Sacred spaces

“Neil Oliver says we need sacred places and that if we want to find a sacred place, then Glastonbury is hard to beat.”

“Which bit of Glastonbury does he mean, up on the Tor where you can see the roofs of the industrial estates and Hinckley Point on the horizon or down amongst the wacko shops?”

“You know what I mean, there is something different about Glastonbury.”

“There is, and I love going there and enjoying the atmosphere, but I’m not sure that makes it sacred.”

Arriving early for a funeral and slipping into a pew near the back, there was an opportunity to ponder what might be meant by “sacred.” Were churches sacred places?

Looking up at peeling paint and cobwebs, there didn’t seem much sense of sacredness in the building. It would have cost nothing to have put a long-handled feather duster around the place, and not much more to have put some white paint on the worst parts of the walls. Perhaps the worshippers would regard the sense of the sacred as something within and would have been less concerned with its outward appearance, but if the place is to be sacred, then surely a modicum of care is in order? A bit of care would ensure that some of the accumulated clutter was removed, that out of date notices were removed, that furniture was not left lying around, that wilted flowers were thrown out, that tidiness was thought a virtue. It wouldn’t take much effort to make many places more presentable, if they are thought “sacred,” wouldn’t that be desirable?

Worse than medieval churches with peeling paint and cobwebs are medieval churches that have been reshaped according to the tastes of a vicar whose name will be “Steve, or Dave, or Spike” and who wears a pale blue shirt and chinos. Shiny floors have been laid over centuries old flag stones, wooden pews have been replaced by chairs in garish colours, electronic monitors have been installed so everyone can follow what the leader tells them. The empowerment of common prayer has been replaced by the power of the worship leader and the praise group, the liturgy of the people has been superseded by the cult of the pastor. 

A sense of the sacred has become such a rarity in ecclesiastical settings that it is no surprise that a television presenter chooses Glastonbury as embodying his idea of sacredness. Churches might take note.

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5 Responses to Sacred spaces

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    I suppose ‘sacred place’ is where one experiences numinous -however one defines that. Antiquity helps….as, I find, so does incense. The Slipper Chapel has ‘it’, the modern Anglican shrine doesn’t (for me at least, others will disagree).
    Oh and there is a special ring of Hell reserved for Low Churchmen who hang posters, banners and ‘rainbow’,peace-dove tapestries from rood screens.

  2. Ian says:

    It is hard to discern much regard for any idea of the numinous in the reordering of churches so that they look like dull municipal meeting rooms, nor in the second rate music and banal lyrics of the songs. It is unsurprising that the cathedral liturgies are the only occasions where numbers have grown.

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      “dull municipal meeting rooms,”

      Actually I believe the current PC term is ‘Non denominational Community Diversity Celebration Centres’.

  3. Vince says:

    I’m not sure Oliver was speaking about Glastonbury ‘space’ in the terms you are using. Back about 60 or so years, well post WW2 might be better, there was a massive row in the archaeological community and when all the donner und blitzen stopped the language used became both tighter and looser. Note how you changed the term to ‘place’ from space. Well that was one of the terms that shifted. They stopped using place almost entirely when conjoining sacred to it.
    In this story Glastonbury and the investigations by a fellow from Birmingham uni called Philip Rhatz – moved to U of York about 1980-has central importance. He mostly, but others too, realised that it wasn’t just the hill, but the whole landscape.
    For you he is well worth a read of his work.
    On the other. Perhaps there is a greater need elsewhere. And while I feel, maybe a little bit of coaxing and the pressgang would get the church spick and span, perhaps there are areas the people are in, like feeding the poor, housing, mitigating the hell generated by that stupid policy of the DSS.

  4. Ian says:

    I’m not sure what he was saying as the final credits were rolling as I walked into the room.

    There does not seem a tradition here of the so-called “thin” places that one encounters in Ireland.

    The Nineteenth Century Anglo-Catholic movement emphasised both the spick and span and care for the poor. The Reverend Charles Marson was a vicar in this area, having done major work in the East End and pursued a very distinctively Catholic spirituality. He was also an associate of Cecil Sharp, who did much to revive folk music and traditions

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