Remembrance at Cathedrals

Cathedrals have been busy putting grants for repairs to good use as the nation marks the centenary of the First World War. Becky Clark, Senior Cathedrals Officer and Deputy Secretary of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, has seen at first-hand how new life has been breathed into these jewels in the nation’s crown.  

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” So wrote the late, great Terry Pratchett in Going Postal. At the time of Remembrance Day the Church of England plays many roles in commemorating the sacrifices of war. But perhaps one of its most important functions is to ensure that what was lost is nevertheless not forgotten; that the dead, though gone, are remembered still.

This year all of England’s cathedrals have been particularly reflecting on the centenary of the First World War and finding ways to bring what seems now a largely historical event into the modern consciousness. The government’s First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund is helping to pay for crucial repairs to over 50 Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. The fund was set up to make sure that cathedrals could be centres of commemoration and remembrance throughout the 1914-18 centenary.

Take Lincoln Cathedral – stunning, highly decorated, made of porous Lincolnshire limestone and sitting proudly at the top of a hill exposed to the elements. Having undergone a three year roof restoration project the cathedral has been collecting names of the departed who visitors wish to be remembered and at a special service on 13th November, poppies will float from the roof of the nave.

At Derby Cathedral, now beautifully lit, decorated and warm thanks to a new heating system there will be an evening of music and readings for Armistice Day on 11th November.

Gloucester Cathedral displaying poppies
Gloucester Cathedral displaying poppies

Gloucester Cathedral has partnered with GCHQ and the Royal British Legion to launch this year’s poppy appeal. As well as commemorating the past, the initiative, which includes many thousands of handcrafted woollen and knitted poppies displayed in and around buildings across the county, encourages us to think about the modern day realities of war. The cathedral tower is lit red in support of the appeal. Project Pilgrim, a conservation programme, supported by the World War I Fund, is underway to restore a number of areas including the stunning Lady Chapel.

At Liverpool Cathedral where grants have enabled vital work to the Lady Chapel and Nave roofs, the Merchant Navy Service of Remembrance will take place on Sunday 13th November at 3pm.

Worcester Cathedral will hold acts of worship to commemorate Remembrance on Sunday and two exhibitions on the stories of local soldiers as well as the role of horses in war are helping to bring to life for a new generation the unsung heroes of conflict.

A new carving of a poppy has been completed at Exeter Cathedral in time for Remembrance Sunday. The decorated “corbel” stone will eventually be added high up on the eastern end of the Cathedral as part of a major programme of works in that area of the building that was funded by the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund. It was carved from a block of Salcombe stone by Gary Morley who has been a member of the Cathedral’s team of masons for over 25 years.

The reason for this remembrance is not to glorify or validate war, or inspire or provoke conflict. Nor is it a nationalistic trumpet call commemorating only those of our own particular country or background. Instead the Church recognises the common humanity of all who have served and died, were injured or traumatised by war. This Remembrance Day church services across the country will think of current world conflicts – Syria, Iraq, many others – and offer prayers for those serving, those fleeing, those caught up in wars they did not start. Remembrance Day commemorations are an act of unity in the face of conflict.

In a world still consumed by conflict, where it is easy to see suffering yet so hard to know how to make a difference, remembering what has gone before is an act of rebellion against apathy. Churches and cathedrals are places where people can gather to speak of loved ones, to pray for reconciliation, to remember and learn about what has passed before. As Czesław Miłosz writes in The Issa Valley “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

Becky Clark
Senior Cathedrals Officer and Deputy Secretary of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England

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