Northern Light Spectacular

Designed by Ross Ashton and Karen Monid, Northern Lights at York Minster was an outstanding success. Playing to the public on the 16th and 17th June, 2018, and to a fundraising event on the 15th organised by the York Minster fund, the projection is a major feature in a campaign to preserve and protect the world-famous medieval glass of the Minster. Northern Lights dazzled the audience, showcasing the medieval glass-work and the medieval heritage of York, curating a journey from creation stories, nature and the cosmos, and thinking about the afterlife, hell and the apocalypse  to the beauty of contemplation. A truly immersive experience, in the magnificent setting of the Minster, but a setting transformed by the projection art and sound on display.  A multi-lingual web of Old Norse, Old English, Latin and modern English translation, formed part of the sound-track, evoking voices from the Middle Ages, Wulfstan Archbishop of York, Bartolomeo da Bologna,  Bede and the Edda, alongside biblical passages from the Apocalypse. A lovely opportunity for academic research from the University of York and from the Ordered Universe to help guide, shape and present the projection.  We’ll put some video footage up in a second post, but in the meantime a guided tour of Northern Lights; and a huge congratulations and thank you to Ross and Karen.

Starting with the story told by Bede of the image of the sparrow fleetingly appearing in the warmth of a hall as an analogy for human life, and used in the conversion of the Northumbrians to Christianity, Northern Lights set the tone of questioning the human condition.

An evocation of nature followed, during which the Minster nave and north window became verdant, as the ceiling of the church seemed to lift away, leading to a vision of the cosmos, the rolling body of the moon transforming into a medieval image.

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The scene shifted then to the Edda, the principal collection (in prose and poetic versions) of Viking-age mythology. The physical Northern Lights, and intricate Ringerike-style design, with the image of Sleipni prominent, went alongside scenes from the end of the Viking-world, Ragnarok.

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From on vision of the end of things to another, and a stunning montage of glass from the minster to show the Christian hell, and the torments that await, and how such a situation could arise: the fall from paradise and the temptations to which humankind is put as a result. The  fire-breathing dragon here was a particular highlight!

And after the storm and thunder, the shattering of glass led to the final section, introduced by the words of Bartolomeo da Bologna, in his treatise On Light (supplied by Francesca Galli and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn of the Ordered Universe).

…in the same way, the light of spiritual irradiation, which issues from the sun of justice, passing through the holy soul which is in the temple of the Lord as a glass window pictured with the beauty of various colours. It is, indeed, a window because divine light enters through it in order to shine within the Church; it is glass, moreover, because of the transparency and brilliance of its purity, but it is decorated with the beauty of many colours through the artifice of the most high painter in the same extent as she is enveloped in the variety of diverse virtues by her bridegroom. This light, I say, received in such a soul, carries with itself to the outside reflected images of interior colours when it sends out its rays externally for the illumination of it neighbours. For a certain image of virtue of this nature, which lives in its longing, shines forth in conversation, bearing, and conduct.

From here the audience contemplated the richness of the imagery from the Minster glass collection, with a stunning display across the nave ceiling, and the invocation of the rose, a powerful metaphor within and across the medieval period. A fitting place to end, and all accompanied by music from the Minster choir. Northern Lights takes its place also in a distinguished line of events to sustain the fabric of the Minster, an on-going and dedicated task.

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It was, as always, an enormous privilege and pleasure to work with Ross and Karen, and in such a prominent and purposeful cause. A particular part of this is not just seeing the perfected show, but that this is all the more fascinating and magical for having been involved in the developing conversations on the concept, content and execution of the piece. Seeing first hand  something of the qualities that make these productions possible is also inspiring. The hugely long hours, technical knowledge and dedication to professional service as well as the artistic craft, go hand in glove with wide-ranging conversations sharing knowledge and enthusiasm. And the results speak for themselves.

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