Page 4, 26th June 1998

26th June 1998
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Page 4, 26th June 1998 — Church buildings exist for one purpose
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Church buildings exist for one purpose

BESS TWISTON DAVIES asks why so many beautiful Catholic churches are simply being left to rot her eclectic article did not give an answer. The question presupposes as a truth her opinion that this is indeed happening no such case is made.

Any useful investigative journalism should always seek to begin at the beginning Q: What is a Catholic church?

A: A building of a particular style ever evolving used for a specific purposd.

The real beauty of any Catholic church lies princi pally in its use the worship of God by his people. It is this activity of the people that gives life to the building and they in it are church.

Remove the people, the purpose of the building can no longer be fulfilled, and it is merely a building. Whether that building then has beauty or not is a matter for the eye of the beholder.

The article would seem to imply that a Catholic bishop can close a church overnight (on a whim). This of course is not the case. A proper process of consultation is required by Canon Law (515,1216,1222) arid this is usually only instigated with great reluctance when there is no viable alternative_ Bishops are in the business of opening churches!

Nevertheless we will inevitably be faced from time to time with redundant buildings that were formerly churches. What is to become of them? Are we to see ever more squash clubs and carpet stores with clock towers and steeples? Is such use really justifiable because it "is good for the building"? The heritage embodied in such buildings is much more than materials and design, and I would suggest that such profane use is a prostitution of that heritage of worship.

To come back to the beauty in the eye of the beholder. It is right to preserve as long as one can best examples of design and style that reflect culture. However endeavouring to preserve all is neither practical nor fruitful. Impractical because it can not be economically sustained, unfruitful because the ensuing plethora would prevent the appreciation of the best examples. Listing merely to prevent demolition is clearly a very questionable procedure.

Years ago an undertaker taught me a lesson on the occasion of an altar given by his family being removed from a church. "In my business you learn that all things come to an end. They live their life and then they die. That altar served the church well for many years and I rejoice in that, but now its life is ended and I don't argue with that".

Demolition is often a more fitting end than continuing as an adaptation that will always be an unhappy and often seedy compromise. When funding is available for a really suitable re-use of a former church building, this is to be applauded.

However the truth is less and less such funding is available, and in any event there will always be a finite limit to how many such. schemes can be viable.

Why are so manybeautiful . Catholic churches being] simply left to rot perhaps . because we are not allowed . to give them a decent burial. Joseph Crawford Mahon, Essex




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