Norwich Cathedral offers a nativity scene with a difference

It may not be your traditional nativity scene but this striking 30ft by 12ft animated crib, unveiled last night, will be greeting festive visitors and worshippers at Norwich Cathedral until the end of January.

It is not your traditional nativity scene.

But this striking 30ft by 12ft animated image, unveiled last night, will be greeting festive visitors and worshippers at Norwich Cathedral until the end of January.

The unconventional crib scene, created by Suzie Hanna from the Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA), aims to delight – and challenge – visitors as they enjoy this year's Christmas services.

The artwork fills an entire archway in the cathedral's nave and depicts the Madonna and Child.

It replaces the familiar sculptured tableau of the Holy Family which has taken pride of place in front of visitors for a number of years.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Graham Smith, said while the more traditional figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger would return in the future, the cathedral had been keen to work with the art school to create something different this year.

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He said: 'What is important to people of faith is that we should be continually thinking of the meaning of the story and the implications for our lives.

'That's what we said to our friends at NUCA: 'Can you give us your interpretation of the Christmas story?''

Artist Prof Hanna, professor of animation education, worked closely with Canon Phillip McFadyen, the Bishop of Norwich's officer for the visual arts, to come up with the concept for the crib.

They decided to base the watercolour image on the paintings of Italian medieval artist Duccio de Buoninsegna and take inspiration from the 17th century poem by Richard Crashaw, In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord.

Lines from the piece, which is used during the cathedral's liturgy at Christmas, slowly scroll behind the mother and child, while flurries of snow and falling petals move as part of the animation.

Prof Hanna said: 'The poem has some wonderful lines in it like 'come we shepherds whose blest sight hath met love's noon in nature's night'.

'It's about the Christ child bringing a sense of day to the night. There are lots of references to winter being summer, night being day. I was very much basing the image on that.'

Both the artist and cathedral are conscious that the crib, which took two months' preparation and two weeks' working non-stop to create, could challenge some of the site's regular festive visitors.

'We are saying to people 'stay with this new interpretation, let it speak to you'. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is,' the Dean said.

'Some people might not like it but others will say it is very new and ground-breaking and it's good that people are branching out and encouraging people to think – that's what we're here for.'

Prof Hanna said it had been an honour to design a piece for the cathedral.

She added: 'How lucky am I to have such a wonderful, beautiful building to display something I have made?'

A smaller, traditional crib scene will also be on display in the South Ambulatory and both will be available to view during the cathedral's normal opening hours.

Are you doing something special for Christmas? Email or call 01603 772443.

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