Canterbury Cathedral, view of the Western Towers, engraved by J.LeKeux after a picture by G.Cattermole, 1821, showing the entrance before it was rebuilt.
I work predominantly in two different art forms—the fast painting and the short essay. I like the immediacy of laying paint and words down quickly. In that, I am very much a child of my time. Ours is an age of fast assault.
Ten years ago, I planted a beech tree at a local church, knowing it would never reach maturity in my lifetime. That was frustrating enough. The centuries-long effort required to build the medieval cathedral is completely beyond my conception.
“I am particularly struck by the perseverance required to bring these incredible places to light and life,” Rev. John Nicholson messaged. “To think of my grandchildren attending a dedication service for something I began is mind-boggling. I am sure our paltry, microwavable theology would not sustain such an effort.”
Canterbury Cathedral: the Corona, shrine to Thomas Becket, David Iliff, License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
The visionary who conceived a cathedral had no guarantees that his work would endure. Consider Canterbury Cathedral. Founded in 597 by Augustine, it originally consisted of an Anglo-Saxon nave, narthex and side chapels. It was destroyed by fire in 1067 and completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077 under the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc. The east end was immediately demolished by his successor and the nave doubled in length.
The murder of Thomas Becket turned the cathedral into a place of pilgrimage, necessitating another enlargement of the east end to accommodate his shrine. This and the choir were then rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late fourteenth century, which is also when the massive crossing tower was added. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Becket’s shrine was pillaged and most objects of value carried off by the Crown.
Canterbury Cathedral: West Front, Nave and Central Tower, Hans Musil, 2005
We modern evangelicals live in mini-mansions and go to church in graceless buildings that look like barns. The medieval mind thought it appropriate to live in barns and worship in celestial mansions. “They had a much clearer vision of the difference between themselves and God,” messaged Laura Turner.
“Our God is too small,” added John Nicholson.
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