Angels are a ubiquitous presence during the festive season, but the Liverpool Cathedral is displaying a different kind of celestial being this year.
The church has erected an 8.2-metre-high statue of an angel made out of 100,000 knives that have been confiscated by police forces across Britain. The Knife Angel stands just outside the cathedral’s main entrance and towers over its nativity scene, drawing stunned silence from most onlookers.
The church is hoping the angel will serve as a stark message about the growing problem of knife crime in Britain.
Stabbings are running at an eight-year high across the country; in London, the number of murders has surpassed 130 for the first time in a decade, with more than 70 of those deaths involving knives.
“When people see the angel, initially they are very quiet when they look at it,” said Rob Jackson, a long-time church volunteer who was instrumental in bringing the angel to Liverpool, a port city in the Northwestern England. "They just can’t really get the scale of 100,000 blades that have been taken off the streets of the United Kingdom. They just can’t get their heads around it.”
The Knife Angel is the creation of Alfie Bradley, a 28-year-old sculptor who got the idea after his friend was stabbed outside a nightclub. “He had a punctured lung and 49 stitches,” recalled Mr. Bradley, who lives in Oswestry, northwest of Birmingham. “At the time, there was a lot of knife crime in the news. All you heard about was people getting stabbed. I thought it would be a really good idea to use knives and weapons to show people the dangers of knife crime. And because so many people have died through knife crime, I thought an angel would be the most poignant thing to do.”
Mr. Bradley approached the British Home Office, the government ministry responsible for security and law and order, which gave him permission to collect knives that had been confiscated by police or surrendered through amnesty programs. He spent about four years gathering thousands of weapons and marvelled at what turned up: Everything from ordinary kitchen knives to machetes, hatchets, homemade blades and even a school ruler filed down to make a sword. “The sad thing is, a lot of these weapons were taken off just young teenagers,” he said.
Mr. Bradley painstakingly cleaned each knife with bleach and blunted the blades. Then he welded them onto the frame of the angel, using the flat surfaces to create the look of feathers on the wings. He also removed most of the colourful handles and mixed them in throughout the statue to better reflect the light. During the final phase of work, which was done at the British Ironworks Centre in Shrewsbury, Mr. Bradley reached out to families that have suffered from knife crime and encouraged them to put messages on the back of the angel’s wings. “They put things like, ‘Love you,’ [and] ‘Miss you, my darling,’” Mr. Bradley said. “There are some very emotional messages.”
Among those who added a message was Kayleigh Pepper. She lost her 25-year-old brother, Richard Pepper, in 2015 after he was stabbed to death outside his home in Hull in Northwestern England. “Rich Pepper. Forever on our mind. Always in our heart. 22-06-15,” Ms. Pepper wrote. She’s now launched a campaign to bring the Knife Angel to Hull. Several other cities have also requested the statue, and Mr. Bradley said there are plans for it to go on a national tour.
Moving the angel wasn’t easy, and Mr. Jackson said the cathedral’s congregation spent about seven months on the project. The church received a £5,000 (approximately $8,500) donation from the Premier League’s Everton soccer club for the initiative, and dozens of volunteers contributed their equipment and time.
“I knew about the angel and I knew what it was intended for,” said Mr. Jackson, who’s a nurse in the emergency ward at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University hospitals. Mr. Jackson speaks to schools and youth organizations about the dangers of knife crime, and he felt the angel was an important symbol. “We know that bringing the Knife Angel to Liverpool isn’t going to stop knife crime, but we also knew that by bringing it to Liverpool we would get conversation and get engagement on the issue,” he said.
Stuart Haynes, the cathedral’s director of communications, said some people have criticized the church for glorifying knives. “But once we explain the purpose, most people actually see where it’s come from,” he said. The church has also put a book next to the statue so people can write down their thoughts. “There’s a place to sit, they can reflect, they can pray, they can light a candle for a loved one, they can collect their thoughts,” he said, adding that a special vigil service is also planned. “That’s something that we’re pleased to do and it’s something that we wanted to encourage.”