Coventry Cathderal Vestments Open Call

Deadline: 31/12/2019  |  Published: 19/11/2019  |  City: Coventry  |  Region: West Midlands  |  Country: United Kingdom  |  Cara Pickering

Paid opportunity

Report this?
The deadline for this opportunity has passed, and no more submissions are being accepted. Click here to have a look at other opportunities listed on CuratorSpace.

Coventry Cathedral is commissioning special vestments and a new St Michael banner to enhance our City of Culture celebrations in 2021. We need someone with flare, skill and imagination to design them.

The Dean and Chapter of Coventry Cathedral, in collaboration with Coventry University, are commissioning designs for a set of vestments and a banner to enhance the celebration of Archangel Michael, patron saint of the Cathedral, specifically for use in processions both inside and outside our ruined and rebuilt Cathedral.

With the assistance of the Fashion Department at Coventry University, which has a particular expertise in innovative materials, it is intended that the vestments and banner will be made in sustainable materials suitable for outside use as well as inside. The chosen artist will work with the Department’s Senior Technician.

The vestments are intended to be appropriate for all liturgical seasons, drawing inspiration from the distinctive colours of the John Piper vestments made for the new Cathedral when it was consecrated in 1962. 

In 2021 Coventry becomes the UK City of Culture. It is intended that the new vestments and banner will contribute high-quality artwork to celebrate our multicultural city, matching the quality of what was designed and made for the Cathedral in the 20th century. Coventry Cathedral is primarily a Christian place of worship but we are seeking designs to which all Coventrians can respond, including our Muslim brothers and sisters (who have their own traditions about Michael to which reference is made in the appendix to this document). These new artworks will need to reflect the Cathedral’s ministry of peace and reconciliation (see

Details of the way in which St Michael has been depicted by Sir Jacob Epstein, Graham Sutherland, John Hutton and Leslie Durbin, as well as notes on the liturgical and theological significance of the Archangel Michael within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious traditions, are included as an appendix to this document.

We are inviting professional artists and students from the United Kingdom and from overseas to enter the competition by preparing some preliminary designs for a cope and a banner, together with an indication of how the designs would be reflected in the other vestments, and to send these in digital media format together with a completed application form and, in the case of student applicants, a letter of recommendation from a professional artist (see page 14 for application form).

These should be submitted before 31 December 2019. At the initial stage the Selection Panel will look at the submitted design proposals and choose from them a maximum of five designs. 

Those selected will be awarded £500 and a contribution towards travel costs. They will be invited to visit the Cathedral to see for themselves the context for the artworks they are creating. They will be allowed two or three days in January 2020 to prepare a final design worked in fabric (with assistance from Scarlett Holland, Senior Technician in the Fashion Department at Coventry University), which will then be examined by the Selection Panel. An exhibition of those five designs will be mounted in the Cathedral Nave, where members of the public will have the opportunity to view them and leave comments. Members of the Cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee will also view the exhibition and express their views.  

We hope to announce the decision of the panel about which design has been chosen for the commission on 25 May 2020, the anniversary of the Cathedral’s consecration. The chosen design will be submitted for final approval by the Dean and Chapter of Coventry Cathedral.

The winner of the competition will receive an award of £5,000. This timing will allow well over a year for the creation of the full set of Michael vestments and the Michael banner, which will be used for the first time at the Cathedral’s Patronal Festival at the end of September 2021.

This document, drafted by Canon Margaret Sedgwick (Cathedral Reader) and John Brassington (Cathedral Lector) for the Liturgical Committee and the Fabric Advisory Committee of Coventry Cathedral, is issued by the Dean and Chapter of Coventry Cathedral in September 2019.

Criteria for selection of the chosen design

1. Create a design with artistic integrity, which is both imaginative and innovative. 

2. Make a design that contributes to the Cathedral’s ministry of peace and reconciliation.  

3. Enrich the pattern of liturgical celebration with movement, colour, texture and image.

4. Enhance the profile of Coventry Cathedral for pilgrims, visitors and tourists – both national and international. 

Measurements and colours of the vestments and Michael banner

The person whose designs are chosen for the final stage of the competition will be asked to prepare the following:

• Copes of St Michael using all six liturgical colours. Rather than metal fastenings fabric frog fastenings are requested. 5 copes would be made (1 large + 2 medium + 2 small). 

• Chasubles – cream with decoration as on copes. 2 chasubles would be made (1 large + 1 small).

• Dalmatics – cream with decoration as for copes. 3 would be made (1 large + 1 medium + 1 small). 

• Priest Stoles – 36 would be made (6 of each liturgical colour).

• Deacon Stoles – 12 would be made (2 of each liturgical colour).

• Mitres – 2 made for Bishops of Coventry and Warwick (1 large – 65.7 cm + 1 small 61 cm).

• Banner of St Michael and the Devil – provisional size 160 cm x 73 cm (no fringes).

