Despite everything … that was an amazing year for our cathedrals.
2021. This was how the year panned out for your cathedrals.
Our cathedrals become vaccine centres, they lit candles for every life lost to the pandemic on the anniversary of the first national lockdown, they were at the heart of prayers and thanksgiving to mark the passing of HRH Prince Philip, they welcomed thousands of cyclists taking part in the first Cathedrals Cycle Route relay, they rang their bells to mark the start of COP26, they created and hosted a range of creative reflective art exhibitions including Ripon’s Wing and a Prayer, Luke Jerram’s Gaia and Museum of the Moon, and Luxmuralis’ Peace Doves … and then there was Dippy.
This was our year.
January plunged the country into a new lockdown, many of our cathedrals decided to close their doors once more taking all worship online, but hope sprang eternal as the nation’s vaccination programme began to roll out – and our cathedrals were at the heart of it.
Salisbury Cathedral played organ music to patients as they came for their jabs, opening, as did Lichfield Cathedral, as a regional clinic. Blackburn Cathedral opened its crypt to become one of the nation’s first mass vaccination centres, and Rochester Cathedral’s crypt too was transformed into a Covid -19 symptom free test centre while later in the year Chester and Worcester both become vaccine centres.
Our cathedrals led the way on the first National Day of Reflection on 23 March. Lives lost were lit in candles in their local cathedrals, Coventry created a video memorial and invited people to tie yellow ribbons on a tree of remembrance, there were more ribbons at Rochester, Lincoln Cathedral lit up yellow, there was a new hymn and an online book of remembrance at Ely Cathedral, Portsmouth created a rainbow arch of prayer and Winchester Cathedral placed a giant ‘green’ cross of remembrance and hope with spring flowers in its nave.
Our live peregrine webcams began to get busy with viewers again as the peregrine season began. Winnie at Winchester Cathedral was the first to lay, quickly followed by Derby and Salisbury, Norwich, Wakefield and Chichester. And Ely announced it had installed its first live webcam to watch its resident pair of peregrines for the first time since they had arrived at the cathedral in 2019.
In April our cathedrals tolled their bells 99 times to mark every year of the life of HRH Prince Philip, and they offered up prayers and celebrated his life of servitude to HRH The Queen.
May saw the launch of the new Cathedrals Cycle Route (CCR) – this 2,000 mile route links all 42 Church of England Cathedrals in a new initiative to promote greener travel and mental and physical wellbeing and was designed to help us all out of lockdown.
The route was launched with a relay event starting from Newcastle Cathedral on May 30 – the opening day of Bike Week run by Cycling UK – and over the following five weeks, thousands of you got on your bikes, joined in part of the routes and supported those passing on the specially commissioned baton from one cathedral to another up and down the country.
Shaun Cutler, the man behind the CCR said:
“The Cathedrals Cycle Route is about connecting our historic cathedrals and enjoying the spaces between them.
“Now more than ever, after a year of living with the coronavirus pandemic, this is a way to support people’s mental and physical health and promote the mission of England’s cathedrals through pilgrimage, wellbeing and heritage.”
Cats. Obviously cats made an appearance for the cyclists.
It was the start of a summer of new beginnings with art installations, reflective memorials to the pandemic, the Knife Angel, thousands of young voices from around the world united to sing to the G7 leaders in Cornwall, Southwark was able to open its much anticipated Lent art exhibition, Mark Titchner’s Please Believe These Days Will Pass, there was a Kent Corona Quilt created and displayed in Rochester Cathedral, Let there be Light finally opened in Durham, Peace Doves by Luxmuralis opened in Liverpool Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon started a tour around four of our cathedrals, his planet earth, Gaia was hosted at Leicester, Ely and Wakefield, Luxmuralis’ The Great Exhibition opened at Lichfield, Antony Gormley’s Doubt filled a niche on the front of Wells Cathedral – and Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic dinosaur cast, finally arrived at Norwich Cathedral.
Newcastle Cathedral re-opened following its £6m transformation project Common Ground in Sacred Space, donation campaigns were launched in the face of the impact of the pandemic on our cathedrals, new partnerships sought, and Portsmouth, Bristol and Rochester all created their own brand gins to raise funds.
In Autumn we launched new research that revealed the extent of our contribution to local communities and their economies and laid bare the impact the pandemic was having on our ability to do that.
Launching The Economic and Social Impact of Cathedrals in England, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, said:
“Cathedrals stand at the heart of their communities and regions – places of faith and worship, welcome and service, wonder and education.
“By our welcoming and inclusive ethos, millions are drawn to our cathedrals every year. It is touching to receive so much public attention and endorsement.
“We have, though, been badly affected by the pandemic; the data proves that very clearly. But we’ve risen to new challenges. We’ve gone digital, streamed our services, and reached out to provide practical and spiritual care to be beacons of hope in tough times.
“This study gives the evidence of our impact as sacred spaces and places of compassion, community and solace.”
And tens of thousands of you used the opportunity to visit our cathedrals during your staycations this year. Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon attracted thousands of new visitors as it toured Bristol, Chichester, Durham and Wells – with Bristol seeing all previous visitor records smashed. Worcester reported high numbers too with its Leaves of the Trees exhibition by Peter Walker, Ely saw thousands more when it hosted Gaia, and Dippy welcomed 160,000 visitors during its “staycation” to Norwich Cathedral.
The Very Revd Mandy Ford, Dean of Bristol, said:
“The Museum of the Moon has been such a gift to Bristol Cathedral and the people of Bristol.
“The installation transformed our building, brought in visitors from around the city and the country, and provoked hundreds of conversations.”
Southwell Minster’s historic Chapter House reopened after a restoration project to transform the 13th century gem for future generations and shine new light on its famous Leaves of Southwell carvings. Manchester Cathedral launched the first comprehensive study of its history to mark its 600th anniversary, the Knife Angel came to Blackburn, there were light and sound spectaculars created by Luxmuralis that transformed Carlisle, Peterborough, Sheffield, Worcester and Lichfield cathedrals and Bradford Cathedral hosted Light Organ, a new piece of artwork specially created for its space.
Our bells rang out to mark the start of the COP26 conference and we shared stories about the steps our cathedrals were taking to safeguard creation with Gold awards for Salisbury and Chelmsford, six cathedrals earning Silver, 14 Bronze A Rocha Eco Church Awards and Gloucester Cathedral gots its first electric vehicle.
November saw the return of Christmas Markets at many of our cathedrals heralding the start of the season of Advent. Christmas trees were installed and lit, Advent wreaths raised, there were art, light and sound spectaculars at Sheffield, Peterborough and Lichfield – including the fabulous interactive Bruce Munroe Field of Blooms outside in the cloisters at Chichester Cathedral – and a first for Newcastle with The Stars Come Out At Night. There were carol services to honour the NHS, dress up nativities, pets’ carol services and the camels came for their rehearsal at Salisbury Cathedral.
The rising number of Covid infections due to the new Omicron variant saw face masks reintroduced in our cathedrals and all our cathedrals took services online as well as in person, while Chester put aside part of its building to be a pop-up vaccine centre for Christmas shoppers.
In the busyness of our Christmas programmes, new research was published by Warwick University showing that attendance at a Cathedral Christmas Carol service makes you happy. And there was news of something to look forward to in 2022… Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon will open in Lincoln Cathedral and his Planet Earth, Gaia in Rochester this February.
We ended the year celebrating the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died on Boxing Day aged 90.
He published several books during his life and in God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, he wrote:
“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognising the humanity in others.”
We could do no worse than to look upon these words as we begin a new year on our fragile planet in these challenging times.
Happy New Year.