I’ve recently finished a spell of invigilating in St Peter’s Church, looking after Issam Kourbaj’s artwork In Memoriam. This has led me to reflect on how different an experience it is from invigilating in the main Kettle’s Yard gallery.
Those visitors who make their way up the path through the churchyard seem to respond in very different ways – to the church itself, to the peaceful little corner of north Cambridge that it occupies, and to whatever work is currently being exhibited. Many want to enjoy the silence and, if this is the case, I do my very best to sit still and fade into the background. Some are nervous about entering, linger in the doorway and do little more than briefly stick their heads inside. Others are engulfed by enthusiasm for the little church and its uncluttered, silent interior
They want to ask lots of questions – how old is the building, and how long since it stopped being used as a church? The answer to the first question is probably one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge, and to the second – well, it never has, occasional services are still held there and it is an active part of the local Church at Castle partnership. Some visitors come specifically for the exhibition in progress and spend a long time with the artworks, asking for lots of background information. Thankfully we are always well-briefed and can generally answer most of the questions we are asked – or at least point visitors in the direction of further information. Jim Ede’s memorial is a perennial point of interest with visitors, who are all encouraged to sign the visitors’ book and leave a record of their trip and their impressions of the church.
Sometimes the questions do verge on the inappropriate – I have been asked if it is permissible to ring the bell, which of course it isn’t, and I know I’m not the only person to have witnessed the irresistible attraction that the bell rope exerts on some people. The church is notoriously chilly, it is usually colder inside than it is in the churchard, so invigilators do have to wrap up warm (and it is not unknown to receive a reviving hot cup of tea). But there are wonderful compensations – spend a day inside and you’ll watch the passage of the light through the building as the sun moves across the sky and the balance changes from the east to the west window. This very soft, diffuse light, the contemplative quality of the silence, the beauty of the churchyard and the reactions of visitors to the building as a monument, place of worship and exhibition space make invigilating here the most fulfilling of activities.