• Wooden or bamboo pole – representing Michael’s spear facing upwards.

New materials for vestments and banner used outside the Cathedral

We use the Ruins and other outdoor spaces in ways that are unique to Coventry. Our original John Piper vestments date from the early 1960s and are becoming more fragile: using them outside becomes more problematic as time passes. The yellow/gold set is no longer in use. The design competition is an opportunity to use new materials in innovative ways. 

The increasing diversity of new synthetics and ‘smart textiles’ opens up new possibilities and challenges when using fabrics for specific garments. Textile and fashion artists are looking to the latest developments in textiles, which continue to evolve, while cultural traditions remain intact. There is a range of weatherproof materials suitable both for vestments and banner, including a range of trims, linings, and digital print techniques, so that any colour and pattern is now possible. Developments in technology should assist in providing practical solutions to the demands of twenty-first century living. 

More natural fabrics can be purchased from Whaley’s of Bradford see More specialist fabrics can be purchased from Point North see and Brooks International see A wide range of trim suppliers may be used.

Artists are encouraged to explore the value of textile advances and production methods while developing their design ideas before making final choices.

The liturgical celebration of the Archangel Michael 

The Michael vestments and banner should heighten the colour and drama of the Michaelmas festival. A distinctive feature of the Michaelmas Eucharist is the concluding procession, when the Great Cross and lights, ministers and choir, followed by the congregation, process through the central doors of the West Screen, down St Michael’s Steps to face Epstein’s statue of Michael and the Devil. The president begins this Acclamation to which everyone replies loudly:

War broke out in heaven: 

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon!

The dragon with his angels fought back 

but they were defeated, and they lost their place in heaven! 

I heard a loud voice in heaven proclaim: 

This is the time of victory for our God!

The time of his power and authority; 

when Christ comes to his rightful rule! 

To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb,

be blessing and honour, glory and might, for ever and ever. Amen.

As the Feast of St Michael and All Angels usually falls on the first weekend of the University term, there is a steady flow of students, along with tourists and shoppers, walking along St Michael’s Avenue. Some continue their journey, but others pause, intrigued by a large number of people looking at the statue and shouting their responses. Bringing the Cathedral out into the city in this way is an important missional opportunity. 

The Archangel Michael in the Jewish and Christian traditions

Michael is “one of the seven, if not the greatest of the seven, archangels of Judaism; he was guardian-angel and champion of Israel. In this role he predominantly figures in apocalyptic literature from Daniel onwards, Jewish and Christian, as well as Rabbinic literature. In Daniel 10:13-20, as national patron he contends for Israel against the corresponding angels of Persia and Greece... About the end of the second century BC there grew up another view about Michael, according to which he was the guardian of only the pious remnant of Israel. The contest in which he now takes part is very different; it is that between good and evil represented by Michael and Satan respectively. This is the view of Revelation. The struggle is not with the guardians of other nations but with the Deceiver who leads astray both Jew and Gentile alike. Michael’s crusade is universal, and not national. Fighting – the best explanation of the unusual Greek is to translate it: ‘Michael and his angels must fight...’ ”

fromRevelation’ by Nigel Turner in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (1963).

In 1918 the fourteenth century parish church of St Michael became the Cathedral of St Michael, the second Cathedral of Coventry, which lasted just 22 years. It was destroyed by incendiary bombs in the Coventry blitz of 14 November 1940. After the war it was decided to hold a competition for architects to design a new Cathedral. A young architect, Basil Spence, submitted his own design for a new Cathedral, the third Cathedral church of St Michael. His design, chosen from more than two hundred submissions, became the third Cathedral, completed in 1962.

Basil Spence wanted to have a statue of Michael and the devil beside the steps leading up to the main entrance of the Cathedral. It was decided that the sculptor, Sir Jacob Epstein, should be commissioned to create that statue.

“For his bronze at the entrance to the rebuilt Cathedral, Jacob Epstein suppressed the metaphor of armed combat in favour of the spiritual, choosing the moment when St Michael proclaims the defeat of Satan. He retains the air of an archangel with a full spread of wings, but he is no longer the warrior of medieval and Victorian art; he wears no armour and his only weapon, a spear, is neither poised over nor thrust into a writhing serpent or dragon, but held forth in a gesture of moral victory. His head….is at once human and celestial, noble and serene. The image of Satan, naked, wretched and in chains beneath St Michael’s feet, is all the more potent for also having been cast in human form. Following Provost Howard’s brief that ‘The devil represents all evil – in the universe and in man’, Epstein produced a work that no longer asks us to witness our protector St Michael vanquishing the forces of evil, but internalizes the conflict as one between opposing tendencies present in each of us. It shows the battle we have to fight within ourselves and has thus become a mirror to the human soul. Satan has not been destroyed, but cast down at St Michael’s feet, loosely bound in chains. Prisoners can and do escape. In the same way, the malevolence personified in Satan is not extinguished, but lies in wait for new opportunities to feed on human frailty.”

from ‘St Michael and the Casket of Jewels’ by John Willis in ‘Reconciling People: Coventry Cathedral’s Story’ (2011)

In 1980 a special anthem “War in Heaven” was commissioned by the Friends of Coventry Cathedral from the composer Neil Cox. This anthem is a dramatic depiction of the war in heaven between the forces of good, led by Michael and his angels, and the forces of evil led by Lucifer – the devil. The text for the anthem is taken from the Revelation of John 12: 7-8, 10-11. 

