The Cloister Crew’s all-night adventure

By The Revd Canon Andrew Bryant - 26 October 2015
A picture of the Cathedral Cloisters at night
A stone cold floor, glistening with damp, windows with no glass, no running water and no source of heat: why would anyone want to sleep here? About the only advantage from sleeping outdoors in Norwich Cathedral's Cloisters is the presence of a roof to keep off any rain or, worse, snow. Yet this is the place that the Dean of Norwich and the Bishops of Lynn and Thetford have chosen for their Advent Sleepout on Tuesday 1 December to raise awareness of the issues of homelessness and help raise funds for the work of the Church Urban Fund.

Of course a night spent in the medieval Cloisters cannot in any way be equated with the real experience of those who daily endure bad housing, have nowhere to call home or worse still have to sleep rough outdoors. But just hopefully the sight of a Dean and Bishops camped out in the Cloisters might make a few people sit up and realise that too many people in 21st century Britain still live in very real poverty.

Nor will the sleepers in the Cloisters be staring up at the stars but rather at the breath-taking wealth of roof bosses that adorn the vaulting. The roof bosses of Norwich Cathedral are one of its greatest treasures. Here in the Cloisters the bosses cover a wealth of images including scenes from the Book of Revelation and the lives of the Saints. But perhaps most importantly for the sleepers there are scenes from Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Jesus’ ministry shows a strong bias to the poor, vulnerable and marginalised and he was born homeless and died an outcast. That same bias to the poor has to shape all who try to follow in Christ’s footsteps. So the aim of the sleepover is to draw attention to the poor and vulnerable in our society.

The evening will begin at 7.00pm with the Blessing of the Crib Scene, which is a new venture for the Cathedral. The crib figures, which used to adorn the West end of the cathedral (and before that had graced Trafalgar Square) will be placed outside the main entrance to the Cathedral to remind all who visit through Advent and Christmas of the true meaning of this season.

Standing beside the Crib Scene will be a “Memory Tree” on which visitors will be invited to hang a star to remember a departed loved one or others they will be separated from at Christmas, either due to distance or estrangement. Amidst all the celebrations of Christmas it is important to acknowledge those who find this a difficult time of year. And as the Cathedral marks the lead in to its Christmas celebrations, this felt a particularly appropriate night to hold the sleepover and remember those who will find very little to celebrate.

At the centre of the Cloisters is a labyrinth, which was created to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. On the sleep out evening candles will light the path of the labyrinth.  Perhaps its gentle glow will bring some comfort to the sleepers in the Cloisters, but it is also hoped in the evening some will use the Labyrinth to reflect on their own spiritual journey and the sleepers will gather amidst the candles to say Compline before climbing into their sleeping bags.

Whilst the Cloisters were originally a place of work they were also a place of recreation and carved in several places is the pattern for the game of Nine Men’s Morris. So too alongside the serious intent of the evening there will be plenty of fun and games and it may well become more sleepover than sleep out. And the Cathedral’s Chapter Steward has promised a Midnight Soup Run to help keep the cold at bay.

Alongside the Dean and Bishops, other members of the Cathedral Chapter, the Bishop’s Senior Staff and the Cathedral Community will join the Cloister Crew… and there is always room for more! For more information about joining in please contact Canon Andy Bryant on

To sponsor the Cloister Crew, and so support the Church Urban Fund, please visit our fundraising page.

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