The Festival of Chichester quickly vowed to be back again next year, all the stronger, and Zoom meetings are already under way as the festival committee starts to ponder 2021.
Here Daniel shares his thoughts about the festival that never was; looks forward to happier times next year; and reflects on the close bond which has always existed between the Festival and the Cathedral.
“Sitting at my desk, I have the privilege of seeing the peregrines swooping around the Cathedral’s spire over a landscape that is eerily still, the normal hubbub of a spring afternoon – visitors bustling into the Cloisters, choristers’ voices soaring out from their practice room, Cicestrians making their way home from school and work – all silenced by this invisible agent prowling in our midst.
“The last time our Cathedral was shut for this length of time was, I think, when the spire collapsed in 1861 and, before that, the six-year closure of all English churches by Pope Innocent III after a political spat with King John in 1208. Fortunately, in our current troubles the spire remains standing as a symbol of stability and continuity, as if an inverted anchor – silently reminding us that we’ve endured far worse in our city’s long history even as it points us to the eternal.
“While this indeed might be a time for silence, we know that in due course a time will come for us to speak, to make music, to sing and to feast.
“And it’s in that spirit that I’m so keen to follow my predecessor, Anthony Cane, in making sure the cathedral remains a key partner in the Festival of Chichester.
“When its parent Festivities were inaugurated in 1975 – triggered by the Cathedral’s 900th anniversary – its organisers did so in a period of what seemed like unremitting economic gloom: unemployment was on the rise; inflation was at its highest rate since 1800; the nation was reeling from continued IRA attacks; and Britain was tussling over its relationship with the EEC.
“The festival’s chairman, Lord Cudlipp, was insistent that, paradoxically, this should be a time for festivity. Providing public expenditure was minimal and extravagance was avoided, the Festivities would, he believed, offer a varied programme for everyone ‘who live within sight of the Cathedral spire’ to discover ‘the unique and virile sense of community’ in Chichester and, in particular, in its Cathedral.
“There are surely resonances there for us who anticipate a painful economic hangover to this crisis. It will be important that, as in 1975, the Festival allows our city to resonate next year with music, drama, visual art, dance and poetry not just a reflection of civic confidence but also as an opportunity for everyone to discern meaning in our suffering and hope in our endurance.
“While that sounds a little grandiose, it is clear that what we are experiencing is psychologically disruptive and for some – thinking of many working in our hospitals and care homes – traumatic. It’s perhaps here that the creative arts can play such a vital role in bringing healing, binding up our societal wounds (a task that Brexit also demanded) and finding new focus for our common life.
“The Cathedral, I hope, will play its part here. I keep thinking of an interview with Pope Francis last year when he spoke of our churches and cathedrals as ‘field hospitals’: binding up the broken-hearted, tending to the wounded and raising up the lowly in every community.
“When our doors re-open, hopefully sooner rather than later, it will be important that this ‘ship of heaven’, now anchored quietly in our midst, continues to be a place of healing and renewal.
“Part of this lies in the prayer and ancient traditions that continue to shape our life, without a doubt, but Chichester Cathedral has long proclaimed that the healing and fullness of life of which the Pope speaks and which is promised in the New Testament pulsates through the visual arts, jazz, poetry, sculpture and theatre as well as through the drama of each Sunday’s liturgy or in the tranquillity of our Lady Chapel. It is for this reason above all that the Cathedral must continue to be a generous and imaginative host and partner for the Festival and I’m proud to play my small part in helping to deliver it.”
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