Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Let There Be Kitsch

Site of the crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
For the summer pilgrim confronting tackiness, there is nineteenth-century Biblical scholar Charles Augustus Briggs's dismissive approach to Christian materiality:
The valleys of biblical truth have been filled up with the debris of human dogmas, ecclesiastical institutions, liturgical formulas, priestly ceremonies, and casuistic practices. Historical criticism is digging through this mass of rubbish.  Historical criticism is searching for the rockbed of the Divine word, in order to recover the real Bible.
And then there is Rose Macaulay's (via the main protaganonist in The Towers of Trebizond).
Bethlehem was charming and moving and strange, and one does not mind either there or in Jerusalem whether the shrines are rightly identified or not, because the faith of millions of pilgrims down the centuries has given them a mystical kind of reality, and one does not much mind their having been vulgarized, for this had to happen, people being vulgar and liking gaudy uneducated things round them when they pray; and one does not mind the original sites and buildings having been destroyed long ago and others built on their ruins and destroyed in their turn, again and again and again, for this shows the tenacious hold they have had on men's imagination; they were dead but they would not lie down.
I'll take the latter, please.  Garish or not, there simply are some places, as Eliot put it, "where prayer has been valid."