Covid heroes unveiled as the faces of The Chichester Nativity

Chichester Cathedral heralds our local heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic in a major new art installation The Chichester Nativity, opening  to the public today (Thursday)  at 10am.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 7:05 am
The Chichester Nativity  - Photo by Ash Mills
The Chichester Nativity - Photo by Ash Mills

The artwork, created by visual arts advisor and curator Jacquiline Creswell, and artist and photographer Ash Mills, will be an immersive photographic installation, sharing the familiar story of the Nativity in the style of a renaissance tableau marking the period of Advent and Christmas.

But the characters in the scene have been drawn from local organisations, charities and medical services and paired symbolically to the roles within the Nativity, with angels acting as guardians of health and wellbeing; shepherds as providers of food and resources; the Magi as people who have learned from experience and are now leaders of their community.

Each participant was photographed individually, before being edited into the composite image. Participating organisations include the Bell Tower Drop-In, Chichester District Foodbank, Chichester Festival Theatre, Heart, Sanctuary in Chichester, Stagecoach, Stonepillow, Wellington Grange and West Sussex NHS Partnership.

The Chichester Nativity - Photo by Ash Mills

The photographic artwork is printed onto sheer voile banners and hung principally above the Cathedral’s historic Arundel Screen, leading into the Nave and Baptistry.

In the arches on either side of the Arundel Screen there is a traditional scene of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus surrounded by shepherds; the arch on the opposite side of the Screen is filled with scenes and characters in the story. One large banner is located above the Arundel Screen, with characters in the story pointing to the new born child. The Star of Bethlehem is represented with an image of the recent Neowise comet which visited close by the earth during lockdown.

The Very Rev Stephen Waine, Dean of Chichester, said: “The Chichester Nativity presents a poignant reflection upon the traditional scene familiar to so many. It is an uplifting symbol of our community coming together in a challenging year and will act as a lasting monument to these extraordinary times and the heroes who have done so much to make a difference.

“I invite everyone to experience this unique artwork in the Cathedral at this jubilant time of year.”

Visual arts advisor and curator Jacquiline Creswell, said: “The Nativity scene is one filled with symbolism that conveys an important message at Christmas time. It has been a great joy for myself and Ash to be the creators of these glorious voile banners, which capture the spirit of the season by demonstrating connectedness, unity, love and community in a time of increased separation.”

Artist and photographer Ash Mills said: “It has been a huge pleasure for me to create the images for The Chichester Nativity and to bring to life the vision that Jacquiline and I had for the installation. It was a daunting but rewarding process to create the scenes, with each banner image made up of around 50 layers, including the wonderful cast and everything else from goats to halos! It was humbling to be able to feature some of the heroes from the Chichester community in this project, and I hope that they feel being immortalised this way reminds them all of the appreciation we all have for them.” The installation forms part of the Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas campaign Drop Down, Ye Heavens – referring to the ancient Advent antiphon Rorate caeli: ‘Drop down ye heavens, and let the skies pour down righteousness’. This includes a pre-recorded carol service available through the Cathedral website, live-streamed services and online spiritual resources to access from home, which include activities for children and families. Details of services and activities for Advent and Christmas are on http://chichestercathedral.org.uk