artist, Sara Shamma, Leeds artist, Jack Chesterman, sound artist, Paul Baily, from York, and local poet laureate, Olivia Mulligan have all been commissioned to produce new work for Ripon Cathedral to tell afresh the life and legacy of its founding father, Wilfrid through art.

Rome to Ripon is a partnership between Ripon Cathedral and Art in the Churches, an award-winning local charity that aims to bring major contemporary art into rural churches to reposition them as the beating heart of their communities.

This ambitious anniversary arts programme launches later this month with Chrissie Freeth’s Beyond Words, a series of 13 large scale tapestries from this artist who was shortlisted for last year’s Cordis Tapestry prize. Her work blends folklore, family stories, medieval iconography, and craftsmanship, and one of the pieces, Memento Mori, was selected for last year’s Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

The UK based Syrian artist, Sara Shamma, who splits her time between London and Damascus, has been commissioned to produce three portraits of Wilfrid and his contemporaries, and these will go on display in May and lead people into the cathedral’s Anglo Saxon crypt – the last remains of the church Wilfrid founded on the site in 672, and the oldest surviving building in any English Cathedral.

Rome to Ripon Sara

Inside the crypt, visitors will find Leeds based artist, Jack Chesterman’s paintings of scenes from Wilfrid’s life that will bring the seventh century into bold focus, while sound artist, Paul Baily who founded Re:Sound, an award winning music production company, has composed music that bridges time back to the cantors of 672, with call and response reverberating through the crypt, using lyrics written by poet, Olivia Mulligan.

The crypt will be lit by ever changing colours representative of the richness and splendour of Wilfrid’s crypt, which would have been filled with relics from his many journeys to Rome.

The final element of the arts programme will bring Peter Marlow’s The English Cathedral into the nave. Inspired by the sheer beauty of the Anglican cathedrals, internationally recognised photographer Peter Marlow undertook ‘a kind of reflective pilgrimage’ in 2010 to photograph the naves of every one of our 42 cathedrals.

Chris Baily, Producer of Art in the Churches said:

“This is a ground-breaking and awe-inspiring art spectacular that will bring Wilfrid to life in a way never before witnessed.

“Internationally renowned Syrian artist, Sara Shamma, re-imagines Saint Wilfrid along with his patron, Queen Eanfled, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, in three dramatic portraits to be hung in the nave.

“And for the first time ever, modern artwork will be installed in the crypt. An immersive installation of light, painting, and sound, taking the visitor right back to the seventh century.

“This will be an experience that fires up all the senses, and one which we hope will inspire people from near and far to visit,’ he added.

Wilfrid – one of the greatest and most controversial English saints – was born into a noble Northumbrian family, a patron of the arts, he studied at Lindisfarne before embracing the Roman ways, was deposed on more than one occasion, and yet helped unite England behind a single Christian tradition.

Rome to Ripon2

It is said he was born in flames, survived shipwrecks and exile, and his jailers could not keep him chained. He was a healer, he kept people from hunger by teaching them to fish, and it is said that the moon and stars shone so bright for him, that a lunar rainbow appeared on the anniversary of his death.  In his early twenties, he made a pilgrimage to Rome and was much inspired by the lives of the saints there, and the great basilica churches. He brought some of the beauty of Rome back to England with him.

The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson, said:

“To reimagine this sacred space with new artworks from such a wide range of renowned artists, each working in different ways, is a fitting tribute to our founding father, Wilfrid. It will tell us something new about who we are, re-connect us with our past, and ground us in our future and I wholeheartedly commend this arts programme to all of you.  

“Do come and see for yourselves,’ he added.

Ripon Cathedral’s Anniversary Launch Weekend will take place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, starting on 28 April with dancing in the nave to a local jazz and swing band, a beer festival on the May Bank Holiday Monday in the cathedral grounds, a pilgrimage from Bradford Cathedral, and a Son et Lumiere finale that promises to recreate Wilfrid’s miracles – including that of the lunar rainbow.

Other headline events throughout the anniversary year include the premiere of new digital projections from the little-known Ripon Bible. A flower festival that will use floral design to recreate Wilfrid’s life and times, lectures from historians Tom Holland and Max Adams, a series of tours taking visitors behind the scenes, and a summer organ festival featuring a specially commissioned animation for piano and organ telling Wilfrid’s story.

To find out more about the programme and how to book tickets, visit the Ripon cathedral website here.

  • Beyond Words – Chrissie Freeth – April 28 to May 26
  • Rome to Ripon – Sara Shamma, Paul Baily and Jack Chesterman – May 27 – November 1
  • Peter Marlowe The English Cathedral – May 27- July 26