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Nicholas Pope's dramatic 'Apostles' light up Cathedral

Part of Nicholas Pope's dramatic art installation 'The Apostles'
Posted By : Sarah Flanaghan Thursday 22nd May 2014

Acclaimed British artist Nicholas Pope’s dramatic work The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps has just been installed at Salisbury Cathedral for Pentecost and can be seen there every day until Monday 4 August.

Hear Sarah Mullally, Canon Treasurer and Chairman of Salisbury Cathedral's Arts Advisory Committee talk here.

Read the Dean's sermon preached at the Eucharist on Sunday 1 June about The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps.

See the multi-media gallery here.

First shown at Tate Britain in 1996-97, The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps is a grouping of 33 terracotta figures which represent a dramatic re-enactment of the events narrated in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came amongst the Apostles in the ‘form of cloven fire’ at Pentecost, which this year falls on Sunday 8 June.

The Apostles created by Pope are individuals identified by their personal character and attributes.  Formed as hollow primitive vessels, each has a ‘halo’ of beaten metal with a circular opening through which an oil lamp, when lit, produces a flame and light.  The flames are the symbolic ‘tongues of fire’ of the Holy Spirit, and their light illuminates the attendant figures.

The Apostles lamps will be lit daily.  From Mondays to Saturday they will be lit from 7.00am – 8.00am, 11.00am – 12 noon and 3.00pm – 4.00pm, and on Sundays from 12noon – 1.00pm.  From Tuesday 10 June onwards visitors will be able to hear a recording of actress Harriet Walter reading the bible story narrating the events of Pentecost from Acts II which will be broadcast whenever the lamps are alight.

Sarah Mullally, Canon Treasurer and Chairman of Salisbury Cathedral's Arts Advisory Committee, said, "Art is often able to speak when words fail. The Christian narrative of Pentecost, although full of words, can seem difficult to comprehend. Nicholas Pope's The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps captures the imagination and speaks to the mind and spirit.  The 33 terracotta figures have been installed in the Trinity Chapel at the East End of the Cathedral in a place alongside those who meet every day to pray.  As such they provide a focus for those looking for a sense of the spiritual but they also offer something more.”

Nicholas Pope said, "I originally conceived the 'Apostles' as part of a larger project initiated in the early ‘90s called the Oratory of Heavenly Space.   It was intended as a non-denominational chapel, a place of contemplation without doctrine.  The Apostles were to be the source of light in the chapel, guiding lights as it were and took the form of abstract hollow figures, essentially human, flawed, rough, displaying character, elements of the grotesque and comical.  When the lamps were lit for the first time I felt great.  I knew I'd made something good, something that mattered: self-contained yet belonging to the world.  They felt like the first part of a satisfactory answer addressing both belief and the lack of it.  To be showing them now in the profound and resonant setting of Salisbury Cathedral, on the occasion of Pentecost, seems wholly fitting, and I hope that it will 'speak' to visitors both individually and universally."  

The installation in the Trinity Chapel at Salisbury Cathedral has been curated by Jacquiline Creswell, the cathedral’s Visual Arts Advisor, and Stephen Feeke, and arranged in association with the New Art Centre, Roche Court.  It is generously supported by The Jerusalem Trust.

The Cathedral is supporting the installation with a number of events including contemplations, spotlight sessions and talks beginning after Pentecost Sunday, 8 June.   This programme will be published online on Wednesday 28 May. 

The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps can be seen at Salisbury Cathedral from Friday 23 May until Monday 4 August. Recommended viewing times are Monday-Saturday 9.30am - 5.00pm and Sunday 12.00noon - 4.00pm. 

Salisbury is unique amongst medieval English cathedrals having been built in just 38 years (1220 -1258) in a single architectural style, early English Gothic. The tower and spire (Britain’s tallest at 123 metres) were added about 50 years later and the Cathedral itself is a testimony to the faith and practical skills of those who erected it. As well as a heritage building it is a living church and a place of spirituality and prayer. The finest original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta is on permanent display to visitors in the Chapter House and a major new exhibition will be opened here at the start of 2015, the 800th anniversary of this historic document. Salisbury Cathedral is already rich in contemporary artworks including pieces by Elisabeth Frink, Gabriel Loire, William Pye, Emily Young and Helaine Blumenfeld.

