The Dean of Ripon’s column with the Very Rev John Dobson

Children from across the county attended the Cathedral service to receive gargoyle competition prizes.
Children from across the county attended the Cathedral service to receive gargoyle competition prizes.

They came from all over the region, as far afield as Scarborough and Settle, Richmond and Wetherby. They were school children; the finalists and winners of the cathedral’s gargoyle competition, attending a cathedral service to receive their prizes.

It was a delight to welcome them with their families and to hear how much they had learned about gargoyles.

They knew that a gargoyle is a waterspout. They also knew that in mediaeval times they were designed to look frightening, literally grotesque, to ward off the evil spirits.

For the second time in two years, the cathedral is replacing gargoyles. We have been fortunate to receive two significant grants for urgent stonework repairs from the Government’s First World War Centenary Cathedrals Repair Fund.

Our invitation to the region’s school children to get involved in a competition resulted in over one thousand gargoyle designs and a significant task for the judges.

It has been interesting to contemplate gargoyles at a time when the nation has had a sense of ‘things’ being against it. With recent terror attacks and the appalling fire at the Grenfell Tower, the country has felt as though it has been under attack.

Increased political uncertainty as crucially important Brexit negotiations were just about to begin only served to intensify the sombre national mood to which the Queen referred in her unprecedented birthday statement.

At the same time, the spontaneous outpouring of goodness and kindness following these unfortunate events has been remarkable. In every case – with each terror attack and the tragic fire – people have instantly responded with acts of kindness and generosity.

It may be that we would not think of such acts as modern-day gargoyles, with beautiful, rather than grotesque, features warding off those forces that would assail us. Yet, there is a real sense in which these manifestations of goodness have countered the ‘forces’ that diminish life.

They have raised spirits and strengthened hope.

Perhaps acknowledging the contribution of goodness in the face of terror and tragic accident might just help us to value it more in every-day life.

It is far too easy to be negative and encourage despondency in a society where bad news stories gain airspace.

Surely, even at this sombre time, when the shockwaves of painful tragedy are still being felt, the evidence for there being more ‘goodness’ than ‘evil’ is totally overwhelming.

Over the last month this evidence has been clear to me in conversations with people who routinely give of themselves in the service of others. In conversations in the cathedral, in visits across the region, including Swaledale, Harrogate, Leeds and Halifax, at a wonderful reception given by the High Sheriff of West Yorkshire at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I have met some wonderful people.

Their goodness and kindness provides charity and hope, and wards off cynicism and despair. Those of us with eyes of Christian faith would see in their values and deeds the work of the Holy Spirit, leading the world towards the life-giving truth that was seen in Jesus Christ.

But whatever our perspective, it should not take a tragedy for us to recognise and celebrate life-enhancing goodness in our fellow men and women.