Charles Moore Charles Moore

Should monuments to past Archbishops of Canterbury come down?

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This week, the Church of England issued its document ‘Contested Heritage in Cathedrals and Churches’. It is guidance for what those locally running more than 12,000 churches should do about their monuments ‘to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation’ and address ‘the Church’s own complicity in structural sin’ and ‘oppression or marginalisation of people on the basis of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation’. In church monuments, this usually boils down to whether the person commemorated had links with slavery. Seen from a parish level (where the poor churchwardens, such as my dear wife, will have to do the work), here are some preliminary questions. By whom is the heritage ‘contested’? Of those 12,000 churches, how many have previously suffered from protests about monuments? Why does the Church invite contestation if it desires ‘peace and reconciliation’? Almost no one who worships in a particular parish wants its church monuments altered. Does Archbishop Welby expect each parochial church council to inspect its monuments to see if they commemorate bad people? Then there is the question of money. Moving, removing or altering a monument is, rightly, a matter of church law, and requires a ‘faculty’. The process is slow, involving expert advice, conservation costs (once you take down a historic monument, you cannot just throw it away), building costs and legal costs. These can run into tens of thousands of pounds, way beyond the capacity of almost all churches, especially rural ones. Who will pay? How? Rather than sternly extirpating a few monuments, why doesn’t the Church encourage parishes to celebrate most of them? They provide sermons in often beautiful stones.

At national level, there are questions too. Why should Anglican ‘structural sin’ be confined to issues of race and gender? The biggest specific way in which the Church profited from violence and oppression was through the Reformation.

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