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Bellringing community in the spotlight for this year’s Lumiere installation at Durham Cathedral

08 November 2017

>Methods, by Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena, will be a major installation at Durham Cathedral during the 2017 Lumiere light festival. It will illuminate traditions of English change ringing, showcasing the talents of bellringers from the North East and further afield.
Lumiere producers Artichoke have commissioned Valbuena to devise this new work, which will visualise the patterns of English bellringing known as change ringing. Sensors on the individual bells will trigger the illumination of corresponding sections of the exterior and interior of the Cathedral, establishing connections between sound and light, as well as the spatial and cultural context of Durham Cathedral as a place where bellringing is rooted. Methods is supported by Sevcon and Technicians will make it happen.
The installation will feature live six-hour performances on each of the four nights of the Lumiere festival and will include traditional ringing patterns alongside more experimental pieces. The roughly 60 volunteer bellringers who will be performing in Methods come from a diverse range of backgrounds and professions and range in age from twenty to seventy. The majority of the ringers are from the North East, with additional ringers from Cambridge, London and the Midlands.
Durham Cathedral bellringers have worked closely with Pablo Valbuena and Artichoke to devise a dynamic, audio-visual art installation that puts a contemporary twist on bellringing. Christopher Crabtree, Durham Cathedral’s Bell Major, says, “We are very excited to be involved so closely in Methods. The installation provides a unique opportunity to reimagine the art of English-style change ringing to provide a visual as well as an auditory experience. Every performance during the festival will be different, as each will be created by the skills of many different bellringers working together. Methods is a distinctive piece which fuses the traditional art of bellringing with a large-scale visual installation in a publicly-accessible manner.”
The unique history of Durham Cathedral’s bells makes Valbuena’s installation even more notable. The Cathedral has ten bells, which are rung regularly for services and special events, the heaviest of which weighs 1.4 tonnes. The oldest five bells date from 1693; two new bells were added when the bell frame was replaced in 1980. Due to their age and height in the tower, the bells can be challenging to ring and test even the most skilled bellringers.
Bellringing is an open and sociable community, with ringers aging from ten to their mid-eighties or even nineties. Ellen Crabtree, a bellringer and the secretary of Durham Cathedral Guild of Bell Ringers, says, “Bellringing provides a great mental and physical workout, with many active bands of bellringers across the North East. If you are inspired by the Lumiere installation and would like to learn to ring, your local tower would love to hear from you!”
Bells are rung regularly in Durham: at the Cathedral, at St Nicholas in the Market Place, at St Oswald’s on Church Street, and at St Mary the Virgin in Shincliffe. If you are interested in learning to ring, you can find out more via the Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Association of Change Ringers’ website,, or get in touch through twitter @durhambells.
Lumiere is produced by arts charity Artichoke and commissioned by Durham County Council, with additional support from Arts Council England, Durham University and a host of further funders and supporters.