‘There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.’ (Washington Irving)
Chichester Cathedral is currently hosting an exhibition of 1000 ‘Tear Bottles’, created by the East Sussex based artist and sculptor Deborah Tompsett. The exhibition is open daily with free entry and will be on display until 18 April.
Deborah started making her tear bottles in 2007; the idea developed as she contemplated the box for prayer requests in her local church. Deborah explains that she ‘wondered what sort of vessel could contain our most private prayers’ and then went on to research this idea, discovering a rich and ancient tradition of ‘tear bottles’, ranging from their use by the ancient Greeks to mentions in the Bible. For example, pilgrims in days of old carried tear-shaped vessels on their long journeys and the Victorians caught their tears in vessels and then waited for the tears to evaporate, symbolising an end to their mourning.
The 1000 bottles in Chichester Cathedral have been made on a traditional potter’s wheel and each has its own distinct individuality. The vessels are made from a fist sized lump of mixed clay and this has been chosen deliberately by the artist as the size of an individual's fist is recognised to be the same size as their heart; the artist explains: ‘The idea that our hearts and our fist are the same size determines the size of the bottles – each vessel contains our heart-felt prayers and so it is made from a fist sized lump of clay – the largest from that of a large adult down to the tiny heart of a baby.’
Ruth Poyner, Cathedral Spokeswoman says, ‘We are delighted to be hosting this installation; the idea behind Deborah’s exhibition is simple but very powerful and moving. We have placed some 600 bottles at the Cathedral Shrine which is a very fitting location as every year we receive thousands of prayer requests at the Shrine and every single one of these requests is prayed for by the Cathedral clergy and community. About 300 bottles are also placed in the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene in front of the Cathedral’s striking painting by Graham Sutherland and the remaining 100 bottles line the ledges below the Cathedral’s famous ‘Chichester Reliefs’; a pair of extraordinarily well-preserved 12th century carvings.’
Published 19th March 2015
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