Saturday, 7 August 2010

Confessing Cathedral

The foundation of Lincoln Cathedral was an act of aggressive and controlling conquest and colonisation.

From time to time there are documentaries and historical novels which seek to show what would have happened had Nazi Germany won the Second World War: the conqueror’s language becomes that of everything from Government to Universities, institutions from the monarchy and Parliament downwards are run on puppet or direct German terms, and assets from Banks to country estates fall into the hands of invaders whether individually or corporately.

This is exactly the process began in 1066. People are familiar with the way in which all legal documents were issued in French (the use of the Saxon language quickly became viewed as vulgar) and an early survey of the whole country (‘The Doomsday Book’) reveals how most settlements once owned by someone with a Saxon name were already in the hands of someone with a French name.

People are less aware of the way taking over and reshaping the church was one of the earliest moves. The Saxon diocese of Dorchester-on-Thames (which had absorbed the earlier diocese of Lindsey, and thus stretched form the Thames to the Humber) was given one of the sponsors of the invasion as a new Bishop and had its headquarters moved to the other end of the diocese to a fortified city where both a Castle and Cathedral could be built next to each other.

So what looks to us today like a place of holy magnificence stood then as a symbol and tool of French control. Nothing like a ‘Confessing Church’ resisted this. Over the next few hundred years the international nature of the church and the power of the Gospel did enable holiness and challenge to the powerful to flourish and be expressed, but equally a place built to express and enact the will of successive dictators remained their instrument right through to the promotion of ethnic cleansing.

I love the place, its ministry and its potential, and I value highly the privilege of having a stall in it, yet somehow this love and valuing seems to me to demand an acknowledgement of this ‘other side’. I’ve been dwelling on the idea because one of my August projects has been getting some material together for the annual Conference of Canons Pastor of English Cathedrals which Lincoln hosts this autumn and to which I’ve been asked to contribute. How do they fare when the powerful (which may include at different times regular congregations and interest groups, the armed forces and the holders of heritage purse strings, among many others) claim their own?


Carl Edwards said...

Interesting article, but I must what a beautiful photograph. I have never seen the cathedral from this perspective.

Hope all is well in NE Lincs.

Peter Mullins said...

Thanks, Carl. The view is from a walkway along the bottom of the vast west window (to which there is access on the guided Roof Tours of the Cathedral) and is know as 'Banks' View' because Sir Joseph Banks admired it.