It’s hard to imagine anything less like a lunar landscape than the medieval glories of Lichfield Cathedral. But this summer, an artist will transform its magnificent tiled floor into a representation of the moon’s surface to mark half a century since Neil Armstrong took “one small step for [a] man and one giant leap for mankind”.
The three-spired cathedral in Staffordshire has commissioned the art installation as part of its annual summer show, which this year is called Space, God, the Universe and Everything. Peter Walker, the cathedral’s artist-in-residence, will also use light and sound installations inspired by space and the planets.
The installation will open on 20 July, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11. The astronauts spent more than two hours on the moon’s surface, an event broadcast to a global audience of about 530 million people.
Both men became heroes to millions of space enthusiasts. Armstrong died in 2012; Aldrin, now 89, has struggled with depression and alcoholism.
In commemoration of the anniversary, Lichfield Cathedral has organised a programme of special services, artworks, exhibitions and lectures to explore humankind’s place in the universe and the meaning of journeys.
Adrian Dorber, the cathedral’s dean, said: “To journey as a metaphor is very rich, and we want to unpack it in all its dimensions, from the actual journeys people make, the pilgrimage they choose, the way they plan, the way they prepare, what they take with them, and what they use to navigate their journey through this life.”
Walker’s lunar landscape, called One Small Step, will run the full length and width of the cathedral’s vast nave. Once the sound and light installations are added, “people will be able to stand on the lunar landscape and look back at the earth, projected on to the nave ceiling, see the galaxies and universes open up before them, and it will be a beautiful, stunning experience in that space,” he said.
People would be in “a position where very few people have been before, to explore within a sacred space these really big questions we’re faced with, be that creative or spiritual or political or environmental”.
Walker added: “When you look up at the moon, it is untouchable, but we want to bring the moon to the public and invite them to take their own small step across it. We just want to encourage people to explore possibilities, to reach for the moon and be in that space, and to reflect on what that means for them and for all mankind.”
The cathedral is also running a sci-fi film festival in August, a poetry competition to explore the ideas of light in the darkness, a lecture series on science and religion, and a schools project to build a rocket.
Walker, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, has been the cathedral’s artist-in-residence since 2016.
“I’m used to working in huge spaces,” he said. “Cathedrals are seen in a particular manner by people. By bringing in contemporary interventions and endeavours, and experimenting within that space artistically or creatively, it engages with people in a different way perhaps to the white walls of a gallery or a museum, and it allows us to play with their expectations and to engage them in a different way. From an artistic point of view, it’s a great space to work.”