Seventy-five years ago this month, Bristol’s Temple Church was bombed on the first night of the blitz. Only the shell of the building, dating mainly from the 14th century remained. But this month the church is getting a new lease of life, as artist Theaster Gates transforms the ruins into a temporary performance space for his first UK project ‘Sanctum’.
With its distinctive leaning tower, Temple Church is the only English Heritage property in Bristol. The shell of the structure dates from the late medieval period, and underneath are the remains of the original 12th century circular church, built by the Knights Templar. This famous medieval military order was founded in the early 12th century to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. You can find out more about the history of the church here.
Usually the church is usually only viewable from the outside. But Sanctum offers a rare chance for visitors to step inside the fragile building, which is not usually open to the public.
“We went to lots of sites in Bristol, trying to figure out where the project might happen," says the Chicago-based artist.
"When we came to the site at Temple Church, it seemed like a bit of an oasis in the city… we went inside and kind of walked around the ruins… and it felt really special. So we started to think about what might happen here."
The result is a temporary pop-up structure, which has been constructed inside the ruins using reclaimed materials from former sites of labour and worship across the city. These include doors from the Greenbank chocolate factory in Easton and bricks from the Salvation Army Citadel in St Paul’s.
"It's really more of a sacred space inside of a sacred space," says Gates.
"Then we decided to activate that sacred space with the people of Bristol, performing around the clock for 24 hours for 3 weeks."
Over 1000 acts will perform over the next 3 weeks, for 552 hours in total. But the schedule remains secret. It's only upon entering Sanctum that you find out who will be performing in your scheduled slot.
This element of the unknown allows for new possibilities explains Gates, and creates a environment for people in the city from different walks of life to interact.
"The programme has identified all these people who are from different parts of the city and outside of the city, and I'm hoping for a little bit of a brush-up between the acts."
The artist also hopes that the project will encourage people to use and imagine Temple Church in a different way.
“I think artists can provide ways for history to be reimagined, to be participatory and to be made beautiful and maybe even important and relevant in new ways.
“English Heritage has done an amazing job of both respecting the past but also for allowing new things to emerge. So we hope that with this space… we would be able to honour the great legacies that have happened here by adding new legacies.”
Sanctum is open now and runs continuously until 6pm on 21 November 2015. Entrance is free and you can visit the site at any time of the day or night without pre-booking. However, as capacity is limited at peak times there may be a queue so you may wish to reserve your entry time by pre-booking a ticket for a £5 admin fee. Plan your visit to Temple Church here.