15,000 peace doves soar inside Chichester Cathedral

A remarkable mass expression of hope and peace will likely take your breath away in Chichester Cathedral this autumn.
Peace Doves in Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)Peace Doves in Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)
Peace Doves in Chichester Cathedral (contributed pic)

The cathedral is hosting artist Peter Walker's immersive installation Peace Doves from September 30-October 14 and from October 21-November 12 (with a number of special evening viewings and events), an artwork made up of fifteen thousand individually handmade paper doves which are suspended above the Cathedral’s historic Nave. Each dove contains a message of peace, love and hope, written by local community groups, schools and members of the public. Ahead of the exhibition more than a hundred schools and community groups across West Sussex, as well as the general public, wrote their personal messages on their paper dove before returning it to take its place in the installation.

Peace Doves will be supported by a programme of events for people of all ages, including weekly story-telling under the doves for under-fives, silent discos and special evening viewings when visitors will be able to experience the installation by twilight, and set to music by composer David Harper. Admission to the Cathedral is by donation and booking is not required.

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“Peace Doves is one of the art installations that we create around the UK,” Peter said. “I have a team that work with me. We first started this in Lichfield Cathedral in 2018 and it has toured around a number of cathedrals since. The starting point was to offer an opportunity for people that don't necessarily come into a cathedral themselves but also those people that know the cathedral well to join together in an act of talking in a single voice but with their own individual expressions to convey a message of hope and peace and to bring it together into an artwork that is both beautiful and ethereal but which at the same time has that overriding expression of hope and peace for the community at its heart. We hear so much negative news, but this is an opportunity for people to come together to express something positive.”

It takes on a different characteristic according to the venue: “In Lichfield it was designed to speak about the end of World War Two and other conflicts and as we have moved around so it has reflected other things that have been happening like Covid and losing loved ones but also more recently the subject of Ukraine has been important too. The doves are not necessarily for prayer, just for individual thoughts and hopes and wishes for the community.

“We do it in different ways. We've been working with the team here in Chichester and about 6,000 doves went out to local schools where there was a session that the children had that myself and my team created about peace and hope through history. From that point they then wrote their prayers and their thoughts. And then in the cathedral itself members of the community have written their thoughts as well.”

The messages are private. The paper is folded: “But obviously as we're constructing it, we see some of them. We have had people talking about lost loved ones and thinking of them and we've had a lot of Ukrainian people talking about people that they've had to leave behind. You see some very emotional things but then it all ascends into the air and all these private thoughts come together to create this collective expression.”

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