LAST weekend (May 22 and 23) visitors to Coventry Cathedral had the chance to see the Lampedusa cross as part of the British Museum Spotlight Loan: ‘Crossings: community and refuge’ tour.
The cross, made from the remnants of a wrecked boat carrying refugees near the Italian island of Lampedusa, carries a poignant message about kindness, community and the indifference faced by many refugees.
It was significant that the cross began its tour at Coventry Cathedral, the city of Peace and Reconciliation, arriving as the city begins its year as UK’s City of Culture 2021 before moving on to Manchester, Derby, Ipswich, Bristol, Rochester and Dorchester.
Dean of Coventry, Very Rev’d John Witcombe said they were thrilled to welcome the Lampedusa cross to Coventry, where it was placed on the high
altar as a sign of its significance, underneath the Cathedral’s own cross of nails.
He said: “There is a great resonance between these two crosses, both formed from destruction, both signs of loss but also of hope, as we turn to one another and to God to discover God’s new life springing from death.
“This creative response to devastation is at the heart of Coventry’s story, a journey of reconciliation, which is why the cross from Lampedusa is such a fitting way to mark this beginning of our year as UK City of Culture.”
The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the European migrant crisis. In October 2013, an overcrowded boat carrying 466 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire, capsized and sank near Lampedusa’s coast, one of the Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea in southern Italy.
At that time, there was no official maritime rescue service – 311 lives, fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in Europe, were lost. Moved by the plight of survivors
whom he met in his church, the island’s carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, made an individual cross for each person.
Acting as a mark of the 155 survivors’ salvation from the sea and their hope for the future, the cross also reflects the fate of many migrants. Tuccio also made larger crosses that he gifted as a plea for discussion about community and responsibility – it is in this context that the British Museum acquired this cross in 2015, simply made from two pieces of brightly painted wood fitted together.
Chenine Bhathena, creative director of Coventry City of Culture Trust said: ” The story of the Lampedusa Cross, like the stories of so many who have made Coventry their home, reminds us of the huge challenges faced by people fleeing hardship and persecution, and the real need to come together to tackle injustices in our city and beyond.”
And to coincide with the Lampedusa tour, an installation by artist Jake Lever called ‘Do the Little Things’ will be exhibited in the Chapel of Gethsemane within Coventry Cathedral from until June 28.
The title refers to the words of the Saint David who, in 589 AD, encouraged his followers to “be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things”. Throughout the pandemic Jake has been making fragile boats out of wire, tissue paper and gold leaf, sending them by post to those he cares about.
Lever invites participants to join in with the project and send out vessels across the globe as tokens of love, solidarity and connection. City residents can take part in the project here.
For free ‘Exhibition and Entry’ tickets click here. The New Cathedral is open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 12.30pm to 3pm on
Sundays. There will be a number of walk-up tickets available on the day. The Cathedral Ruins are currently closed and are due to reopen end of May.