A dinosaur at Norwich Cathedral

By The Revd Canon Andy Bryant, Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care - 23 June 2021
Dippy (c) Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A dinosaur in a cathedral. Will it make you smile or make you frown? There will, of course, be some who feel that this is not the right use of a cathedral and think that this is one more sign that the Church has lost its way. But maybe, this is what Cathedral’s really should be about.

Wherever I go I am met with a real sense of excitement. So many people are talking about it, and everybody I meet seems to want to come to Norwich Cathedral to see Dippy the dinosaur from the Natural History Museum.

A dinosaur in a cathedral is a wonderful playful idea. It is surely the last thing you would expect to see in such a place and yet what a magnificent setting to visit such an amazing creature. There is no doubt that Dippy is going to generate a lot of fun and fun should very much be part of a cathedral’s life.

At Norwich Cathedral we embrace the whole of life. We mark serious and solemn events; it is a place for remembering, where tears are shed and sadness acknowledged and birth, love and death find liturgical expression. But there also has to be room for fun and after the last 16 months we all need a bit of fun back in our lives. So look out for our Fun Thursdays with film and quiz nights and invitations to draw, paint and photograph Dippy. And the fun around Dippy will be spilling out across the city and beyond.

But behind the playfulness of a dinosaur in the Cathedral is also a serious intent. To be in the presence of an animal that lived 150 million years ago puts human existence into perspective. If the history of the earth is a 24-hour clock, human beings appear at the last minute to midnight. To be caught up in this sense of deep history encourages a sense of humility in our relationship with the planet. As a late arrival in the history of evolution, we need to tread more gently on the earth and be less full of self-importance about our place in creation.

Despite their enormous success in inhabiting the earth for some 200 million years, dinosaurs became extinct due to a sudden climate emergency triggered by an asteroid strike. Humans too are facing a climate emergency and we want to use Dippy’s time in the Cathedral to help people think about how we can better care for our planet. How can we also ensure true food sustainability for the whole population of our world? The damage we are doing to this planet we call home can no longer be ignored.

By hosting Dippy in a cathedral, we also want to encourage a better understanding of the relationship of faith and science. Historically they have always been honourable partners in understanding the mystery and the wonder of life. Our Talkative Tuesdays programme will offer a wide range of lectures, talks and discussion to encourage us all to explore the challenges facing our world today and how we can make a difference.

Inviting Dippy into Norwich Cathedral is about us being true to what it means to be a cathedral. The three pillars of our life here are worship, learning and hospitality.  Throughout Dippy’s visit our daily pattern of worship will continued unaltered as we offer praise and worship to our Creator, whose vision of time and eternity had space for both dinosaurs and humans. With Dippy in our midst we will be creating a safe space to ask the important and difficult questions that face us as we continue our 900-year tradition of learning on this site. As visitors flock to visit Dippy, we will be reaching out with our tradition of Benedictine hospitality, ensuring all who come feel welcomed and enjoy a memorable visit, having had fun yes, but perhaps also having been made to think.

In the shadow of Dippy, and in the face of a climate emergency, what gives you hope?  Maybe by encountering Dippy in this Cathedral setting we will begin to see pointers to what can give us hope. Maybe amidst the fun, the encounters, the learning and the reflections, we will begin to understand how we can prove to be better stewards of all God has gifted us in the wonder and the mystery that is creation.

Dippy on Tour: A Natural HIstory Adventure is at Norwich Cathedral from July 13 until October 30 2021. For more information click here

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