St Mary's Perth

St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth

This post follows the previous one, What is a Cathedral? Do check that post out first.

I am very grateful that people respected my request to take care with comments, and I WILL AGAIN BE VERY RESTRICTING OF COMMENTS HERE.

The Christchurch Anglican Cathedral is a very controversial topic.

Please restrict your comments on this site to the liturgical and theological content of my posts. I will not allow comments advocating for or against certain actions (past, present, future), what should have happened in the Square, or what you think needs to be done now. If your comment stays with the generic idea of a cathedral, rather than the specifics of the one in the Square, that will be fine.

A Theology and Spirituality of Place

Since my video was filmed on “What is a cathedral?” (filming 20 June), in relation to the Christchurch Cathedral in the Square damaged by the quakes, not only has the offer from Government and Council changed, but a third option is now being placed before the synod to vote on: alongside
Option A) accept the offers of funds, add insurance money, fundraise, and put the building back much as it was (up to full, current earthquake requirements; more flexible interior), have an endowment to pay for ongoing insurance; or
Option B) stay within the insurance payout ($42 mill) to pull down what is there, plan a new building, put up the new building, and have an endowment to pay for ongoing insurance; there is now an
Option C) gift the land and building to the Government for the people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

My first post was looking at a theology and spirituality of space. Here, in this post, I am encouraging us to begin thinking about a theology and spirituality of place.

I think one doorway into this reflection is to think of those cathedrals (churches) that are
(1) simply built on a good spot, and comparing such buildings to
(2) cathedrals built on a significant spot.

Some cathedrals (of Type 2) are built on the spot of, say, a martyrdom. Or churches of this Type 2 are built on the spot where there (previously) was, say, a pre-Christian site of significance, even a site understood to have spiritual significance – a shrine, for example.

For convenience, let’s call Type 1, where the location itself has no deep significance, “place indifferent”. Type 2 is, then, “place significant”. I hope you are getting this distinction.

If the land was a good purchase, and it’s quite a nice site for a cathedral, but it could just as well have been down the road, with a similar land price and a similar view, access, etc. – then that’s Type 1 – place indifferent.

But now, imagine another context: Let’s say, St Esmerelda was martyred here; she energetically, single-handedly brought the faith to this area, and she was buried here. We are imagining that the Cathedral of St Esmerelda has been built on the site of her martyrdom and with her grave at its heart. Such a building is “place significant” – Type 2.

Let me be clear. One category of building is not better than the other.

You can do your own reflections about buildings and cathedrals that you know – classifying them in your own mind whether they are place significant or place indifferent.

Turning now to the Christchurch Cathedral decision (and wanting people, as I’ve indicated, to not debate this specifically here). By gifting the Christchurch Cathedral to the Government (the newly presented Option C), that building ceases to be a cathedral. The bishop’s cathedra (seat) would reside elsewhere (see What is a cathedral?). [Under this option, of course, it might still be called “The Christchurch Cathedral”, just as “Westminster Abbey” is still called an abbey even though it ceased to be one in 1540.]

The permanent moving of the bishop’s cathedra from the Square to another building (at the moment it is located temporarily in the Transitional Cathedral on Latimer Square) would be a decision that would tend to the place-indifferent understanding of the Christchurch Cathedral.

Christchurch and the Canterbury Settlement in NZ is an Anglican settlement. The streets are named after dioceses in the Anglican Communion (Montreal, Armagh, Lichfield, Durham, Gloucester, Worcester, Chester, Colombo,… High – no, just kidding!) The three central squares are named after the three Anglican bishop martyrs (Cranmer, Latimer, Cathedral Square was first named Ridley Square). And at the centre, the plan was always to have an Anglican cathedral as the heart of the city and settlement.

Maybe those (Christendom-like) days are over, and a shift from place-significant to place-indifferent is now appropriate. That is for the synod members to reflect on and decide. The $35 million offer from Government and Council seem to argue that the “secular” world may not be quite as “post-Christendom” as some theologians proclaim.

I am considering a further, future post that would reflect more on this above paragraph: the relationship between church (the Christian community) and the world (the context and culture of the church). There is also further, worthwhile reflection to be had about the size, significance, and confidence of the church (the Christian community) in the decision.

Other Anglicans blogging on the Christchurch Cathedral:
In Christchurch: Peter Carrell
In Auckland: Helen Jacobi

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image source: my photograph of St Mary’s RC Cathedral in Perth, a neo-gothic building expanded in the last decade with a curved central design.

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