LAVANT in progress  (cotton, water from the River Lavant, soap, lavender oil)

LAVANT in progress

(cotton, water from the River Lavant, soap, lavender oil)

LAVANT took place over the two consecutive days of the Visual Theology Symposium held in Chichester, October 2018. 

 On Friday evening delegates were invited to participate in washing a long piece of white cotton cloth in the chapel of the University of Chichester, under a magnificent tapestry entitled ‘The Creation’ by Jean Lurçat (1962). 

The cloth clearly had a history. Measuring twenty-four feet long, it was crumpled, rust-stained and consisted of three ripped pieces crudely hand-stitched together.

In fact, it was the remnant of an earlier work dating from April 2018, entitled WAIT. A seven-day installation which involved melting ice made from water from the River Thames and a steel bowl that slowly rusted turning the water red. The cloth was sewn together by members of the congregation on Easter Saturday and denoted ‘shroud’,

Installation View. University Chapel, Chichester.

Installation View. University Chapel, Chichester.

“When I visited Chichester in June 2018 and discovered that the local river was named Lavant, I felt drawn to it, as my work often incorporates site-specific water. Especially when the etymology revealed the Latin root: Lavare gives us the words to wash, launder and lavender. I wondered what I possessed that needed ‘washing’ and the rust-stained and crumpled ‘Easter-Shroud came to mind.” 

Sara Mark, 2018

Ninety litres of water were drawn from the source to the River Lavant in East Dean about 8 miles away. From there the river flows to Chichester, passing south of the cathedral at the feet of the Medieval City Walls.

The cloth was carried slowly through chapel of seated delegates on the Friday evening and was ritually washed, while the University of Chichester Chamber Ensemble played an ambient piece by Ludvico Einaudi.

“Participating in Lavant was both an intense and a gentle experience. The music was a perfect accompaniment… setting a pace without marking time. I was nervous about getting up… but really wanted to participate - to 'get my hands dirty.

I felt once I came up to the basin that there were now two groups in the room - those who were or had been washing, and those … who were bearing witness. I felt at the time, and more strongly now, that it was sad and a truly missed opportunity that only women participated in washing. I wondered why no men chose to take part.””.


LAVANT installed in the Bishop.s Chapel, Chichester.  (photo, Martin Poole)

LAVANT installed in the Bishop.s Chapel, Chichester.

(photo, Martin Poole)

On the second day of the symposium the washed ‘shroud’ was installed in the Bishop’s Chapel as an altar cloth, in conjunction with Sheona Beaumont’s series of cyanotypes, entitled Scriptorium, (2018). Now washed and ironed, perfumed with lavender and laundry soap, the cloth ran most of the length of the chapel, with it’s stains still clearly visible.

A short video can be viewed here: