What better way to spend a beautiful sunny day in June than a visit to Guildford Cathedral with my lovely friend Sonia (www.androulaskitchen.wordpress.com) to see the Flower Gala. I have never been to a flower gala at Guildford before, although I have been to the cathedral and I think it would be fair to say that it is not the most attractive ‘House of God’ ever constructed.
The Cathedral at Guildford (www.guildford-cathedral.org) is a very modern (Modernist) building, commissioned in 1933 and designed by the architect Edward Maufe. Work was halted during the war years and not started again until the late 1940’s as money and building materials were scarce. It was finally consecrated in 1961 and the final construction completed as late as 1966 with the completion of the Western Porches (the Garths), the Sacristy, the Lady Chapel, the Chapter House and the Tower. A bust of the architect stands in a recess just outside the Lady Chapel looking down through a corridor of arches the whole length of the building.
The bust of architect Edward Maufe looks down the length of the Cathedral through a corridor of arches. At one end the ceiling is painted in a ‘nod’ to traditional Cathedral decoration and a modern rendition of the Madonna and Child.
Inside the cathedral is as austere looking as it is on the outside but this was softened by a profusion of floral decorations in explosion of colour. The theme for this year’s event was “Inspired by Poetry” and the Lead Designer for the event was the internationally renowned florist Paula Pryke (www.paulapryke.com); I did think this was an interesting choice of theme, as Ms Pryke was also the Artistic Director for the well-known bi-annual Chichester Cathedral Flower Festival held in 2012 which also had a literary theme – “Every Book Tells a Story”.
The actual arrangements were by flower clubs and churches in the Diocese of Guildford and varied in interpretation from very literal, pictorial installations to single colour displays of a more abstract nature.
Two of the more pictorial interpretations of the theme
A more Minimalist approach to floral interpretation
Purple was a popular colour choice with the most fantastic orchids and alliums
If I had one criticism it would be that better use could have been made of the available space. The cathedral is vast and feels empty, although it is flooded with natural light and for this reason alone I felt that much larger and bolder displays could very easily have been accommodated without compromise.
The cathedral has few stained glass windows, and is very ‘white’ and a little clinical. This however makes a good backdrop for the contemporary artwork by Jonathan Parsons which hangs above the doorway to the cathedral treasury.
Parsons’ grid painting is an intriguing juxtaposition of the easily recognised Christian symbol and 1960’s conceptual art. The link to 1960’s colourfield painting was also apparent in the secondary theme of the floral displays which was about colour interpretation.
We visited on the first day of the three-day event and were lucky that although it was busy, the crowds weren’t so large that you couldn’t see or move freely around. The displays were fresh, although disappointingly one or two were showing signs of stress from lack of watering; goodness knows what they would be like at the end of the 3 days! I know it is difficult to keep cut foliage looking at it’s best, but there’s no real excuse for wilting which seems to be simply down to lack of maintenance.
Outside the cathedral on the lawns overlooking the town there was a small craft market marquee selling a variety of goods, some locally made, some not and two tea rooms where you could get a refreshing cup of tea and yummy cake and sandwiches. (For those who had booked there was a full restaurant dining experience available).
It would be nice to see this become a regular event, and perhaps next time the ambition of the displays could be on a grander scale to quite literally fill the cathedral with flowers.