First Thoughts on Raising the Lichfield Cross

I am sat at the airport at the end of an amazing two months, itself the climax of a period of four years working on the Lichfield Icon Project.

Yesterday the final icon, the huge cross standing over three meters high, was suspended high in the nave of the cathedral. First the front of the studio, which stood in the south transept, was demolished and then the scaffold cradle which has held the cross for the last two months, was wheeled out and swiveled around into the entrance of the nave. The pulpit made the gap too narrow to pass any closer to the vast, soaring scaffold structure which had been erected in the nave up to the roof boss from where the single stainless steel rod from which the Cross was to be suspended.

So a delicate operation ensued, hooking the Cross to additional chains from the second scaffold and which would winch it upwards. Gradually the previously attached chains were extended while the new ones tightened, with the foot of the  Cross held with a strap to prevent it swinging into place and acting like a pendulum. Deftly is was moved into place without so much as a murmur. Once there it was slightly raised so that the lower attachment could be removed and the hole plugged. However, before that a time capsule was inserted: a leaflet about the icon school, a medal of St Benedict, some English coins. Then it was sealed, planed flat and painted over by Hanna, one of my team, and the Dean, who finally got to put his own touch on the piece.

The scene had resembled the Crucifixion. The men in luminous tabards and hard hats resembling the soldiers, the harsh, industrial mechanics of the scaffold resembling the apparatus of getting the crucified Christ nailed and hoisted aloft. It was strangely ethereal, moving.

Once in place beneath the roof boss we recited our usual prayers, the ones we have said every day before we began our work, some prayers in English, so in Arabic, some said and some sung. The cathedral was hushed, even the workmen halting, standing very still and caught up in the sacredness of the moment. The Cross had an immense but gentle power which radiated into the whole cathedral like a warm, glowing light, a presence which compelled reverence, awe, even worship.

Then the scaffolding guys began ratcheting their chains and the Cross slowly, ever so slowly began to move upwards. Upwards and upwards, until the front of the Cross was obscured by the scaffold. Yet it had been enough to glimpse just how radiant and commanding the presence of this Cross is going to be. From the rear you had a clear view of it from the choir and high altar. The vast gilded surface shimmered in the light, while the image of Christ the Lord name Ruler of All reigned. Depending on where you stand it reveals itself in different ways. In some places the figure is just a silhouette, in others the gold is a vast darkness and the image radiant, a field of colour. 


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