For nearly all of its history, the Christian Church has embraced and celebrated art as an aid to worship and prayer. The Minster itself is a superb expression of human creativity, inspired by the glory and majesty of God. It contains many works of art from every century, which enrich the experience of those who offer here their prayers and praise. It is a sign of hope that we continue to invest in work of the highest quality that expresses the faith and spirituality of our own times.
The building of the present Beverley Minster began in 1220 and was completed by 1425. The building, an expression of Gothic art, is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest non-cathedral churches in England. Since its completion successive generations have added to and adorned this magnificent church. Always any additions have been made with the use of the highest quality materials and the most skilled workmanship of the time. When a suggestion was made to turn the retro-quire into a place of meditation and prayer by the introduction of 21st century artwork the Friends of the Minster were glad to take up the challenge.
Several artists were approached but Helen Whittaker’s scheme, based on the theme of ‘A Spiritual and Artistic Pilgrimage’ was accepted. The theme of pilgrimage seemed particularly appropriate to an area where for hundreds of years medieval pilgrims would congregate to gaze at the shrine of St. John of Beverley placed on top of the reredos. Helen’s plans consisted of stained glass in a 13th century, single lancet window, two life-sized copper figures, prayer benches and seating and a copper candle stand.
The dedication of the artwork in the Retro-Quire by the Most Revd and Right Honourable Dr David Hope, KCVO, archbishop of York, patron of the Friends of the Minster, on 14th September 2004, was but a continuation of the life of this great church. To succeeding generations Helen’s work will be an interpretation of 21st century art and religious thought, on the theme of the trials and joys of an individual’s spiritual journey.
Comment by the Artist
Geometry is at the heart of all the designs for this scheme and it functions at a practical level as the unifying theme for the work as a whole, as well as also being the symbolic medium for the messages of faith and love: the tenets on which all pilgrimages are based.
The two life-sized sculptured figures formed in copper have three triangular stained-glass hearts within them. The hearts function as a crucial link between the figures and the window, as within every pilgrim is the knowledge of the love of God in the form of the Trinity. The heart theme continues within the window itself since here the glass triangles create a path and guide the pilgrims’ journey. Similarly, the viewer’s gaze is invited to follow the spiral pattern formed in the window towards its centre.
The seating and the prayer stands, which are comprised of arcs, guide the viewer to the candle stand, new window and sculpture, where the triangular motif is continued.
The drawing of all geometric patterns, no matter how complex, must begin with the point of a compass. The design for this scheme uses a compass point to represent God the creator, the starting point for all our journeys and, as with all geometric forms, it is impossible to tell the beginning from the end.
Similarly the scheme reflects the intricate pattern of the two-way relationship between the pilgrim and God. The copper figures, with their upward projection, point to the window with its message of light. The viewer relates the message of light back to the figures which have their hearts full of the light which is the love of God.