Southwark Cathedral’s Lent Art

Pilgrimage: Southwark Cathedral’s Lent Art Installation

Pilgrimage is Southwark Cathedral’s Lent Art Installation that traces Thomas Becket’s last journey from Southwark to Canterbury 850 years ago through the medieval practice of Measuring to the Saint.

In medieval times, if you needed spiritual or physical help or healing, your body was measured from head to toe with a length of string or thread, this was then sent to the nearest Cathedral or Abbey, where the monks would make a candle from it, light it, and pray for your eternal soul.

Inspired by this simple act of connection and illumination, artist Michelle Rumney has created Pilgrimage which opened in the Cathedral on Ash Wednesday.

The artist has reflected on the ritual of pilgrimage for 2020 Year of Cathedrals, Year of Pilgrimage and created 12 wax candles representing people with a connection to pilgrimage, including Thomas Becket, and Marion Marples who led many pilgrimages from Southwark. These wax candles, which are as tall as the people they represent, will line the altar rail and be lit in their memory every day of Lent.

It’s 850 years since Becket gave his last sermon at Southwark and the artist has created 850 strings to veil the altar, representing people and animals Measured to the Saint – all still alive, The youngest (and shortest length) was a newborn grandchild of a member of the Southwark congregation, the oldest was a lady who turned 103 in December 2019. They also include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Wales

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, said:

“This year’s Lent Art installation by Michelle Rumney brings us in touch with one of the practices of medieval pilgrims. Southwark Cathedral has a long association with the pilgrimage to Canterbury and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. This is the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom and as 2020 has been designated by the Church of England cathedrals as a Year of Pilgrimage this will be our particular focus.

“Millions of people come into our cathedrals and churches each year to light a candle for a loved one or for themselves. The creation of candles to represent modern day ‘pilgrims’ at Southwark and this whole concept of ‘Measuring for the Saint’ makes real the pilgrim’s journey of prayer. We hope that this installation will encourage people to pray for one another and to step out on the pilgrim path.”

Michelle Rumney is a Fine Arts graduate and works in mixed media including string, books and maps to create large scale paintings, paperworks and installations on the themes of repetition and transformation.

Her website is here.

There will be a special pilgrimage evening on Friday 6 March with Gregorian plainsong in a candlelit Cathedral.

Now in its ninth year, the annual Lent Art Installation at Southwark Cathedral brings new contemporary art to those who may not otherwise access it. This art piece then informs the preaching during Lent, to help lead the congregation and visitors through The Passion and becomes the focus of all that the Cathedral does during this key period.

Pilgrimage runs until Good Friday, 10 April. More info here > Southwark Measuring to the Saint