In the foundation of Winchester Cathedral, the crypt, stands this solemn sculpture, a study in contrasts.
Ancient is the arched stone undercroft, predating even the medieval Gothic sanctuary that soars above it. But the sculpture is modern, 1986, installed by British artist Antony Gormley.
The crypt is cold and hard and impersonal; we associate crypts with death and graves and fear. People mostly stay upstairs in the nave. But the statue depicts a very alive human figure, indeed it is a made from a cast of Gormley’s own living body.
Crypts form solid hard foundations, dug deep in the dense dark earth. But this crypt becomes soft and fluid every winter when the region’s persistent groundwater floods it as much as three feet deep. The dark space becomes shiny and shimmering, reflecting the water in motion. The sculpture was fashioned intentionally to withstand and even embrace the months it is partially submerged, wet and fluid.
Crypts are quiet, silent as a tomb. But Gormley named the statue “Sound II.” Sound? One writer suggests Gormely wants us to look at the sculpture and “be still for a moment, to ‘sound’ the depths of our own spirit.”
The hands of the human form are cupped and the face is looking down at what it gently holds – water. Not only does the sculpture stand up to its waist in the winter water, but an inner pipe brings water up into the hands. (So we are told – no crypt tours in the winter, too wet. I was there in June and it had just reopened two weeks earlier. The floor was still damp.)
There are tombs in the crypt, but this sculpture is about life. All life is born of water, seeping from ocean ancestors. It reminded me of Venus rising from the sea atop a similar wet cup. The dark fecundity of the space was like a womb. All these wet sources of life.
I write every Wednesday about ocean water spirituality. I also post it at www.bluetheologytideings.blogspot.com. Our Blue Theology Mission station offer youth mission trips and adult pilgrimage retreats in Pacific Grove, doing ocean stewardship, sharing in ocean spirituality – still some openings this summer. Bluetheology.com