Beneath the great east window and in the shadow of the seventh century crypt, they were putting the finishing touches yesterday to an event that began almost as a protest movement and has grown into one of the biggest exhibitions of its kind.
The Great North Art Show will take over almost the whole of Ripon Cathedral for most of September, a showcase for some 360 works by 57 artists either based in or connected to Yorkshire and the north.
An expected 20,000 visitors will see them, but no-one will know the exact number since there are neither tickets nor turnstiles.
The event, now in its 16th year, was the creation of local artist Wendy Orme, who had become frustrated that there were few opportunities to exhibit and sell work in the region.
“I was having a moan to myself that if you wanted to exhibit you had to send your work to London, and I decided it was time that artists were seen in a large exhibition in the north by people from the north,” she said.
The first show, put on by a team of four, involved just six artists, but offered them from the start the chance to display a collection of work rather than a single painting or sculpture.
This year’s exhibitors, selected by a panel of judges from a field of 140 submissions, are augmented by a guest appearance by the Tanganyika-born artist Tom Wood, who is now based in Batley.
His portrait subjects include Prince Charles and the author Alan Bennett. “But his pictures this year are birds and potting sheds, not portraits,” Ms Orme said.
“Like all our artists, he is presented as a mini-exhibition within the exhibition as a whole.”
She added: “I was very keen to get Tom. We always look for someone well known in the art world and who has northern connections, and he is one of those artists who will endure through time.”
Ripon’s Gothic cathedral was chosen as the venue after several, less atmospheric spaces were considered.
Ms Orme, who has in the past exhibited her own work, said: “I always thought that it needed to be a spectacular area that was big enough to hold an exhibition, and I then thought, this is ridiculous - we have a very fine cathedral on my doorstep.
“I spoke to the Dean at the time, John Methuen, and to my amazement he said yes.”
The exhibition now occupies the whole of the ground floor and the library upstairs.
The present Dean, John Dobson, said: “The exhibits look wonderful, especially alongside the great works of art we have.
“It attracts people from all over Yorkshire and beyond, and many of them have been drawn to the cathedral by the art.
“It’s one of the great gems of Yorkshire, and we are delighted that it continues to be a centre for culture in the region.”