Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Monument, a Museum, or a Church?

For Crisis Magazine, Tom Jay writes about a visit to Westminster Abbey (it costs about $25.00 to enter this place of prayer):

It’s odd that a church where royal weddings and coronations take place does not receive any funding from the royal family or the Church of England. This fact only reinforces the impression that the English monarchy is a royal drain on the nation’s finances. What does England get in return? It’s possible that what Westminster Abbey gets in return is tourist dollars that help keep this beautiful monument maintained and open to the public. For, in the end, Westminster Abbey still stands as a magnificent achievement of gothic architecture. To continue drawing tourists, perhaps it’s necessary to highlight the link between Westminster and the Royals. No doubt this is what draws many Americans who have little interest in history, let alone an appreciation for the beauty and ingenuity of medieval religious architecture. Looked at from this perspective it might even be considered laudable that the Dean, while facing unavoidable economic realities, also insists that Westminster is “first and foremost a working church” as the brochure puts it. It is Henry VIII, not the Dean, who is responsible for the confusion that clouds Westminster Abbey today.

As a Catholic, my visit left me grateful for the imperviousness of Spain and Italy to the influences of the Reformation that swept through northern Europe and England. One needs no reminding in the great Catholic churches of Europe that these are truly sacred spaces dedicated to the glory of God alone, the only crown of note being the one affixed to the head of the King of Kings.

Read the rest there. When we visited the Abbey we also felt many misgivings. There was so much blocked off that we felt we'd been cheated the cost of admission. The Catholic priest we were with did receive a discount as a member of the clergy. But is sad to think of a place that was once filled with prayer--the seven hours of prayer by Benedictine monks--filled with milling tourists listening to audio descriptions of what they are seeing. What would John Feckenham, the last Abbot of Westminster Abbey, think if he saw it today?

Photo credit: The Benedictine Chapter House.

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