Saint Dunstan’s Cathedral

When Catherine and I first moved to Charlottetown in 1993 we lived at 50 Great George Street, right across the corner from Saint Dunstan’s Cathedral. As such our life was regulated by the ebb and flow of parishioners and our ability to secure on-street parking was determined by where in the ecclesiastical week our search fell.

Despite having lived so close then (and only a block away now that we’ve moved to town), somehow I’d managed to avoid actually going inside the Cathedral. At some point it became an odd point of pride, like Harry Baglole with the Confederation Bridge or Catherine Hennessey with the trans-Kent pedway.

Today, however, Oliver and I were driving home from the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market and had a little time to kill, so we ventured in:

Jesus Didn't Skate

Once you get over the whole “monotheism” thing, and the prohibition against in-line skating, it’s actually a rather pleasant space, at least in a “bow down before me you foolish and vain humans” kind of way.

Stained Glass Window Please do not blow out lit candles...

Comments

An Islander's picture
An Islander on August 26, 2006 - 12:45

bow down before me you foolish and vain humans”

Do I sense some type of insecurity or outright hositility toward the choice made by the vast majority of Island society who follow a Christian lifestyle and are devout worshippers? I’ve looked at Stats Canada too and admit that it’s changing, slightly, but Christianity is a central part of Island culture and why the place has developed the way it has.

You should be ever so thankful that as an Ontario import you’ve been accepted as you are. We don’t need CFA’s deriding our choices or lifestyle as this is what makes us detest the tourist and back-to-the-land or get-away-from-it-all-move-here types.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 26, 2006 - 13:23

Yes, you do seem very Christian and tolerant…

Another Islander's picture
Another Islander on August 28, 2006 - 04:23

Hi, Peter,

I’ve followed your website for a long time and I love it. However, I must agree somewhat with “An Islander“ ‘s comment. The “bow down before me you foolish and vain humans” comment was beneath you and unnecessary. [Please note that I don’t agree with “An Islander“ ‘s lofty assessment that you should feel thankful to be accepted as you are.]
Re your comments, why bother to visit the Cathedral in the first place if “monotheism” isn’t your thing? Surely monotheism is the whole point of building a cathedral in the first place. Would you visit a musuem and then say something like “once you get over the whole nostalgia thing, it was a fairly interesting place?” Your comment was patronizing and disrespectful. I expected more from a man of your obvious intelligence, humour and keen observational skills. Won’t stop me from enjoying the rest of your wonderful blog, however. Thanks for letting me share.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 28, 2006 - 07:51

A cathedral typically is a work of art, not to mention a public one, and I don’t doubt Peter shared his honest impression of the one in question. The quotation marks do not mean he’s claiming to know the intent of the artist or the way church members appreciate the building. I bet there isn’t an architecture student alive who hasn’t had to critique Le Corbusier’s cathedral at Ronchamp (one of my favorite buildings of all time BTW, although I only know it from pictures). You Islanders sure seem to take offense easily.

Mandy's picture
Mandy on August 28, 2006 - 11:38

Sometimes taking offense is a good thing… maybe this world would not being going to hell if more people took offense to things now and then (not referring to just this comment).

another islander's picture
another islander on August 28, 2006 - 17:47

Hi, Oliver,

Yes, a cathedral is a work of art, but one generally understood to be constructed to honour the glory of God. When Peter said it was a “pleasant space,” that was a comment on his impression of the building. “Once you get over the whole monotheism thing” and “bow down before me you foolish and vain humans” was not a comment on the artistic merit of the building. Would one go to the Sistine Chapel, look at the ceiling and say, “it’s really kind of a nice mural once you get over the monotheism represented therein?” It indicates to me a misunderstanding of the whole underlying purpose of the art contained in places of worship. I’m not offended. I just believe the comments were throwaway lines not worthy of the intelligent tone of Peter’s blog. Maybe he was just having a bad day.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 28, 2006 - 17:56

