A call to appreciate the heritage of the Church

Image 1: Exterior – Our Lady of Fatim, Harlow. Picture 2, below. Slab of Vere Jesse Tree Window at Our Lady of Fatima

Both images © Alex Ramsay Photography/CBCEW

By reading and trying to understand the lessons of Laudato si’, I suspect that relatively few of us would ponder its connection to AWN Pugin’s magnificent reinvention of Gothic in the many churches he designed, the soaring Byzantine splendor of Westminster Cathedral, or the wondrous abstract play of light in the remarkable Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The focus of Laudato si’, at first reading, seems to be about climate change, biodiversity and the natural environment more generally. But Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical has many other dimensions. One of these dimensions is the built environment, including the heritage of the Church.

Laudato si’ discusses at length the problem of a “throwaway culture” and also our relationship to creation. We must likewise appreciate the beauty of the buildings in which we worship, and we must take care of them. As this document says: “Along with the heritage of nature, there is also a historical, artistic and cultural heritage which is also threatened. This heritage is part of the common identity of each place and a basis on which to build a livable city. It is not a question of demolishing and building new cities, supposedly more respectful of the environment but not always more pleasant to live in. Rather, it is about integrating the history, culture and architecture of each place, thus preserving its original character. identify. Ecology therefore also implies the protection of the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense.

Our own bishops in England and Wales have published their own document on the environment, The call of creation. And it demands that education “take place in schools, families and seminaries and that it involves an education in aesthetics that directs our attention to the permanence of beauty rather than the temporary allure of the disposable” .

This all relates to my own work with the Heritage – or Inheritance – Committee of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. I assist the bishops and our dioceses in the management of their historic churches. As churchgoers and parishioners, it is vitally important that we take care of this heritage and the first step in taking care of it is to appreciate its importance, its beauty and its place in our lives of faith.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has over 750 listed churches out of approximately 2,800 church buildings. You can find the details – listed and unlisted – on the Take stock website.

But what are heritage and inheritance? How do we define it? In terms of our work in the Episcopal Conference, we really use it to refer to the cultural heritage of the Church – historic buildings but also objects, works of art, artefacts and furniture. Pope Francis’ definition of heritage Laudato si’ is broader and more inclusive.

It is vital that we appreciate and care for our heritage which is intrinsically linked to our culture and our history as Catholic communities. So often, however, given the practical challenges faced by parishes and dioceses, we can view our heritage (and especially our buildings) as burdens. Many challenges are faced by colleagues on our diocesan building teams and by the architects, parish priests and volunteers who care for our church buildings. There are decisions to be made about adaptation and modernization, and rules and regulations that must be followed. Above all, there are challenges when it comes to funding repairs to our historic churches – the costs of which often far exceed the fundraising capabilities of individual parishes.

Just as Pope Francis challenges us not to see the natural environment as a burden, but as a thing of beauty to be cherished, we must think the same way about our built heritage. Viewing our buildings as problems for the communities that care for and worship them prevents us from properly protecting our treasures.

We have a duty – both in a secular sense and by our faith – to protect these places, and education and training are essential to ensure this happens. A good start is to try to broaden our understanding of beauty to include things that are admirable and innovative or perhaps where the craftsman has remarkable skill – even if subjectively we don’t like the result. Often, a closer study of a building that is not necessarily beautiful leads us to understand different dimensions of its beauty.

In particular, the middle of the 20eThe -century buildings often divide opinion, including the one used to illustrate this article. Our Lady of Fatima in Harlow is a Grade II listed concrete and brick pipe with a large spearhead, which is in desperate need of repair. It would be easy to see this building as a burden, but it conceals remarkable treasures such as its jewel glass slab windows above. These showcases tell stories that are a powerful teaching and training tool for people of all ages. This does not diminish the very real practical needs of the parish community in terms of church repair, but it may inspire a love for the heritage of the church in the next generation as a building to be cherished rather than a building to think about. like a burden.

The importance of education and conversion in relation to ecological crises parallels the challenge of education in relation to the preservation of our heritage. In both cases, there is a need for personal conversion within church communities, moving away from consumerism, and towards an appreciation of what is enduring and beautiful and what will survive us and can be passed on to the next generation. .

At Farm Street Jesuit Church, we have set up a Living Stone Where living stones band. Living Stone is an international mission of the Jesuits and there are about 40 such communities around the world. The group meets weekly – alternating between prayer and reflection on Scripture and intellectual formation on theology, church history or architecture. Our goal is to educate young adults about the history and symbolism of the Church. Not everyone has access to a church in central London like Farm Street, but could we find ways in our own circumstances (even if only in our social groups and families) to pass on a appreciation of the heritage of the Church and its sacred and cultural significance? We can begin by entering the Church and contemplating our surroundings in prayer. Although this is only a small part of the two Laudato si’ and our own bishops The Call of Creation, it would be a fruit worthy of these documents if it led us to better integrate our spiritual life, our concern for our heritage and our concern for one another.

Josephine Warren is Senior Policy and Research Analyst and Adviser for Historic Churches at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

About admin

Check Also

Changes to sounding and locations for Warnock, Walker runoff

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Chatham County Board of Elections has announced changes and updated …