Friday, 4 January 2013

On two conflicting religious houses

t was a colourful sight that would live long in the mind of those who witnessed it that autumn day in 1846. The assembled clergy representing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in England had arrived in the Staffordshire Moorlands to assist in the consecration of newly built St Giles Church in Cheadle the inspired creation of architect Augustine Pugin.

The Morning Post of September 3rd 1846 commented on the clergy “All were habited in the full costume of their rank- exhibiting a solemn and imposing scene and it was impossible to witness it without the mind carried back to those ancient times”. Amongst the assembled bishops was Seraph Heliani the Armenian Bishop of Jerusalem with long flowing beard and dressed in oriental robes- an exotic sight for the people of Cheadle.

The newspaper did not hold back in the praise lavished on the newly opened Church.

“Bright and glittering colours, gorgeous decoration, beautiful paintings meet the eye on every side until the senses become dazzled”

I visited St Giles for the first time recently: it is a stupendous sight, undoubtedly one of the great British churches of the early 19th century. Whilst I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Museum opened to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Pugin. I marvelled that this architectural jewel could be in the Staffordshire Moorlands. I noticed that the visitor book was full of reverential comments. I added an appropriate quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Later my mind turned to another impromptu visit made in July to a place of worship diametrically opposite to Roman Catholic opulence .The Primitive Methodist chapel in Milldale was the place I thought of. It was built a decade before St Giles. It is unadorned, bare, but for me it was as much imbued with the spirit of God as the Cheadle Church. The visitor book was as full of positive comments as was St Giles. The chapel is set in wonderful countryside beside the Dove and I was alone. I sat in silence to hear the birdsong in the copse next to the chapel and the flow of the river. It was as much a glimpse of heaven as Pugin’s marvel