The Archbishop of Canterbury has visited a temporary wooden memorial to victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is set to be burnt to symbolise the process of letting go and healing.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said the 20-metre-high structure in Bedworth, Warwickshire, had left him in awe and would help local people to “step forward in life where things may have been holding them back”.
The intricately carved monument, named Sanctuary, opened last weekend, with visitors asked to adorn it with messages to and mementoes of loved ones.
It will be set alight on Saturday at Miners Welfare Park as an act “dedicated to catharsis”.
During his visit on Wednesday, the archbishop wrote a personal message on a block of wood, which he left inside the monument, before chatting with artist David Best, known for designing large-scale structures at the Burning Man festival in the US.
The structure has been described by Helen Marriage – chief executive of creative art company Artichoke, which created it – as “a rising temple to the grief and loss that people have experienced over the last two years”.
The project was supported by Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, Warwickshire County Council, Here for Culture and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Speaking to the PA news agency inside the memorial, Mr Welby said: “I think it means a huge amount to a lot of people and what strikes me… in an extraordinary way, the artists Dave and Helen, in this installation, have managed to set people free to say things that are really deep within them.
“And I think that’s an extraordinary gift.
“It’s that gift of liberating people so they can engage with who they are – and this is what this place is doing.
“I have been reading things as I go round – there’s one just by us that says, ‘To Dad, I forgive you’. That tears your heart apart, that’s so beautiful.”
Asked what the burning of the memorial would symbolise, he added: “It’s a symbol of our prayers and hopes ascending to God.
“And I think there is a beautiful picture of all that is held in people’s hearts. It’s not being destroyed, but is going up.
“I think it will help people profoundly. My prayer for the people who come here is that as they step away from here, they feel they can step forward in life where things may have been holding them back.
“I am awed by the artistic talent that there is here – and the love for people.”