Sensational spectacle

Display on a grand scale can invite not just a personal response, but be a special community experience, as Laura found at one of York’s most celebrated festivals.

For a few nights every year the most prominent buildings of the city are transformed by vibrant colours and vivid images, and throngs of residents and visitors alike watch on in amazement. This spectacle is Illuminating York, an annual festival which sees magnificent light and sound installations spring up around the city, highlighting the architecture in a completely unique way.

An estimated 50,000 people witnessed the spectacle at the Minster

Wrapped up in many layers of warm clothing, I donned my scarf and hat and headed out to experience the spectacle for myself. I was certainly not disappointed. As the centrepiece of the whole festival, the grand Rose window of the Minster was the focal point of a breathtaking display which explored the symbolism of the rose through a myriad of colours, shapes, music and narrative.

Illuminating York in Dean's Park

Smaller installations were littered around Dean’s Park, where people marvelled at a four metre high orb alive with black and white images of York and posed for photos beside a spectacular illuminated stained glass window.

Although the magnificence of the occasion was astounding, I found myself even more struck by audience and the sense that this was a real community experience. The whole of York, it seemed, was involved in this sensory adventure. Whether people were actively engaging with the installations themselves, chatting animatedly about them or just absorbing the scenes, they were all sharing the experience with families and friends (as well as hundreds of other spectators). One young couple had even brought a blanket, flask and cakes and had picked a prime spot in front of the Minster to spend the evening admiring the Rose window. The remarkable thing about the event was not so much the artistry of the display, but the unique way in which it brought people together to admire anew the city’s most famous landmarks, and through that shared sensory experience enhanced the community’s connection with those buildings.

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