I think I mis-mapped the exact offense first time round. I guess Peter’s quote is not so much about St. Dunstan’s but about his general view of monotheistic religion, and it might seem to mock or assume superiority over religious believers. Feeling mocked could come from being characterized as prostrating oneself, which in our Protestant Christian tradition is undignified and even sacrilegious…unless “before God.” But I think the clergy would side with Peter with this one. The cultural tradition may say prayer and supplication are treated as private (e.g. something for beside the bed at night with the door closed, or to do silently in the pews), but I’d be surprised if that were an actual religious cornerstone—what with all the super demonstrative Christian denominations out there singing and dancing and speaking in tongues. I think devout moslems are supposed to be ready to put down a carpet and prostrate themselves over and over on the sidewalk, if that’s where they are at a time of prayer. That’s a noble or honorable act to them. I can’t help but see it differently, and culture has wired modern English in a way that makes it hard not to risk offense simply in describing the maneuver and mental state of a person who does it . “Prostration” seems kosher. “Obsequiousness” obviously doesn’t, even if that’s how it sometimes looks to me. Thus endeth today’s sermon.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 28, 2006 - 18:31

AI, our posts crossed paths. Yeah, I agree I probably went off on an irrelevant tangent there the first time. Hopefully closer to the mark on the second.

another islander's picture
another islander on August 28, 2006 - 18:49

Hi, Oliver,

Interesting comments. And you covered three of the great world religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism [the “kosher” comment]) in one paragraph!

Re: obsequiousness. The English language is very easy to misunderstand and oddly, as you say, two words may mean identical things but one seems more acceptable than the other.

The forms of worship even in just the Christian religion are legion. The Bible gives Christians some instruction, but the overall message seems to be that the actual form doesn’t matter as long as the heart is right.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:5

and
2. Matthew 6:2
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

AND
Matthew 6:16
[ Fasting ] “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

AND
Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices

oliver's picture
oliver on August 28, 2006 - 19:01

Just because it’s “generally understood to be constructed to honour the glory of God” doesn’t mean that’s not a partisan way to talk about that understanding, or that another understanding must be wrong, or that partisan-style talk should be the only socially acceptable way to talk. Note that people who do not believe in “God” do not believe in a “glory of God” or “God’s infinite wisdom” or “God’s grace” either. Even the verb “honour” in that phrase above is a bit partisan-leaning, because in its first sense I think we honor people, for whom the benefit of an honor often is largely the experience of being honored. Nobody receives this benefit in the case of a church “to honour the glory of God,” though, if we’re only talking about a collection of ideas.

Another Islander's picture
Another Islander on August 28, 2006 - 19:29

Honour” can mean many things; respect, integrity, praise, recognition to name just a few.

Even if one doesn’t believe in God, one can “honour;” in the sense of “respect,” the beliefs of those who do.

Yes, I speak about my belief in God in a partisan way. It’s because I hold that belief, and by that mere fact, am a partisan, no? Would not the only way to be non-partisan about Christian faith be if one was agnostic?

Also, if a person does not believe in God and therefore in God’s glory, grace or wisdom, it does not follow that those who were responsible for the construction of the cathedral did not build it for the purpose of honouring the glory of God. And part of understanding the artistic merit of that space would be in appreciating (in the sense of having a sense of respect and knowledge of) the faith that produced it. Whether one likes the art or not, is, of course, a matter of personal opinion.

Marian's picture
Marian on August 28, 2006 - 20:30

There’s no harm in joking about reverence. In fact, a little irreverence even towards, and especially among the Godly would help. Personally I think, if God exists, I’m sure he can take a joke. If he could not, he would not be perfect.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 28, 2006 - 23:14

Marian, God may be able to take a joke but certain sorts of Islanders have no hope of it. And where does one find one’s own pandering sycophant in this day and age? That is gold.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 28, 2006 - 23:45

Also, if a person does not believe in God and therefore in God’s glory, grace or wisdom, it does not follow that those who were responsible for the construction of the cathedral did not build it for the purpose of honouring the glory of God.

True, but only if “God” exists. Then if “God” exists, it indeed follows that any person who disbelieves in “God” generally must disbelieve that specific claim about the purpose of the builders, and so the claim pricks a bone of contention to the extent an analytical and literal-minded disbeliever is in earshot and chooses to be persnickety about the use of quotation marks.

Personally I think, if God exists, I’m sure he can take a joke. If he could not, he would not be perfect.