In 1987 the Cathedral’s St Michael’s Dancers created a dance to the music of this anthem, which was revived at the Feast of Michaelmas in 2018.  

Dance into Worship perform War in Heaven at the Cathedral Eucharist of Michaelmas 30 September 2018

There was war in heaven:

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;

and the dragon fought and his angels,

and prevailed not,

neither was there place found any more in heaven.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven,

Now is come salvation and strength,

and the kingdom of our God,

and the power of his Christ:

For the accuser of our brethren is cast down,

which accused them before God day and night.

And they overcame him 

by the blood of the Lamb,

and by the word of their testimony;

and they loved not their lives unto death. 

You may like to listen to this music for choir and organ:

In July 2018, as part of the centenary celebrations of the Diocese of Coventry, Michael Sadgrove, former Canon Precentor at Coventry and former Dean of Durham, gave a talk, reflecting on his 1995 book A Picture of Faith. In the book he devotes a whole chapter to St Michael and Satan. He writes “I can almost see Michael, not bundling Satan out of heaven, but holding onto him for all he is worth, trying to rescue him from his fate. He is someone risking life and limb to stop a friend hurling himself off the edge of a precipice. It seems now that Michael is redeeming evil rather than banishing it, pursuing it with the violence of love, with his fierce compassion, with a mercy that burns.” 

In his talk he said that he frequently looked at the Epstein sculpture and came to focus on the compassionate quality of Michael. “In that perfectly poised figure of the triumphant Michael there is a kindness in his face.”

One further image of Michael and the Devil appears at the head of the shaft of the Great Cross of Coventry made by Leslie Durbin in silver, gold and perspex. This processional cross is carried at festival celebrations, including the festival of Michaelmas. 

The Archangel Michael in Muslim tradition

“Islam teaches that the angel Michael has played significant roles in human history. However, most of the information about Michael is not in the Quran, but Islamic tradition, which contains far more extensive accounts of Michael’s angelic duties. According to Muslim religious scholars, the angel Michael not only assisted Muhammad in fulfilling his spiritual mission, but he continues to provide sustenance and insight to people today.

Michael, also spelled ‘Mikal’ or ‘Mikail’, is mentioned in the Quran only once, and only in reference to his relation to God. According to the Quran (2:92), “Whosoever is an enemy to God or his angels, or his apostles, or to Gabriel or to Michael, verily God is an enemy to unbelievers.”

According to Islam, Michael and Gabriel were the first angels to bow before Adam. Michael himself was placed in charge of the plants and the rain, which Muslim scholars have interpreted more generally to mean that Michael’s duties are to provide material food for the body and spiritual food for the soul. Islamic tradition also states that the angels Gabriel and Michael will work the balance weighing individual’s good and evil acts on the day of judgement.” 

from Faziur Rahman, Muslim scholar at the University of Chicago  

The Muslim faith speaks of Jihad: a struggle between good and evil, so it relates to the interpretation of the “War in Heaven” described in the book of Revelation:   

“From the Arabic root meaning “to strive,” “to exert,” “to fight”; exact meaning depends on context. It may express a struggle against one's evil inclinations, an exertion to convert unbelievers, or a struggle for the moral betterment of the Islamic community. Today often used without any religious connotation, with a meaning more or less equivalent to the English word crusade (as in “a crusade against drugs”). If used in a religious context, the adjective Islamic or holy is added. Jihad is the only legal warfare in Islam, and it is carefully controlled in Islamic law. It must be called by a duly constituted state authority, it must be preceded by a call to Islam or treaty, non-combatants must not be attacked, and so on. To justify the struggle against their co-religionists, extremists branded them unbelievers for their neglect in adhering to and enforcing a particular interpretation of Islam. Contemporary thinking about jihad offers a wide spectrum of views, including conservatives who look to classical Islamic law on the subject and radicals who promote a violent jihad against Muslim and non-Muslim rulers.”

from The Oxford Dictionary of Islam


Contact the curator
Who is eligible for this opportunity?
When is the deadline?
31st December 2019
How many works can I submit?
Up to 5 designs
Are there payments to artists?
£5000 will be awarded to the final chosen artist.

You must have an account to send a message to the curator of this opportunity. Registering only takes a few moments. Once registered you'll be able to keep track of all of your submissions and get updates on upcoming opportunities.


Already have an account? You must log in to send this curator a message.