Ways into death and its narratives

Ways into death and its narratives



Quietus: The vessel, death and the human body

An exhibition by Julian Stair Winchester Cathedral Autumn 2013

FB friends will have seen some (not very good) photographs of Winchester Cathedral caused in part by a failure to take my specs on my journey ! However the main reason for the visit south was to see this exhibition and it did not disappoint.

Stair tests the boundaries of subject and possibility in ceramics – he reminds us that art has always had the ability to express the most complex of ideas. here is a response to that which many of us avoid or deny – death.  The word Quietus comes from the medieval Latin and describes the moment of transition when the soul is released from life into death.

In the cathedral we see gathered a range of funerary ware but all have a close relationship to the human body.  The vessels are beautiful and textured and colourful especially in the September morning sunlight. It was fascinating to see visitors reactions – some avoiding contact – other tapping the pots while an older couple sat and looked closely at the sarcophagi.

I wondered what it might take to make our experience of death more meaningful – how might we be more open about death and see it as intertwined into our living?

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These cinerary jars are designed to hold cremated  remains – a columbarium is the room set aside to pay respect to the dead whose remains are housed here. The jars are displayed here at a high level in the Cathedral sanctuary – thrown and constructed in different ways displaying individuality and colour.


These are familiar horizontal forms with lead lids – I (almost) found myself wanting to climb inside…………!

The picture at the beginning of this piece show monumental burial jars. These vertical forms make reference to a tradition known as extreme inhumation, a ritual where the body was place in the ground upright and fully extended.

An excellent exhibition and in such a prayerful space – thanks to the Cathedral and Stair for honest and earthed creativity.


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