Peter Marlow’s The English Cathedral – St Edmundsbury

06th July 2023

St Edmundsbury Cathedral is the latest cathedral to host the exhibition tour of the late Magnum photographer, Peter Marlow’s series The English Cathedral.

The English Cathedral’ documents the naves of all 42 of England’s Anglican cathedrals and has so far been hosted by thirteen of our cathedrals.

In 2010 Peter (1952 – 2016) undertook ‘a kind of reflective pilgrimage’. He returned to a tradition of church photography by photographing each nave in natural light at dawn, capturing the luminosity of each interior as daylight emerged from behind the altar.

Peter Marlow’s The English Cathedral - St Edmundsbury

Devoid of artificial lighting, the images create a representation of each cathedral removed from the modern age and bring into sharp relief the splendour of the interiors of some of England’s most magnificent buildings and presents them as they would have originally been viewed when they were initially built.

The free exhibition is organised by the Peter Marlow Foundation, the charity set up to continue Peter’s legacy, primarily through photographic educational workshops. The aim is that this collection will exhibit at each of the 42 cathedrals Peter visited on his photographic pilgrimage across England.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral is the fourteenth cathedral to host The English Cathedral and it can be viewed there until 26 July. It will then move to Wakefield in August followed by Lincoln, Worcester and Wells this year. Rochester and Peterborough will host in 2024.

Peter Marlow visited St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Suffolk in 2010. His portrait makes the striking painted hammerbeam roof a focal point. Originally a flat, dark oak roof dating from Tudor times, Victorian congregations were keen for a more ornate decorative replacement.

Following extensive restoration work in the late 19th Century by the prolific English Gothic Revival architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott the hammerbeam roof was installed. In 1982 it was painted by the church architect, Stephen Dykes Bower as part of his renovation work of the Cathedral which made it a colourful focal point of the cathedral.

As part of the touring exhibition, the Peter Marlow Foundation has sought to take the visitor’s experience one step further by placing them in the role of photographer.

Visitors will be able to stand in the same spot where Peter positioned himself (and his ladder) and are invited to take and share their own photographic ‘portrait’ of the Cathedral’s magnificent interior.

Fujifilm has supplied Instax cameras and film at the exhibitions on the tour. The resultant versions will create an interactive ever-changing display which will be shared as part of the exhibition but also on the social media channels and websites of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Peter Marlow Foundation and Magnum Photos, to create a contemporary public response to the works. From these publicly submitted instant photographs, the Peter Marlow Foundation will choose a winner who will be awarded an Estate Stamped Fine Print of a cathedral photograph of their choice.

The Very Revd Joe Hawes, Dean of St Edmundsbury, said:

“Peter Marlow described the process of his cathedral photography project as a ‘reflective pilgrimage’ and it’s an honour to welcome his photograph of St Edmundsbury and the accompanying 41 images of our country’s cathedrals, back to the place it was taken. 

“We encourage visitors to the exhibition to embody this reflective pilgrimage ethos and create their own vision of St Edmundsbury, both using the Instax cameras provided, but also making their own images to keep.”

The English Cathedral is at St Edmundsbury Cathedral 4-26 July.

Peter’s work on “the English Cathedrals’ series started in 2008 when he was commissioned by Royal Mail on the 300th year anniversary of the completion of St Paul’s Cathedral to photograph six cathedrals from across the UK. These were issued as commemorative stamps. So taken was he that he set out to photograph all 42.

“What I thought was going to be incredibly simple, became intricate, complicated, and utterly absorbing. The journey was memorable and wonderfully hypnotic, a kind of reflective pilgrimage. 

“My cathedral days involved hours of driving and thinking, with my reference Polaroids drying in the sun on the dashboard. England passed by.”

Peter Marlow ‘The English Cathedral’

Photo Credit : Peter Marlow photographing St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk, by Peter’s assistant, Marcio Suster © Peter Marlow Foundation / Magnum Photos