Cathedral is Never a Finished Work – Final Day of Northern European Cathedrals Conference
The North European Cathedral Conference took place in Lund in southern Sweden from February 6 to 9. The conference is back after a hiatus – the last NECC took place in Dublin in 2019. It is being attended by Archbishop Michael Jackson and the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral Dermot Dunne. The conference inviteed contemplation against a backdrop of global uncertainty. The theme for 2024 was ‘Living with Uncertainty’ and those attending explored together ways to navigate an ever evolving world by sharing insights and experiences. Here Archbishop Jackson reflects on the third day of the NECC.
The third day began with Lauds and ended with Vespers in the cathedral. One of the themes that has emerged in the course of the conference is that The Cathedral of Lund works on the basis of its never being a finished work. This can be interpreted in two ways: that new work will continue to need to be done on the cathedral itself; and also that the cathedral will continue to be called to do new work in its life and witness as the years progress.
The first lecture of the day, by Dr Thomas Ryden, explained how the turbulent politics in Europe in the early twelfth century enable us to understand much of the decorative stonework in the Cathedral of Lund by setting it alongside similar stonework in other cathedrals elsewhere in Europe. It also introduced us to the perilous world of patronage for stonemasons in those days.
Professor Lena Liepe, of the Linnaeus University Vaxjo, spoke of how saints and their relics provided lifelines of continuity between earth and heaven for the faithful in the uncertain times and the precarious existence of the Middle Ages. In its heyday, Lund Cathedral had relics of 207 named saints and now, in post–Reformation times, has one although there is a complete list of reliquaries. This led to discussion of what, in a post Medieval Age and in the Reformed traditions, we offer to pilgrims and worshippers as foci of understanding what a holy life is beyond silence that is not self–explanatory to a contemporary generation along with ever more information.
The afternoon again offered a range of workshops. It was possible to attend two. I attended one entitled: Walking to holy places in Lund. This enabled participants to understand where, beneath today’s cityscape, there once stood churches and monasteries, all of them now obliterated, except for The Cathedral and a church dedicated to St Peter, by the Reformation and by contemporary town planning. In order to enable to pilgrim to focus on God’s world beyond the city, the church of St James was placed in the west and the church of St Thomas in the east, for example. This provided a local yet international pilgrim experience for local residents. A breath–taking sculpture of Mary stands outside The Cathedral, in whose name it is dedicated.
The second workshop related to the ways in which, three times annually, The Cathedral hosts an art exhibition or installation. The current exhibition in the crypt relates to five beds made from felted wool, the crypt being a place of burial. This elicited a lively discussion on what it is to rest in the body of Christ as a primary image and expression of Christian identity. We were privileged to be in discussion with the Canon Precentor and the artist.
The afternoon concluded with Ecumenical Vespers involving members of The Cathedral, members of the Roman Catholic parish of St Thomas and Anders Cardinal Arborelius OCD archbishop of Stockholm. This led into a presentation by both bishops on how the Lutheran–Roman Catholic Theological Agreement on Justification along with the visit of Pope Francis to Lund and Malmo in 2016 for the 500th Anniversary of The Reformation had transformed ecumenical relations in Lund. This gave us a perspective on the response of the cathedral along with the Roman Catholic Parish of St Thomas to caring for Ukrainian refugees in the city of Lund.