Review: Northern Lights at the York Minster

There’s always an atmosphere when you’re in a crowded church. That crowd absolutely packing the church, and the church in question being the York Minster, it’s no surprise then that as soon as I stepped in to view the Northern Lights installation, I was aware why so many writers before me have described an atmosphere as ‘electric’.

Hundreds were in, with I imagine, few knowing what to expect. And then you see it. It’s not like one of those projectors at school, it’s a real conjuration of light thrown against the wall of one of the grandest buildings in the country. I cannot get across how good it looks in words or pictures.

The vividness of the colours presented, the immensely imaginative and creative artistic styling, it’s all married together in a seamless display of genuinely moving art.

What really shook me, however, was how well designed the show was for the building itself. Seeing each segment of the wall,each beam of the roof lit with a unique design is near-miraculous to the eyes.

The information available claimed that they used “3D projection mapping” to “fit… exactly to the architecture”, but clearly they’re wrong. There’s no way that some form of otherworldly magic wasn’t used to get the pinpoint accuracy and detail in order to achieve what they did.

Behind all the lights, is the rich and powerful sound you’re subject to. Various ‘churchy’ sounding choirs and hymns are used to contextualise a variety of passages and texts. As much as I’d like to say I understood what it meant, or had any inkling as to the meaningful application of texts such as ‘the parable of the sparrow’, the reality is that it’ll set your hairs alight along with the images.

If there is a case to be made that understanding is less important than experience, then this show is perhaps the greatest case study, because I don’t think a single person around me knew what the message of the readings was, but that’s not what mattered. It just felt right.

My only complaint about the experience is that there wasn’t enough of it. Over the half-hour, you see the show, are invited to wander through the Minster in the darkness, and then the show is performed again. As fantastic as it was, it would have been nice to see a different array of projections for the return. But in fairness, that feels a little like knocking Da Vinci for not getting another angle of The Last Supper.

What you get is an authentic feeling. A sense of shock and awe. You see stained glass coming to life, plants growing before your eyes, and with it, it moves you to something. I felt a sense of smallness, a sense of lowliness before a higher being (that could be to do with the tall bloke next to me) but what you experience is your own joy to find.

It’s truly a spectacle I can’t recommend enough, and a steal at only £6 per head. On top of that, the whole thing has been put together again since its first showing in the summer last year to help raise funds to restore the cathedral’s medieval stained glass. Not a bad cause in my opinion.