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The 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Piper Tapestry (posted 20 September 2016)

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Chichester Cathedral Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Piper Tapestry

The Piper Tapestry at Chichester Cathedral
The Piper Tapestry at Chichester Cathedral

Fifty years ago on Tuesday 20th September 1966, the Piper Tapestry was dedicated at a special Evensong in Chichester Cathedral.  The John Piper Tapestry is positioned behind the High Altar, giving an incredibly bright, colourful focal point to the whole Cathedral. 

In the early 1960s the Dean, Walter Hussey, and Chapter considered that the sanctuary and high altar looked rather drab and gloomy.  Hussey thought that there should be some strong colour in this area, perhaps a painting, and asked Henry Moore to suggest a suitable artist; Moore suggested John Piper. 

After much deliberation, Piper considered that a tapestry occupying the whole area behind the altar would be best, even though he had never designed a tapestry before.  John Piper is recorded as saying that the Chichester tapestry was "in some ways the most frightening commission" he had ever received.

At its dedication in 1966 Hussey described the tapestry as  'a Magnificent Adornment of this House of God' but not everyone agreed!  This dramatic and vibrant addition to the Cathedral angered some people; Hussey received letters of complaint and there is even a story of dark glasses being worn at Evensong by the then Chancellor in protest to the tapestry's stunning brightness!  Today this wonderful tapestry is considered to be one of the Cathedral's most important works of art.

Cathedral Chancellor, Canon Dr Anthony Cane
Cathedral Chancellor, Canon Dr Anthony Cane

The Cathedral's current Chancellor, Canon Dr Anthony Cane, marked the tapestry's 50th anniversary by wearing his own dark glasses to celebrate the tapestry's continued vibrancy fifty years on!

On Thursday 22nd September at 6.30pm Dr Naomi Billingsley, the current Bishop Otter Scholar based at the Bishop's Palace, gave a talk on this tapestry in the Cathedral Presbytery, with the tapestry as her backdrop.  She told the story of how it came into being, and the controversy it provoked when first installed.  She also shared some recent responses to the tapestry emerging from a series of discussion groups on art in the Cathedral held earlier this year as part of her work, and invited responses and discussion following the talk. 

Click here to download the PDF of this talk.

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