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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, April 17, 2003
    Interpreting stones
     
    Very sorry to read that 3rd Stone is suspending publication with its Autumn 2003 issue. Since discovering it on a sortie to Kilmartin last year I've been an interested reader. I'm not a drude like Julian Cope but I do enjoy wandering around ancient sites, wondering about the folks who've wandered them before - centuries before: people we don't really have a clue about, and hours before: people we must have something in common with, Modern Antiquarians all.

    Anyway, the website has some good free downloads, including this one: Christian Landscapes of Pagan Monuments which explores the way the Christian church has 'interpreted' megalithic monuments over the centuries. Basically making one of two choices:
      [either] a negative choice leading to neglect and complete destruction, [or] a positive choice leading to their assimilation and a continuing use of their locations.
    - that means either abandoning the stones to farmers likely to make barn walls out of them, or putting crosses on top of them to turn them into churches. But it's more complex than that and so interesting to read the ruminations of early councils on this issue, as illustrated by this from Pope Gregory in 601:
      "we have been giving careful thought to the affairs of the English, and have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols among that people should on no account be destroyed. The idols are to be destroyed, but the temples themselves are to be aspersed with holy water, altars set up in them and relics deposited here. For if these temples are well-built, they must be purified from the worship of demons and dedicated to the service of the true God. In this way, we hope that the people, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may abandon their error and, flocking more readily to their accustomed resorts, may come to know and adore the true God."
    He presided over a more confident church, of course, than today's. Tempting though it may be to kick over the (pop) idols in the supermarket, it wouldn't be a positive (popular) move. But I quite like being around today having to step back from the likes of Gregory and, alongside our non-church neighbours, asking questions, seeking connections instead. Gregory again:
      "And since they have a custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, let some other solemnity be substituted in its place, such as a day of Dedication or the Festivals of the holy martyrs whose relics are enshrined there ... They are no longer to sacrifice beasts to the Devil, but they may kill them for food to the praise of God, and give thanks to the Giver of all gifts for the plenty they enjoy"
    Well, is there really much difference, in essence, between the two types of practice? (Discuss)