by Chris Bertram on May 29, 2007

On the whole, ethnic stuff in English churches tends to consist of displays celebrating multiculturalism and interfaith understanding etc. So it was with some surprise that, when visiting Lichfield’s magnificent medieval cathedral I stumbled on this war memorial in the south transept. This in-your-face bit of Africa dates from just after the “Anglo-Zulu War of 1879”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Zulu_War (think Rorke’s Drift, think Michael Caine) and is just a teeny bit incongruous amidst the gothic widows and vaulted ceilings.

The whole Cathedral is magnificent by the way — there are other photos in my Flickr stream — and this isn’t the only cultural surprise. A memorial to Erasmus Darwin has the words:

“His speculations were directed towards problems which were afterwards more successfully solved by his Grandson, Charles Darwin, an inheritor of many of his characteristics.”



Matt 05.29.07 at 8:57 pm

Interesting stuff, Chris. Zulu is one of my favorite films, even though I can’t help but feel a bit bad about the whole thing.


thag 05.29.07 at 9:11 pm

why do the shields look as though they were made earlier this year out of old window-shuttters?

and it’s true about the two darwins–they look as like as two mendelian peas.


magistra 05.30.07 at 6:54 am

It depends what you mean by ‘ethnic stuff’ in churches. The tiny Sussex church I grew up attending had a memorial to someone who had died at ‘the ever glorious siege of Seringapatam’ (an Indian town captured by the British in 1799) and a memorial stone to a West Indian servant/slave (can’t remember the details offhand) of the local squire. If actual imperial artefacts aren’t there in the churches, it may well just be that they were too fragile to survive.


Chris Bertram 05.30.07 at 7:06 am

I meant artefacts from non-British cultures, basically. Obviously there are representations of Empire (including the odd stylized lion, tiger and elephant) but they usually form part of something that is more obviously British in general “feel”. This was a striking exception.


ajay 05.30.07 at 10:25 am

Ah, but did Charles Darwin write immensely long poems in heroic couplets about plant fertilisation? Or invent the liquid-fuelled rocket motor? I think not! Advantage Erasmus!


ajay 05.30.07 at 10:26 am

As for “ethnic stuff in churches”, there’s always the Koh-i-Noor. I wonder how long it will be before the Pakistanis (or the Indians) ask for it back…


Eric H 05.31.07 at 1:20 am

Ajay – keep that up and you might as well shutter the Collection of Things We Looted from Other Countries antiquities collections in the Louvre.


Eric H 05.31.07 at 1:21 am

Drat, the strikeout through “Collection of things we looted from other countries” showed up in the preview.


Rob_in_Hawaii 05.31.07 at 8:04 am

Visually, I like the juxtaposition of the Gothic-arched stained glass windows set off behind the Zulu shields, which seem to carry the same shape into the foreground. That connection, of course, only adds to those between the sacred architecture and the “primitive” weaponry, etc.


Tony 06.01.07 at 11:08 am

As a former Roman Catholic from Ireland, I still find the inevitable “soldiers’ corner” in Anglican churches utterly bizarre – the lists of names of those from local regiments killed in WWI etc, the union flags, and sometimes even pop-up displays about The Somme, and so on. It all seems very parochial. (One understands what Patrick Kavanagh meant when he said: “All great civilizations are based on the parish – Greek, Israelite, English.”)

Not to mention the pictorial portraits of royalty (Canterbury’s stained glass Royal Family photo, for instance, is particulary weird); I always wonder how I would feel about shrines to IRA veterans (say) in Irish Catholic churches – or portraits of Irish or Italian presidents or the King of Spain or Belgium! It doesn’t bear thinking about. A roll of honour from the local flying column? A copy of the Proclamation of the Republic?

I know the head of the Royal Family is also head of the C of E, but this only serves to make the experience even stranger. In all other respects, English Cathedrals are basically very “Catholic” – i.e. high church in feel, so the local stuff seems even more incongrous

I actually really look forward to visiting C of E cathedrals for just this frisson!

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