Advent Day 9: Art installation symbolises light in the darkness

A unique art installation is on display in the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland to welcome parishioners and visitors.

The handwritten words "Returning And Into Your Arms" have been cast in neon white glass and hung in Glasgow Cathedral, which dates back to 1197.

ADVENT-RevMark Johnstone
Rev Mark Johnstone said he hoped the installation would convey that Glasgow Cathedral is a place of belonging.

It is attached to a custom-built frame at the pulpitum between the choir and the nave which guarantees the protection of the ornate stonework.

Art has been used for centuries to spread the Christian message and make it more accessible and understandable to the public.

Glasgow Cathedral
James Pfaff is the artist behind the installation

Rev Mark Johnstone, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, said the impact of the installation by artist James Pfaff is "unexpected" and allows light to shine in the darkness to guide people though the magnificent building.

"Advent is a sacred time and for many people it is the only time of the year that they reach in and touch something that is linked to Christianity," he added.

"The cathedral is the oldest building in the city and although associated with civic pomp, it is located not far away from areas where asylum seekers and refugees live and where homeless people are supported by the likes of the Lodging House Mission.

"It survived the Reformation virtually intact and is known as the ‘People's Cathedral' – a place that resides in people's hearts.

"But I am always struck by the number of people I meet who say they have never been inside it.

"So, I hope that folk from all walks of life come to see the installation, which is playful and unpredictable, and get affirmation that this is a space of welcome, belonging and open to everyone."

The medieval cathedral, which attracted around 600,000 visitors a year before the pandemic, stands on the spot where Glasgow began to take shape and is dedicated to St Kentigern, also known as St Mungo, who is the city's patron saint.

Rev Mark Johnstone Glasgow
Glasgow Cathedral dates back to 1197.

The installation was erected last month to coincide with the climate change summit, COP26, in Glasgow which saw world leaders come together to discuss the best joint approach to tackle the climate emergency.

A special ecumenical service featuring Christian churches and organisations from around the world who came together to pray for a just outcome was held in the cathedral on the 7th of November.

Fellowship

Mr Pfaff said unveiling the work was an "important moment" for him because he thinks it is likely the first time that this kind of installation has appeared in a Scottish cathedral.

He added that the project would not have gone ahead if it had not been for Mr Johnstone's vision and encouragement.

Mr Pfaff said people will take their own meaning from the words but for him they convey a "message of fellowship shared with the religious community" and a civic and ethical message for global community action.

He added that they also sum up how he felt when he returned to the city in 2015 after decades living in London and Hamburg, Germany.

The artwork is on display until the 31st of January.

Even though Glasgow Cathedral has an active congregation, the building is Crown property and cared for by Historic Environment Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

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