Friday, July 31, 2009

English Heritage Cowboys don't do religion

English Heritage has restored the interior of Dover Castle to what they consider it looked like in the time of Henry 11, here is the article from the Independant.
I know nothing about throne rooms but the chapel seems more like a set from Cadfael or Disney than what I would expect to see in a 12th Century Chapel.
The set up of altar and lectern certainly lacks authenticity.
  • Where are the wall paintings?
  • Where are the sumptuous hangings?
  • Where is the pyx?
  • Where is the ciborium over the altar?
  • Where is the predella?
  • Where are the lamps?
  • Where is rich embroidered or painted frontal?
  • Where is the great rood above the altar?
  • Where is the image of the Holy Virgin?
  • Where are the relics?
  • Where are the images of the Royal Patron Saints?
  • Where are the decorated Missals and Gospel Books?
This is so lacklustre isn't it? An altar covered with a sheet arranged as a 16th century Laudian fall, is frankly a ridiculous anachronism. It makes one question the whole authenticity of the project, it also causes me a little anxiety about whether English Heritage grasps the significance of faith within the 12th century, I get the impression "they don't do religion".
There may be little documentation about throne rooms or castle kitchens of this period but there are no lack of sources and scholarship about chapels of this period, why has English Heritage not used it?
I often wonder if English Heritage are a gang of cowboys at times, it calls into question their seriousness and academic quality and whether they should be involved in bodies such august as the Historic Churches Committee. Possibly they have sold their souls to the "tourist industry".
The chapel would have been one of the central rooms in any castle, a place where both wealth and piety would be displayed, but not at Dover.
Looking at the other photographs in this series religion seems to figure pretty low on English Heritages ideas of historic reconstruction. On Radio 4's Today Programme the chapel featured, apparently the have piped chant, I hope they got the music for the right period, easy to do right but I bet they didn't.


nickbris said...

Another corrupted quango,the counry is being brought to it's them and their ilk.

Very well paid parasites sucking the life-blood out of anybody trying to get on and do something.

There is a need for somebody to watch what "developers" are up to but deliberately interfering where they are not needed with their hi-faluting ideas is just a load of "jobs for the boys" nonsense.

Felix said...

It's reminiscent of "Kingdom of Heaven", a 2005 film about the Crusades. A film that cost heaps to produce and was apparently extremely accurate about the military details.

But it was absurd religiously. For example, a priest tells the hero that his wife is in Hell but that he can earn her release.

So why not ask the local Parish Priest and get an explanation of the difference between Hell and Purgatory?

Is it that Hollywood thinks that religion doesn't matter or that it's sufficient to rely on Sunday School memories?

Matthaeus said...

A very feeble effort - why can't these people do their research!

It would be magnificent to see at least one significant mediaeval chapel restored accurately. I know there are many eminent Church historians who would love to act as consultants on such a project. Perhaps (with appropriate dispensations), the chapel could also be made available for Mass fom time to time, if possible in the Sarum Rite (perhaps this could also be videoed so that visitors to the castle could learn not only about the chapel furnishings, but also about how it functioned and the significance of the mediaeval Liturgy - what potential that could have!)

Instead we get a blatant anachronism, in which the Reformation seems to have been anticipated by four centuries (or is it the Novus Ordo being anticpated by eight centuries)... and why on earth is the ambo sited at that curious angle? ....Perhaps they could also include some 12th. Century monks in nice polyester habits, singing 'Kum ba yah', accompanied by the guitar...(sorry, I get very facetious when something irks me).

What an absurd idea to wreck something for the sake of 'not doing religion' - we don't 'do' public beheadings any more (Deo gratias), but I doubt whether English Heritage would try to get away with an exhibit of a scaffold complete with 20th. Century tree-felling axe - it's effectively the same stupidity!

Perhaps we need to keep an ear to the ground for the next time a pre-reformation chapel is to be restored, and those with a knowledge of Liturgy and Church History offer in advance to advise on the project - then it might be got right!

Sorry for the rant, but I feel strongly about this, as I can see you do.

Dominus tecum.


pelerin said...

Exactly Father Ray. There are no altar steps either and imagine the priest and altar servers having to avoid the overlapping altar covering on the ground. It would become a proper liturgical dance as they moved around!

Their research does not seem to have gone very deep in this case. - English Heritage Cowboys indeed. One does wonder at the accuracies of other projects they have done.

Crux Fidelis said...

TV and Hollywood do get Catholic stuff wrong an inordinate amount of times eg birettas on backwards, sideways etc, Catholic funeral services with the words from the Book of Common Prayer, surplice and soutane and/or cope for Mass. "It looks something like it so it'll do". Perhaps this is EHs attitude.

Quo Vadis said...

Sadly not just a failing of EH - I am constantly amazed by the total lack of insight into medieval religious practices and beliefs in many place in Europe.

There is a constant transferral of Reformation and post-Reformation concepts and imagery into the past.

From having worked for EH my experience is that most of comes down to the budget and not 'authenticity' - despite all the academic problems with that term.

