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

    Thursday, May 22, 2003
    Who we are and how we tread
    Pete Winn got quite angry at Jay Griffiths when I shared the contents of Tuesday's blog with him. It's all too easy to slag off the church in such arguments, he felt. And anyway, she's writing from a cosy middle-class position which would probably baulk at some of the expressions of 'carnival' we see on our city streets each Saturday night.

    This made me think that the opposition Griffiths sets up lacks necessary complexity. Actually the church and carnival have gone together, do go together, more than she recognises. In ways which Williams was getting at, and in (ah, that expression again), psycho-geographical ways too. Thus, I surprise myself by agreeing with an opinion article in The Telegraph, which rants at the decision of the Ordnance Survey to remove out-of-use churches from their maps of England.

    It seems the reason the OS have decided to do this is because these churches are of no 'navigational significance'. Presumably this means that if car drivers don't need to use them as landmarks to get to their destinations, they're obsolete. As the op-ed writer Kevin Myers correctly notes, many map features fall into this category - castles, Roman roads, for example. The loss is in relation to the role maps play in helping us relate, on quite profound levels, to the landscape:
      Over the centuries, [maps] have become two-dimensional accounts of the landscape, a narrative of about the people who once lived here: the mill which is no longer a mill, the tumulus, the rath, the henge, the old coach-bridge which has been by-passed, and which no longer serves as bridge. ...

      Maps allow a small communion with history, with habits and mores which are long gone: but they have left footprints in the landscape, and in those representations of the landscape which we calls maps, and which only a barbarian would not think worthy of retaining.
    He's right. For the OS sees fit to keep on including hill forts and ancient monuments on its maps, which give the reader an inkling of the spiritual, social inheritance he or she is tracking when walking that area; and that is to the credit of the OS and the enhancement of the reader's sensibilities. Churches may be less used, less 'useful' today but they too are signs in rock and stone, of things too rich to dismiss too readily - things about who we are and how we tread.