Saturday, 29 March 2014

When two myths collide

Even without my cultural academic hat on, I would roll around the floor laughing at this nonsense (see ) in which two delusions, almost equidistant from contemporary society, go all handbags at dawn.
So, as Harry Enfield would say, which myth is more important, religion or heritage? Only one way to find out......F-I-I-G-G-H-H-T!!!!
Just to put off-island readers in the picture... this is not really a church, and Cregneash is not really a village; together they are more of a film or theatre set. Until somebody in government paid a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum, then saw the potential of the “living museum” concept in the Thatcher era, Cregneash was just a farm next to a semi-abandoned chapel, known only to Gaelic language pilgrims because Ned Maddrell (a Manx speaker whose chance introduction to an Irish language academic in the 1940's kicked off attempts to save Manx Gaelic) used to live nearby.
And ever since the beginning of the village's commodification for Manx touristic purposes there have always been historically inaccurate “improvements” to the church to make it look more “authentic”. In reality, like any other working church, it is a mish-mash of odd little bodge-ups according to liturgical and national fashions of times when money, labour or materials were available.
In the late 1980's, and again in the late 1990's, my job took me to every tiny chapel and church on the island. Most, however threadbare, at least have an air of being loved and used. Someone regularly running a duster over the pews and brasses, flowers changed, scattered hymn books and bibles indicating that acts of worship actually take place.
Cregneash chapel, by comparison to most, is more like a storeroom for a few religious props. When I last had to know, it held an evensong every couple of weeks but no Sunday morning communion, because the potential congregation refused to attend when tourists were milling round the museum proper (i.e. when it might just have drawn in visiting Christians eager for a rural religious experience).
The only time in recent decades either looked well was when they became a fictitious Irish village for the film Waking Ned. For which the church had subtle changes made so it seemed more like a rural Catholic church (which it has never been) and the village telephone box was painted green to look like a proper Irish one, and was not repainted for years – even at a time when the Baillie Scott design of it was being played up in a row over whether to keep it.
Why was it never repainted? I'm told because a nationalistic element within Manx Heritage at the time preferred it green so that it wouldn't look English, even though telephone boxes on the island throughout history have always been red, like the postboxes.
That tells you all you need to know about the difference between “history” and “heritage”, just as the single figure congregation's rows with “church management” reveal how wide the gap is between Manx Christianity as an inclusive act of faith and an exclusive means of cultural practice.

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