This article is part of the series ‘Made You Look’ which aims to explore the meaning behind the art we see every day in and around Durham.
By Caitlin Allard
Did you know that the circumference of each column in Durham Cathedral is equal to its height? My first experience of Durham Cathedral was on a tour during Freshers’ Week. I was struck not only by the beauty of the grand architecture and its marvellous history, but by one particularly bright stained-glass window. Most of the windows were destroyed in the Reformation and were replaced in the Victorian era and have a similar style, but this one stood out. To me, the glowing window seemed to be swirling planets, a homage to the solar system. I liked that the Cathedral appeared to be displaying links to the wider universe.
What is it?
The window, on the right after you’ve entered the cathedral, is actually an abstract depiction of The Last Supper. What appeared to me to be planets are actually the tops of the heads of the disciples.
The designer and creator is Mark Angus, from Combe Down in Bath. He paints with glass and coloured light and has created over 300 windows. Angus works with many churches for their depth of “cultural contents” and (according to his website) tries to “challenge interpretation without abandoning mystery, wonder and awe”. His work is similar to Antoni Gaudí’s with his use of light and colour.
For a work in a position such as this, however, the artist seems to fade into the background. The work feels very much owned by Durham and the cathedral rather than by the artist, unlike some of Fenwick Lawson’s pieces (including ‘The Journey‘ and ‘Cry for Justice – the Scream‘) around Durham. It is not a focal point of the cathedral, it simply adds to the mesmerising experience inside the building.
Why is it there?
It was donated by Durham’s branch of Marks and Spencer on 2nd March 1984 to commemorate the company’s centenary and, according to the Cathedral’s website, celebrate the ‘strong links between the Durham community and its cathedral.’ The tribute also acts as a tribute to Marks and Spencer’s place in the community.
However, Marks and Spencer is shutting down. Some believe that this is insignificant, but a company that has donated a window in a building that has stood at the centre of a community for a millennium, has at least some standing in Durham’s status as a community. M&S Director Sacha Berendji stated the change was ‘vital for the future’ of the business, but it cuts community ties. There has been much upset, particularly for the elderly who don’t have a car or can’t drive. Martin Flannagan told The Northern Echo it is a “disastrous decision. For people living in the city centre without a car, doing their shopping on foot, it is a huge blow, especially with regard to the high quality food.”
M&S as a shop shutting in any larger city would not be such an issue. But, unfortunately, it means the only option left in Market Square is the cramped, overcrowded and often empty shelved Tesco. Options in Durham are becoming increasingly limited. Roberta Blackman-Woods MP met with Durham council to discuss what she described as a ‘blow to residents, tourists and visitors’. But, apparently, it was to no avail.
Over the past decade, the city has increasingly lost elements of what makes it a city. High-end supermarkets like M&S have been forced to leave, most likely due to rents being too high in the limited centre of Durham. Waitrose only managed to stay open for a few years before trading at a loss, between 2005 and 2008.
There is also the loss of basic commodities. The main Post Office was absorbed into the hot, overly crowded and difficult to access basement of WHSmith. Affordable shops filled with basic essentials hardly exist outside of the Indoor Market. Wilkinson’s shut down, and we are left with a difficult to access Poundland and Savers amidst a maze of building work.
We are left with Fat Face, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Jack Wills and ‘Rupert and Buckley’. There are plenty of fur-lined gilets available, but it is hard to find a pack of socks for less than £7. It is harder and harder to find essential, affordable things used in day-to-day life.
And yet, luxury student accommodation keeps popping up: at the bottom of Claypath, in Gilesgate, along the ‘Riverwalk’, next to Elvet – to name a few. They all aim to charge up to £200 a week. Investors are attempting to attract more students and charge extortionate rents. It makes it more and more difficult to live in Durham if on a low income, or from a low-income background, and makes it more and more difficult to want to live in Durham – it is becoming less of a city, and more of a campus filled with high-end shops.
Durham is losing basic resources needed by residents. Partly as a result of this, it is losing its sense of community that the window donated by M&S was meant to represent. ‘Daily Bread’ is beautiful and captivating, and will act as a reminder of when both Durham’s economy and community were thriving and functional. The Cathedral itself remains a place of community, but elsewhere, life is becoming more and more of a struggle.
Photograph: Durham Cathedral