To coincide with the installation at Salisbury Cathedral, Richard Saltoun Gallery will be presenting a solo exhibition of Pope’s work from 29 May – 4 July 2014.

Nicholas Pope contacts: Athina Kontonikolaki or Theresa Simon, Theresa Simon & Partners, 0207 734 4800

Note to editors:

Images of The Apostles Speaking In Tongues Lit By Their Own Lamps by Ash Mills, please credit

Nicholas Pope's short descriptions of the 12 Apostles 

From left to right

Judas        Not actually at Pentecost, he betrayed Christ and is depicted as a two-faced with a thin and fat side and covered in open mouths.  He is shown as an outsider, to the far left, in the Cathedral.

Jude          Lumpen appearance which has no great significance.

Matthew    Sometimes represented as a publican or a money lender, depicted by Nicholas as a jowly ‘fat cat’.

James the Lesser     With James the Greater the two street savvy ‘wide boys’, depicted with a quiff.

Bartholomew       The stupid one, nothing between his ears so you can see right through his head.

Peter         Described by Jesus as his ‘rock’, has an appropriately rugged appearance. A key figure, he is prominently placed in the Cathedral.

Simon        The other most significant figure, centrally placed in the Cathedral.

John           Brother of James. No significance to his appearance.

Philip        Smooth appearance, Nick calls him ‘Phil the Greek’.

James the Greater   Depicted as a Rastafarian, brother of James the Lesser.

Thomas    ‘Doubting’ Thomas is depicted with ‘trunks’ which relate to the wounds of Christ in his hands and in his side. A doubter, he sucks away the blood (the life-force, the energy) through his disbelief.


About the artist


British artist Nicholas Pope (b 1949, SydneyAustralia) was best known in the 1970s and early 1980s for his large-scale sculptures made of wood, metal, stone, sheet lead or chalk. He studied art at the Bath Academy of Art. In 1974 he was granted a Romanian Government Exchange Scholarship and in 1976 the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Award.


Pope’s work from the 1970s has a powerful abstract quality that is softened by his use of natural materials, chalk and wood. His most important early shows included solo exhibitions at the Garage Gallery (1976), the Anthony Stokes Gallery (1979) and the Art & Project Gallery in Amsterdam (1979). 


Following his 1980 exhibition representing Britain at the Venice Biennale, Pope was awarded a Cultural Visitor grant to Zimbabwe and Tanzania - an experience that affected the rest of his life and particularly impacted his artistic practice due to the contraction of a rare form of encephalitis. Following a ten-year process of recovery, during which he still exhibited at galleries in the UK and the Netherlands, he began to work in-depth again.  Not only did this engage a move towards softer, more malleable materials such as glass, porcelain, texture, moulded aluminium and ceramics, but he also began to make more abstract works that reference complicated themes of spirituality, suicide and society.   He was the focus of Art Now, Tate Britain (1996-7), and had significant solos shows at Art & Project, Holland (1997, 2001), as well as Bernard Jacobson (2003) and more recently at NewArtCentre, Roche Court (2013).


The first comprehensive monograph of Pope's work was published by Ridinghouse in 2013. This title features sculptures and drawings by Pope from the 1970s to present, along with texts by Tate Britain Director Penelope Curtis, Christopher Townsend and Andrew Sabin, and an interview with the artist by Stephen Feeke.


Pope lives and works in Herefordshire and London. His work is included in many museum collections including Tate Gallery, Rochdale Gallery, Wakefield Art Gallery, Walker Gallery Liverpool, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (UK), Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museums (the Netherlands), Guggenheim Museum (USA), and Utsukushi-ga-hara Museum (Japan).

Nicholas Pope is represented by Richard Saltoun Gallery, 111, Great Titchfield St, London W1W 6RY.  His solo presentation there runs 29 May – 4 July 2014