Revd Canon Dr Julie Gittoes - Residentiary Canon (Education) at Guildford Cathedral
Recently, Guilford Cathedral hosted an architectural study day as part of the 'The People's Cathedral Project'. As the chair, it was a tremendous pleasure to welcome a diverse audience, which ranged from cathedral guides, interested amateurs and professionals. Together we had the opportunity to reflect on Sir Edward Maufe’s beautiful building and learn how it sits within the context of twentieth century design. Its distinctive architecture is as much part of our cathedral’s story as that of the brick-givers.
We were pleased to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of three speakers. First, Robert Drake of the Twentieth Century Society, who nominated Guildford Cathedral as the building for 1965 in the publication 100 Buildings, 100 Years. He was able to set our Cathedral in the context of the church architecture, and Maufe’s career in particular.
Our current cathedral architect, John Bailey, is responsible for the ongoing care, maintenance and development of the building. He spoke about the story of its construction from the design competition, the impact of the Second World War through to its consecration. He delighted us with his knowledge, passion and affection for this cathedral.
"Personally, I first crossed the threshold of the Cathedral on an autumnal Friday morning in 2011. ... I was awestruck by the light and space; by the height and simplicity."
John’s colleague from Thomas Ford and Partners, Fergus McCormick, brought us up to date by sharing the vision and practicalities of the current plans for internal refurbishment. Not only does this involve the removal of acoustic plaster, but also the opportunity to improve the lighting and sound system. We then had the opportunity to explore the building in more detail – including walking the length of the crypt. As a plumber’s daughter, the copper piping and solder joints of the underfloor heating never ceases to amaze me!
Personally, I first crossed the threshold of the Cathedral on an autumnal Friday morning in 2011. The nave had been cleared of chairs in preparation for the Fuse youth event. I was awestruck by the light and space; by the height and simplicity. At that time, Elizabeth Frink's Walking Madonna was on loan from Chris Ingram's collection – and she was situated at the west end, striding out into the world. She seemed to reflect something of our Christian calling.
Both of those initial impressions say something of our worship and witness. To me, a cathedral that is infused with light and spaciousness speaks of attentiveness to God, to the transcendent, to the beyond breaking in; but our cathedral is also rooted in the clay of Stag Hill, with a growing vision for engagement with the world.
Within our Diocese, each of us will have our own responses to, and experiences of, the cathedral: of ordinations, confirmations, school workshops and art exhibitions. One small boy, attending a family activity day recently, crossed the threshold was so overawed that he kept saying “but it’s massive!”. This cathedral church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, is a celebration of human creativity and skill; a place of beauty and inspiration. Perhaps every time we visit, we’ll see it differently.