Independent said...

It looks as if it were produced by people who furnish their libraries with books by the yard. It belongs in the fictional world of Fr Tuck. What can you expect from people who are brought up to regard Medieval as a pejorative word?

Like Nickbris, with whom I heartily agree on this matter, I see it as the product of a Quango probably stuffed with political appointees.

Anonymous said...

How terrible is this! Even more terrible is what was done with many historic Catholic churches around the world by the Catholic Church! For example, St. Ludovic church in Moscow (Lubyanka, just 1 minute walk from the KGB headquarters). I remember it as a beautiful old traditional 18th century French church which did not change after the Second Vatican Council (thanks Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev for isolation; an old Lituanian priest, Fr. Stanislav Mazheika was only celebrating Tridentine Mass there until mid-90s). And at some moment a team (mostly Polish priests and a gang) suddenly appeared to "restore" it to 2000. All interior was demolished completely, all ancient beautiful wooden decorations, beautiful old benches, an extraordinary traditional elevated pulpit. Everything, I do not even mention how the Altar was changed together with the whole Altar space. Many wall paintings were destroyed, interior was painted in an insipid whitish. A kind of an abstractionist glass cube was mounted inside above the entrance.

I do not wish anything comparable occurs in this church. Father, do not you like to see a help (perhaps with a grant in aid) from these people for this church restoration? Imagine, walls painted in pink, with sweety garden-style angels at the tops of pillars? And for a taste of modernity, an abstractionist stainless steel construction of an unshaped twisted shape?

Actually, the above historicians you are writing about are innocent children compared to some authentic Catholic church "restorers."

gemoftheocean said...

Father, you are right on. And it's shocking that a group of people who are allegedly experts on such things have done such a shoddy job.

I do have one quibble with you however. It's the use of the word "Cowboy" as a perjorative. I don't know why Euros/Brits do this at it is also a misuse of the word, if a person knew zip-whangdoodle of how RESPONSIBLE a citizen the cowboy in fact was and is. A REAL cowboy is not some know-nothing yahoo who goes into bars and shoot up things. A real cowboy was and is a supreme master of tending a valuable herd, sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the hoof. The cowboy is responsible for watering the cattle, mending the fences, moving the cattle around branding them. Those are just a few things. A cowboy has to have common sense a lot of smarts. So I resent the term "cowboy" throw about by Euros who are *clueless.*

Annie said...

No, they don't do religion, and they don't understand it. I remember one professor who was an expert on monastic buildings, but hadn't the faintest clue about anything that went on inside one, let alone what made a monk a monk. Make of that what you will.

Don't forget there can be real insurmountable interpretational problems when it comes to 'restoration', especially if it's done by secularists, and especially protestant secularists who have seen Canterbury Cathedral, and the local medieval church, and seen how marvellously stripped down and minimalist they are.

Anyway, it's very important that the population know as little as possible about the religious history and culture of the UK, it makes integration of everyone else's cultures so much easier if this country's a blank sheet of parchment. Wouldn't want to offend anyone now, would we?

Elizabeth said...

I visited Hampton Court today and was surprised to see a Tabernacle in the Chapel with a light hanging over it and a notice saying that the tabernacle contains the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is a Church of England Chapel and I had difficulty explaining to my children that this was not the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
Is this correct?

Fr Ray Blake said...

You are right because the Church has serious well founded grounds to doubts the validity of orders of "Ecclesial Communities" such as the Cof E, therefore the same doubts about the sacraments that a priest.

Fr Ray Blake said...

You are right because the Church has serious well founded grounds to doubts the validity of orders of "Ecclesial Communities" such as the Cof E, therefore the same doubts about the sacraments that a priest.

joe mc said...

Father, where can one read about the Church's teaching on the Cof E?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Try "Apostolicae Curae".

Anonymous said...

There is also a long discussion of the controversy in the Catholic Encyclopedia (although it is an old text):

Anglican Orders:

Anonymous said...

Father, I wonder how the issues of priesthood and other are being resolved with the Anglican Catholics, which will probably soon be received to full communion? Especially with bishops.

Independent said...

Joe -For the C of E why not try Fr Aidan Nichols,OP, "The Panther and the Hind"? It is an incredibly charitable book , fair and very readable. Mgr Graham Leonard (former Anglican Bishop of London)is said to have been greatly influenced by it. It is available on Amazon.

Gerallt D. Nash said...

Have a look at
A medieval church, threatened with collapse, has been moved to St Fagans: National History Museum (National Museum of Wales) near Cardiff, and has been re-erected, restored and refurbished to show how it may have appeared circa 1530, including wall-paintings, statues and carvings (all painted and gilded of course). The work is on-going, but the project has already come in for critical acclaim. We have also published a book on the project entitled : 'Saving St Teilo's: bringing a medieval church to life' - see review on

Daisy Debs said...

I have been to visit it and I can tell you that the historians ,craftsmen and women have done an excellent job . This is so much better than the empty rooms that were there before . Educational for children and adults.
We thought our visit was worth every penny .

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