Weaving the Word

Weaving the wordWeaving the Word was a creative project conceived by Rev Peter Gardner, Heidi Gardner and artist Carol Marples and funded by the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Bible Society. The task was to create an artwork for the Church of Scotland ‘s Church Without Walls National Day of Celebration at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre [EICC]. The EICC is an imposing contemporary, clinical and business-like building. We wanted the artworks to infiltrate this business like space with sense, spirituality, thoughtfulness, creativity and fun while offering a visual alternative to the dominant spoken word of the conference environment and of the Church of Scotland itself! It was about making the Word visual!

Conference centres often pose more limitations than churches to the artist, so having discovered our boundaries, the task was to be creative within them and potentially push them to their limits.

It was important to us that this should be a project by the people for the people; it would enable those who weren’t able to attend the actual conference day to share in the preparations, contribute, and be part of the day. Seven workshop days were set up around Scotland. These were based in churches but open to anyone and involved all ages.

“Weaving the Word” into the space was our aim and our theme. Four installations were created; a 16M x7M woven hanging in the entrance hall; 200 chair backs for the main lecture and worship space; 30 pillars were wrapped with selected banners of Bible pages; a number of everyday objects wrapped with the printed Word were placed around the centre to be discovered. The idea was to explore the Word: in the everyday, in the ordinary, being shelter, being rest, in and through all things. The bible was our medium for creativity.

To source enough bibles for the artwork a communication was put out throughout the Church of Scotland telling people about the project and asking for unwanted  and disused Bibles. The response was over whelming, it seemed as though we had a given people a legitimate way of getting rid of something too precious just to throw away. Throughout the workshops we encountered stories of “a Bible couldn’t be just discarded but had to be burned, or buried”  – it became clear that the Bible as a physical object had a meaning of it’s own. We received Bibles of all translations and kinds: from aged declamatory church Bibles, to family Bibles and gift baptismal Bibles, and even some in Gallic.

Many people who came to the workshops were nervous about using the Bible pages as creative media; “Was this ok? Was this the right thing to do with a Bible?” The hardest thing for many was breaking the spine of the bible to release the pages so that they could be used. This in part because it was the Bible and the breaking was the first step in destruction, but also because it was a book and it’s not what we do with books.

Interestingly, no one person felt they couldn’t do it, though many conversations were opened up as to what the Bible means to us as an object, as a sacred object: is it just a book of printed pages or does something happen when all these pages create a Christian book of the Word, and what is happening when we take it apart? In fact, I found myself interviewed on Christian radio being asked to defend the tearing up of bibles to create art!

What do you think about the re-purposing of Bibles for the sake of art?

Carol Marples is the creative director and artist for the Soul Marks Trust, which was established in 2003 to “encourage and enable creativity using all the senses, particularly through the visual arts, to express and inspire faith in God.” Carol has been involved in creating visuals for worship, setting up quiet spaces, and leading workshops throughout Scotland and other parts of the world for the past 20 years. See www.soulmarks.co.uk for more information.


  • Carol Marples is the artist, teacher, creative liturgist and development worker for the Soul Marks Trust. Soul Marks was established in 2003 and ‘uses the visual arts as a tool for prayer, worship and community to encourage and enable creativity through the visual arts, to express and inspire faith in God’. Carol graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1988 with a BA (Hons.) in Tapestry. Since then she has regularly exhibited, created installations, taught courses and led workshops for all ages and abilities in Scotland, Europe and North America in a variety of contexts, such as conferences, retreats, churches, art schools and universities. She completed her PhD in 2019 from the University of St Andrews. Her research topic explored Contrasting Examples of Liturgical Installation Art in Christian Worship in England and Scotland from the 1980s to Present Day.

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  1. says: Jim Watkins

    Carol, thank you for sharing Weaving the Word. This is such a fascinating project, and I am intrigued by the way that it brought to light the meaning of the Bible as a physical object.

    Your reflections are primarily about the making of Weaving the Word, but I wonder if you could share a bit about how the project was received after it was installed. Did the ‘sacredness’ of the Bible as a physical object carry over in some way into people’s responses to the project? Were you happy with the finished product, or were there certain aspects you thought could be better? Did the conference goers interact in any way with your installation?

  2. says: Steve Schuler

    The reluctance of many people to break the spines of the books personally is telling, I think. It reminds me of the way in which scientific research is performed on cadavers. We all agree that it can be done respectfully, and that it is a great benefit to society, but very few people have the stomach to dissect a human body themselves. We reflexively flinch at taking apart certain physical objects, and apparently those objects include both human bodies and Bibles. I recall that the controversy over the “Body Worlds” exhibition raised similar questions, even leaving aside the question of where the bodies came from.

    In a way I’m relieved to see that average still people hesitate to cut up a book. That may or may not reflect on the value of the art project. I’ve seen similar, small-scale art projects using pages from old hymnals, classic novels, etc. I can see the value of the artwork itself, and I appreciate the attempt to salvage disused, worn-out materials that would otherwise rot in a landfill. On the other hand, to what degree does that salvaged material retain its previous identity when it becomes “material” for the art project? Surely it gains a new identity as a component of the art object, but doesn’t it also lose something in the process of transformation?

  3. says: Deb Harder

    I have struggled w/ this subject. One person told me that if I repurposed a Bible to make it part of the art project, it would be the only time many people would ever read scripture. That is true, yet I still feel deep seated hesitation to doing it. Would it trivialize something so important and sacred? Would it give “permission” to others to abuse scriptures? I don’t know, but I don’t want to contribute to that happening so I am learning calligraphy to incorporate scripture in my art and make the words themselves beautiful objects in hopes that it pulls people in to read them. That is my solution to this question.

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