Chichester: Art in the Cathedral

I am not a frequent visitor to churches and cathedrals but I make an exception for the 7thCentury Chichester Cathedral because it contains art that speaks to me.  The Cathedral is a classic Norman building with round arch windows and west facing twin towers and is the only English Cathedral with a surviving detached medieval Bell Tower dating back to 681 when Saint Wilfred brought Christianity to Sussex.

Medieval Bell Tower, Chichester Cathedral

It was raining heavily on the day after the theatre performance so we spent most of the time before lunch and our departure, in the Cathedral.  I wanted to re-visit the Arundel Tomb, subject of a poem by one of my favourite poets, Philip Larkin.  I have been re-reading Larkin recently and that particular poem has being going round and round in my head and I knew I could only dislodge it by visiting the tomb.

The Arundel Tomb

The Arundel Tomb was brought from Lewes Priory sometime after its dissolution in 1537. It is a chest on top of which lies the figures of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster. The tomb was restored at the beginning of the 19th century bt Edward Richardson, a well-known sculptor of the day.

I know the poem off by heart and I was able to sit there for a long time and listen to the music of the words in my head and ‘see’ what Larkin saw when he wrote the poem.  Without his words, I would have walked by this tomb and missed what he saw “what will survive of us is love”.  If copyright allowed, I would have liked to add the poem here, but it wasn’t possible.

I also wanted another chance to see the Chagall stained-glass window and the Gustav Holst plaque.  The Chagall window, installed in 1978, is unusual in that the glass is predominantly red when Chagall usually worked in blue.  It is absolutely gorgeous and I could have stayed longer just drinking in the beauty of the luminous jewel cololurs.

Stained Glass Window by Chagall – Photo by David Spender CC.

Gustav Holst, one of the greatest figures in British 20th century music, had a special connection to Chichester Cathedral and on his death aged 59, on 25th May 1934, his ashes were interred in the Cathedral.  The composer of The Planets Suite, was a friend of Chichester’s Bishop Bell and worked with him on the Whitsuntide Festivals.  Under the plaque on the floor in the North Transept , his ashes were buried near to a memorial to his favourite Tudor composer, Thomas Weelkes. 

Plaque in Memorium Gustav Holst

I shall no doubt visit again on my next trip to Chichester because there is more art to be seen in the cathedral.  There is a John Piper tapestry on the High Altar, a vividly coloured work which I have yet to take to: there is a Graham Sutherland painting and there are various sculptures worth searching out.   

But Chichester has lots of other attractions to tempt one.  Here are just a few.

The Festival Theatre along with its sister theatre, The Minerva, has a continuos programme of first-class productions, most of which transfer to the West End after their run in Chichester.  There are also two really good restaurants on the site (booking essential).

The free Novium Museum gives an in-depth insight into the history of the City and wider district and it is built over the remains of a vast Roman bath house, which can be seen from the ground floor.

The internationally recognised Pallant House Gallery (rated second only to the Tate for modern British art by the Guardian) explores new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now.  It is housed in what is considered to be one of the most important 18th century townhouses in England, one of very few Queen Anne houses open to the public. 

The 200-year-old Chichester Canal is another of Chichester’s hidden gems. This secret waterway was once part of the former Portsmouth and Arundel Canal (opening in 1823) with carrying regular cargoes of  gold bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England – with armed guards on the barges! 

There are free drop-in guided tours of the Cathedral at 11.15am and 2.30pm Monday to Saturday, which last approximately 45 minutes.

8 thoughts on “Chichester: Art in the Cathedral

  1. Yes, I shall book a tour next time. The Piper tapestry really has me puzzled, there must be a meaning there but I can’t find it!

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  2. I stopped in Chichester on my way through from Cornwall to London in 2016, specifically to see a play at the Festival Theatre, and fell in love with the city and especially the cathedral. A lovely place that I want to go back to sometime in the future, if I can manage to get myself all the way across from Australia.

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  3. Hope the poem resonates with you. Not everyone likes Larkin – especially when they think of his very misogynistic lifestyle – but he’s one of my favourites.

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