‘Stunning’ exhibit launches a ‘season of remembrance’ at Ripon

Members of the public had their first opportunity this week to see what has been described as a ‘stunning’ art installation which uses mud from Passchendaele in Belgium, the scene of one of the bloodiest and deadliest battles of the First World War.

Ripon Cathedral opened a commemorative ‘season of remembrance’ this week, October 3rd with a preview evening of the WW1 earth sculpture – Fields of Mud, Seeds of Hope – and a Choral Evensong attended by civic leaders and members of the armed forces.

Pictured (above right) is Yorkshire artist, Dan Metcalfe who has created the installation which is open until November 14.  The sculpture which is 9m long by 3m wide, uses drying mud to depict five battle weary silhouettes returning home from the front. As the mud dries it changes colour, gradually cracks and over a period of weeks slowly reveals the silhouettes.

Dan explained: “We have used mud – something very familiar to so many first World War soldiers and deeply symbolic of struggle and sacrifice and sought to form it into an artwork that looks to the future and has hope at its core.”

The mud Dan has used has come from the site of Ripon’s WW1 military hospital and the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Belgium. Deep within it millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lie dormant (Below, Dan applies the finishing touches to the Installation).

When decommissioned segments of the sculpture comprising of the dried earth and seeds will be made available to the public to create their own artworks or memorial gardens with the profits used to support various charities dealing with the effects of conflict.

The installation can be viewed from today, together with There But Not There – a nationwide installation for the Fallen. The life size ‘Tommy’ silhouettes which stand at the city’s war memorial near the High Altar were purchased for the cathedral in support of the charity Remembered.

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson (pictured with Dan Metcalfe), who preached at the opening Choral Evensong, said, “The cathedral is the focus of much of this military city’s Season of Remembrance. This is a place which housed a camp of thousands of troops preparing to go to the Western Front.

“The cathedral is a place where the people of this community have met in every stage of our nation’s history over fourteen hundred years. Over these coming weeks we commemorate the ending of the First World War a century ago. We pray that we might learn from the lessons of history and pray for peace in the future.”

The names of the city’s dead are etched in to the stone of the cathedral itself – the east wall forming the city’s war memorial. There can be seen Ninian Comper’s reredos – depicting Christ as a young unbearded man such as those who fell during the conflict.

(Pictured left, a member of 21 Engineer Regiment gives the New Testament reading during the opening of the exhibition as two soldiers from There But Not There stand guard.)

At every service during the Season of Remembrance a few names will be mentioned in prayer, so that by the end, all will have been remembered.

Other highlights during this period include the commemoration of the death of the WW1 poet Wilfred Owen on November 4. This will include retracing Owen’s daily walk in to the city from South Camp at Hell Wath, where he was stationed as he recovered his fitness after shell shock. The walk, led by Rev Caitlin Carmichael-Davies, will pause at key points for prayers and poems – including the house in Borrage Lane where Owen rented an attic room in order to write some of his most celebrated poetry – away from the noise of the army camp.

Amongst the other significant events at Ripon Cathedral are a light display at the West End of the cathedral organised by the city and taking place from November 8 – 10; Ripon Choral Society performing Britten’s War Requiem on November 10 and a Service of Remembrance on November 11 itself – when the preacher will be Bishop Ralf Meister – the Bishop of Hanover and Ecumenical Canon at Ripon Cathedral. The service will also feature Hannover Girls’ Choir.

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