Art in the Abbey
Revd Neill Archer
Malmesbury Abbey, North Wiltshire
Neill works with the A-level art class to create imaginative interpretations of the Stations of the Cross for display at Malmesbury Abbey each year. Students are introduced to the themes of Easter, drawing meaning for themselves from the Scriptures.
Although the Abbey is a clear beneficiary of the students’ artwork, the annual project began as an offer to enrich this part of the school’s cultural life. Neill talks to a class each year about what Easter means to Christians, creating opportunities for conversations with the young artists who are then read passages of scriptures. Each student is encouraged to work on an aspect of the narrative which grabs their attention.
Unlike some forms of preaching in schools, this approach liberates each individual’s imagination. A dialogue performed with respect, interest and engagement recovers for many young people the validity of Christianity’s having something to say.
The artwork goes on display for a month in the south aisle of the Abbey, starting on Palm Sunday. The display blesses thousands of visitors every year; enabling them to think about and engage with Easter in new ways. Underneath each piece is the scripture which inspired it and the artist’s exposition – how they interpreted the ideas in the text and how they represented this. This also galvanises the congregation’s will to contemplation.
Students are proud to be afforded this opportunity to put their work out to the public in a prominent local building. In a devotional walk for worshippers around the installation, the artists are interviewed in turn, each speaking of how their imagination and skill were employed to create art and continue the cultural life of the Gospel.
The annual project began 8 years ago and has continued to flourish. It is established as a part of the curriculum through the good relationship built with the head of the art department.