South Creake

I was asked to give a lecture last night in South Creake church, a surprisingly large rural church in a village south of Burnham Market.   I had decided to talk about the twin phenomena of the post-war period:  the gradual loss of religious faith and documented decline in church-going (now less than 2% of the population go to church);  and the corresponding rise of museum-going (in May alone, 3.6 million people went to one of the national museums).   So, the question is whether or not these two phenomena are in some way connected and that, as a consequence of radical secularisation, people are, to some extent at least, seeking meaning in art.   As often happens on such occasions, there was good, and rightly sceptical, discussion afterwards.


14 thoughts on “South Creake

  1. I agree that, in this secular age, going to museums and galleries gives us the opportunities to raise our thoughts to non-material matters, as does poetry, which is also experiencing a renaissance.

  2. Edward Chaney says:

    But it’s surely true in essence; the rot set in with the so-called Reformation which led in turn to the so-called Enlightenment and thence to the secular religions responsible for the mass slaughters of the last century). Our museums are indeed the new cathedrals… only trouble is the new museums, viz the Tate Modern extension, are full of incoherent ugliness, while the cathedrals were brimming with beauteousness (which included music)…

  3. Paul Boucher says:

    Roger Scruton, in his marvellous analysis of Wagner “The Ring of Truth”, comments that already in the 19th century Wagner recognised “that modern people having lost their faith in the divine order, need another route to meaning other than that once offered by religion. The Ring aims to provide a vision of the ideal, achieved with no help from the gods, a vision in which art takes the place of religion in expressing and fulfilling our deepest longings.”

  4. Joan says:

    Secularisation does, of course, vary enormously across the country. Here in Newham only 9% of people describe themselves as having no religion. I am told, by a historian of religion, that 70% of Newham’s population regularly attend a religious service. Certainly it is hard to park in our street in Stratford on a Sunday as religious congregations attending local churches nab all the spaces. The Catholic church which is five minutes walk from our front door (and which is associated with the nuns who perished in the Wreck of the Deutschland – Manley Hopkins being a local lad) is standing room only. I suspect that equally there is not much museum visiting going on from Newham, a reflection of social class, of course. I know that when I have helped out with school visits when my children were smaller there were always children who had never been to the centre of town before.

  5. Joan says:

    Of course, Catholic schools are a real pull for a large number of people and having to have a certificate from a priest that you are a regular attender is key to securing a place. Then, of course there are Eastern European worshipers who have done so much to breathe new life into the Catholic Church in London and elsewhere. Alongside this local evangelical churches offer services in many languages. Many preach what is sometimes termed prosperity theology which offers this world rewards to people who often have very little. They clearly fulfil a need for people to find belonging.

    Further grist to your thesis is offered by a post from Dezeen today. It seems that so many people turned up for the opening of Amanda Levete’s MAAT museum in Portugal (around 15,000) that structural engineers ordered the closure of a footbridge allowing access. Must have been a source of both delight and horror to the museum’s managers!

  6. Two observations to add to this interesting correspondence. First, we have just returned from walking part of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrim numbers (of course an international community so a wider population than you were discussing in South Creake) have increased, extraordinarily, from c5,000 in 1990 to c250,000 in 2015. Of course ‘pilgrims’ undertake the Camino and other routes for all sorts of religious, spiritual and secular reasons, no doubt in common with increases in museum and gallery attendance.

    Having worshipped for 35 years in St Albans Cathedral and in the last five in a small west country church its not hard to see why those cathedrals which offer high quality liturgy, teaching and music attract very healthy congregations (and, on appearances at least, a healthy turnout of clergy) while country churches struggle with far fewer of those resources – and present a serious existential threat for the next generation.

    Oh, and a third: I broke the habit of a lifetime on our Camino walk to start a blog. Your model of frequent, short and mostly illustrated posts was the one I chose to follow. Thank you!

    • Yes, I see that Simon Jenkins is writing a lot about your middle point – which I particularly sympathise with having just been to a packed multicultural service for Zaha Hadid in St. Paul’s. And I agree about the mixed motives for pilgrimages. Must do it myself one day. Charles

  7. Joan says:

    We walked the Camino from the Pyrenees in 1995 before having our children. In those days you could easily get a bed in one of the refugios which dot the route and pilgrims were such a rare sight in some parts of Galicia that locals came out to stare at us! Some villages had only recently got electricity. I loved seeing the photos on DavidandSarahblog so thank you for that.

    Since I usually book online I often find myself with an online questionnaire to fill in after visiting a museum or gallery. They often ask questions around whether I see myself as a spiritual person and also about whether the purpose of my trip was to see something that inspires awe and wonder (or words to that effect). I presume that organisations like Morris Hargreaves McIntyre have a lot of data around this. Must be fascinating.

  8. Cross-posting (so to speak), I thought your observation ‘that under current plans someone like [Zaha Hadid] might not be given a visa to study in London, let alone stay here to work’ was particularly telling. The inclusion of students in the ever tougher visa regime is complete madness, and not only since UK higher education has become such a world leader and a major part of our economy. Awareness that we deprive ourselves of a highly effective route to future influence around the world seems to have gone missing in the current arid debate.

    The Camino: we walked the Portuguese route one of the delights of which is that, with its much smaller numbers, locals still come out to greet, redirect when one takes a wrong turning, and generally exude bonhomie and quiet pride that the route passes their door. Also that Portugal is still a poor country. (The blog started as a family affair but grew as we went along.)

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