IN THE chilly, misty early morning, the green close of Salisbury
Cathedral resembles an eerie space strewn with huge primeval
stones, as though giants had lifted them here from Stonehenge near
Together with the medieval stone edifice of the cathedral, they
inspire a feeling of awe. In the sunny afternoon, crowds are
sitting on the stones, using them as tables for their picnics, and
children are jumping on them and hiding inside them, and there is
now an atmosphere of peaceful enjoyment, because people can touch,
embrace, and relate to them.
They are also a gift for the partially sighted; for, although
the art connoisseurs of the Renaissance decreed that sight was the
most important sense in appreciating art, Helen Keller observed: "I
sometimes wonder if the hand is not more sensitive to the beauties
of sculpture than the eye. I should think that the wonderful
rhythmic flow of lines and curves could be more subtly felt than
These stones, weighing between two to three tons each, are
carved from rock more than 150 million years old, and are part of
an exhibition by John Maine, "Sanctuary", in the sense of giving
spiritual comfort, healing, and security. With the four pieces
actually called Sanctuary is Enclave, made of
rough quarry blocks of Portland stone, while the flat stone rather
like a bird-bath is Ukrainian granite. Some pieces are polished and
some left rough, and have an inner core and outer enclosure that
you can enter and sit inside.
Maine has positioned them at certain specific geometric points,
so that, while being in the presence of one, you can also see
another at a harmonious distance. "They punctuate the space," he
says. Aware that the 123-metre-high cathedral would dwarf any
attempt to compete in height, he uses stone horizontally rather
than vertically, and well below the tree line.
Adjoining the pieces called Sanctuary is After
Cosmati, made for a previous exhibition at the Royal Academy
in 2011. This was inspired when Maine acted as an adviser to
Westminster Abbey on the restoration of the 13th-century Cosmati
pavement before the high altar where the sovereigns kneel at their
coronation. It is a complicated geometric design of intertwining
circles, triangles, and squares, made of glass and semi-precious
stones set in Purbeck marble. and representing the correspondence
between the macro- and microcosm.
Maine, a tall, jovial, and kindly man with white hair, who
obviously enjoys discussing his work and giving information, has
spent a lifetime working on monumental environmental stone
sculptures installed all over the world. His famous pieces in
London are the Arena next to the National Theatre (also an
inner space and outer enclosure), and Sea Strata at Green
Park Underground station, in Piccadilly.
He travelled extensively in his early days, and was very
influenced by the carving in Mexico. Later, when working in Italy,
Australia, and especially India and Japan, he found that his
approach to carving changed. Rather than use the Western method of
implanting his own concept of a shape on the piece, he allows the
natural shape and features of the stone to come through, and
sometimes polishes it or leaves it rough. "A split in the surface
reveals so much," he says. One of the pieces of South African
sandstone clearly shows its fossils and prehistoric existences.
In the cloisters, there are slightly smaller pieces, and just at
their entrance stands Two Part Invention. "This", Maine
explains, "is usually a musical term, often favoured by Bach."
These two separate pieces of American granite, carved next to one
another with the same flowing vertical lines, are placed one on top
of the other. The top is highly polished to enhance the grain.
Maine finds it very calming.
In the west cloister is Definition in Five Parts, a
procession of five multi-faceted pink, muted-green, cream, and grey
polished granite stones. They glint in the morning light and blend
beautifully with the vaulted roof, while the south cloister houses
a line of Three Carved Rings also in granite. Only a small
child could seek "sanctuary" inside one of these, but Maine hopes
that people will fill them mentally. Although they are pleasing to
the eye, they are not figurative, narrative, or even functional,
but pure geometry, and the aesthetic pleasure is much stronger when
using all senses.
In the cloister garth stands Strata, an impressive
white pillar, 2.5 metres high, made up of 25 disks of Indian
granite. In the morning chapel, there are three pavement slabs
hanging on the wall of various interlinking, swirling patterns,
also inspired by the Cosmati work, and similar to Islamic designs
in Spain under the Arabs: the Shrine Pavement of
travertine marble, Foundation Stone of African granite,
and Fragments of Indian granite. In the north choir aisle
is another patterned slab of Scandinavian granite,
The exhibition continues in Sarum College, where one carved
stone ring is placed on a table near the window in the hall, in a
domestic setting as opposed to ecclesiastical, giving a completely
different feeling. Here one can also see Maine's drawings, and
photographs of the exhibition. On the way there, one passes the
Correnie Cone of Scottish pink granite. It looks delicate,
but weighs about three tons. You can give it a hug. . .
"Sanctuary" by John Maine RA is at Salisbury Cathedral until