St Paul’s Cathedral exhibits items for Refugee Week
To hail the start of Refugee week, the British Museum displayed The Lampedusa Cross at St Paul’s Cathedral, yesterday, Sunday the 19 June, on its nave altar, under the great dome of the Cathedral for all to see.
The cross was the last acquisition made under the directorship of Neil MacGregor. It was made by Francesco Tuccio and donated to the British Museum in October 2015. The cross is made from pieces of a boat that capsized on 11 October 2013, off the island of Lampedusa, where more than 360 people were drowned en route from Libya to Europe; inhabitants of Lampedusa helped to save the lives of 155 others.
After meeting some of the Eritrean Christian survivors in the church on Lampedusa, Mr Tuccio, the island’s carpenter, was moved by their plight and frustrated that he could not make a difference to their situation. The best he could do was to use his skills as a carpenter to fashion each of them a cross from the wreckage of the boat as a reflection on their salvation from the sea and hope for the future.
A similar cross and chalice were made for Pope Francis and used at a memorial service for those who perished. Mr Tuccio kindly made this piece for the British Museum to mark an extraordinary moment in European history and the fate of Eritrean Christians.
It also stands witness to the kindness of the people of the small island of Lampedusa who have done what they can for the refugees and migrants who arrive on their shores.
St Paul’s Chancellor, The Revd Canon Mark Oakley, said:
“The truths to which this small cross bear witness are tragic and terrifying. Just as its simplicity might be lost surrounded here by the immense architecture of St Paul’s, so the dignity of each human person running for his or her life is in danger of being forgotten in the charged and often hate-filled political wranglings of our times.
“At the end of the day, what defines Christianity is not the size of its buildings or how many people go to them, but whether its followers stand up for the poor – such as those leaving all they have known in search of peace and safety.
“This cross is a reminder of the words of Jesus: ‘what you did to the least of these, you did to me’. Please pray for refugees and do what you can to give them a voice. Please pray for those they look to in their desperation, that our humanity might become more humane.”
Jill Cook, Keeper of Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory at the British Museum, said:
“This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection. Mr Tuccio’s generosity allows visitors to reflect on this significant moment in the history of Europe, a great migration which may change the way we understand our continent.
“The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the terrible tragedies that have befallen refugees as they seek to cross from Africa into Europe. The Museum is pleased to lend it for display to St Paul’s Cathedral during Refugee Week.”
Money from collection boxes on Sunday 19 June will be donated to the Islington Centre for refugees and migrants: the Cathedral’s staff charity.
From 20 June, the Cathedral will also host an exhibition for Refugee Week. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has developed an innovative and creative campaign ‘I am a Refugee’ that will highlight refugees’ contributions to the UK.
Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Saira Grant said:
“We are honoured that St Paul’s Cathedral, which is iconic in our culture, history and religion is supporting and hosting this exhibition which follows poignantly on after the Cathedral hosts the Lampedusa Cross.
“This campaign aims to challenge xenophobic rhetoric against refugees and asylum seekers by celebrating their contribution to life in the UK and aims to remind the public that those we give sanctuary to, give back in return. The campaign will be launched on 20th June for World Refugee Day, and build on JCWI’s original ‘I am an Immigrant’ poster campaign.”
Commenting on the exhibition, St Paul’s Pastor, The Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, said:
“We are deeply honoured to be able to host this this important exhibition which invites us to listen to the stories and celebrate the achievements of those who have entered the UK as refugees; our friends and neighbours, brothers and sisters who, through their unique contributions in a wide range of spheres, enhance our society and our lives.
“Surely now is the time to reach out to one another, to truly see one another, to recognise our common humanity and to remind ourselves that we are incomplete without one another.”
The exhibition can be viewed at St Paul’s Cathedral for all of this week, until 26 June 2016.
Main Photo: The Lampedusa Cross with Jill Maggs, Registrar, British Museum. All photos courtesy of Graham Lacdao, at St Paul’s Cathedral.