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BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON

HISTORIC CHURCHES

23

RD ANNUAL EDITION

3

TO RESTORE OR

NOT TO RESTORE?

John Darlington

M

Y FAVOURITE heritage-related

advertisement is for a castle

that shall remain nameless.

The over-exuberant marketing executive

declares it to be ‘the most ruined castle

in England’. But there are walls, doors

and openings for windows… ruinous,

certainly, but ‘most ruined’ requires a field

devoid of anything, a blank canvas with

no trace remaining of its presence.

My point is that the trajectory of the

past is always towards complete ruination.

Natural processes of weathering and

decay play a fundamental part, but

these are hastened by economic decline

or growth, natural disaster, loss of

relevance, apathy, even war. Churches

and places of religious significance are

witness to all these forces, albeit to

varying degrees. At the same time, they

are hugely significant cultural markers,

part of the fabric of life in the UK,

whether you are a believer, an atheist

or an agnostic. So the slowing down

of that process of ultimate ruination,

through conservation, restoration or

even reconstruction, reveals a great deal

about the value we place on culture.

The role of religion in shaping the

landscape of today’s society cannot

be overstated. In the UK nearly every

village will have a church or chapel.

The place-names in our countryside

glebe

,

kirk

,

capel

,

llan

,

stow

– reflect

that importance. Such is their ubiquity

that the classic UK Ordnance Survey

St Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry: the medieval building was heavily bomb-damaged in November 1940 and its remains now co-exist with Sir Basil Spence’s remarkable

modern cathedral, completed in 1957. (Photo: Jim Varney)