The statue of Modwen has no limbs: her body and dress are indicated by a cone shaped structure of steel strips which make sounds when the wind passes between them. By using of the wind as an element in the sculpture, the artist hoped to suggest the presence of aerial spirits. Her facial features are formed from steel wire. Her head-dress extends behind and above her head, and below her chin is a brass Anglo-Saxon cloak clasp of a cross upon a circle. The sculptor was influenced by the Ancient Egyptians and the Romanesque, and intended to "convey the vitality of 6th Century Christianity ". (1) For him, the sculpture was an attempt to express an aspect of female spirituality as well as a permanent tribute to a woman from a period of history when few of their lives were recorded.(2)
This statue forms part of the Washlands Sculpture Trail which was set up by the Borough of East Staffordshire's Leisure Services with support from the Burton and District Arts Council, Burton Civic Society, Burton-upon-Trent College and West Midlands Arts. Financial aid and materials were supplied by the sponsors and local businesses. The sculptures are intended to, "offer innovative interpretations of the natural, social and historical heritage of this unique area and its relevance to the people of Burton today". (3) The projects deliberately involved local people, especially schools and various community groups.
Saint Modwen is Burton-upon-Trent's patron saint. She was an abbess at Killeavy, Co. Armagh, who made two pilgrimages to Rome. When, in the seventh century, an English prince, Alfred, illegitimate son of King Oswin, was leaving Ireland after a visit, his host pillaged Modwen's convent to give him a parting gift. Modwen followed to obtain redress and ran Alfred to earth at Whitby, where he promised to repay her. She took up residence in Whitby Abbey, but eventually set up a convent at Burton. She built the town's first chapel on Andressey Island, where the sculpture of her now stands. As well as bringing Christianity from Ireland to Burton, she reputedly used the waters of the Trent Washlands to heal people with afflicted eyes.
On a plinth near the statue: 'SAINT MODWEN'/ A WIND SCULPTURE BY JOHN PORTNUM/ UNVEILED BY STAN CLARKE CBE/ CHAIRMAN OF ST MODWEN PROPERTIES PLC/ ON 5TH AUGUST 1995/ COMMISSIONED BY THE BOROUGH OF EAST STAFFORDSHIRE/ SPONSERED BY ST MODWEN PROPERTIES PLC/ SUPPORTED BY BURTON UPON TRENT/ BURTON CIVIC SOCIETY AND BURTON & DISTRICT ARTS COUNCIL.
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