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The John Piper Tapestry

High Altar with Tapestry by John Piper
High Altar with Tapestry by John Piper

The John Piper Tapestry is positioned behind the High Altar, giving an incredibly bright, colourful focal point to the Chancel and the whole Cathedral. The tapestry, which was installed in 1966, was designed by John Piper (1903-1992) to a commission by Dean Hussey. It consists of seven panels each 1 metre wide and 5 metres high and was woven by Pinton Freres at Felletin near Aubusson in France, where a few years earlier the Sutherland tapestry for Coventry Cathedral had been made.
The subject of the tapestry is the Holy Trinity which is represented by the central green triangle as a symbol of indivisibility. God the Father – the  Light of the World – is represented by the white disc of the sun. God the Son is represented by the purple tau cross [Greek letter T], and the Holy Spirit is represented by the feathered flame. Piper uses the tau cross for authenticity because only Roman citizens were crucified on a ‘traditional’ cross and Jesus was not a Roman citizen.

The ancient Greeks thought that the world and universe were created from four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The Four Elements are depicted above the images of the Trinity from left to right. These elements also feature prominently in Genesis, for example, God made Adam from the dust of the Earth and breathed air into Adam to give him life. The images below the central motifs represent the writers of the four gospels; from left to right, Matthew, a man’s head; Mark, a lion’s head; Luke, an ox; John, an eagle. All these images have wings and were the traditional attributes (symbols) of these Saints, indicating that they are messengers flying down to us on Earth with messages from God in heaven. Until recent times, most people were illiterate and would have recognised all the Saints by their unique attribute. John Piper has connected pagan, Jewish and Christian ideas in one masterpiece.

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