Amen to that.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 29, 2006 - 00:09

Would not the only way to be non-partisan about Christian faith be if one was agnostic?

That’s what we’re implicitly disagreeing about, I think. Those offended seem to assume that offense implies partisanship. I don’t. I think people can be touchy in way the infringes on other people’s ability to speak objective truths. Granted, there’s all kinds of matters with respect to which the norm is to avoid objectivity like the plague (e.g. re: “Does this dress make me look fat?”). It’s hard to know where to draw the line, just as it’s hard to know when to censor something from TV or radio for being “offensive.” Note though that church and state have been intertwined for most of the history of Western culture, so conventions of decorum are bound to be biased in favor of the religious folk, and that would be true even if they didn’t assume themselves righteous, which of course customarily they did. Note we have “In God We Trust” on money in the U.S. and “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Old habits die hard. Or so say the nuns.

another islander's picture
another islander on August 29, 2006 - 02:06

Oliver,

Note though that church and state have been intertwined for most of the history of Western culture, so conventions of decorum are bound to be biased in favor of the religious folk, and that would be true even if they didn’t assume themselves righteous, which of course customarily they did. Note we have “In God We Trust” on money in the U.S. and “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Old habits die hard. Or so say the nuns.”

Righteous” is synonomous with “good” in my thesaurus. You may mean “self-righteous” which is “smug.” You have made a blanket statement here which many believe to be true without proof, i,e„ that religious folk all assume themselves to be righteous. I don’t agree with you. All sorts of people of all stripes of belief assume self-righteousness, but not all people of any belief will think or believe the same way. My Bible tells me to constantly watch myself, not to think of myself as better than others, put others before myself. The so-called “Golden Rule” is a Christian concept(Hillel and Confucious also summed up their ethical teachings with the Golden Rule):

Matthew 7:12
…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Luke 6:31
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

In short, I believe it’s dangerous to assume all people of any group think exactly the same way. Christians are the whipping boys of the moment. Perhaps it’s our turn. Certainly other groups have gone through the same thing in past history. I think if you examine some of the great philanthropic activities in the world you will find people doing them because this is what Christ has commanded. Of course, as with any group, you will find those claiming Christ has told them to do some pretty horrific things in the name of religion.

I like your comment on nuns and habits.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 29, 2006 - 05:51

I don’t have a dictionary handy while constrained to one browser windoW on my PDA, but I’d look there first to know what “righteous” customarily means. ln my case I meant absolutely and irrefutably right. Also I’m sorry you read me as addressing religious folk generally and as excluding others. I was referring vaguely and implicitly to historic leaders acting under state and religious authority (e.g. anglo aristocrats) .I figured they were the tone setters re:decorum.

oliver's picture
oliver on August 29, 2006 - 06:00

Here’s how the American Heritage Dictionary defines “righteous”:
“1. Morally upright; without guilt or sin: a righteous parishioner. 2. In accordance with virtue or morality: a righteous judgment. 3. Morally justifiable: righteous anger. See synonyms at moral.”

Marian's picture
Marian on August 29, 2006 - 19:35

Alan sez “blah blah blah sycophant blah…”

It seems to me, Alan, that you can either kick me in the teeth for being too civil on your blog, or you can kick me in the teeth for not being civil enough, but you can’t do both. And you certainly shouldn’t do both while urging everyone to be nice all the time (which you frequently do).

For the record, I’m not over at your blog these days because *I

andrea's picture
andrea on August 30, 2006 - 05:52

Hi Peter,

I’m glad you finally took a look inside the Basilica. It’s an amazing piece of architecture, and the interior of the building has a lot of interesting elements. There are a great many stories to be told about it — the building, the history of the Diocese in the community, and the place of both within the community as a whole.

I was fortunate to be hired by St. Dunstan’s to be its tour guide many years ago — I spent an entire summer inside the church giving tours to people drawn into the building primarily for its formidable stance on the city’s skyline. Many people who arrive in the harbour find their way to the Basilica, drawn by the steeples towering over everything else — it is not uncommon for anyone to start their tour of a city by visiting its great cathedrals. They remain some of the finest examples of architecture in Western civilization and their existence transcends common day religious practices.

It surprised me at the time how little many of those who used the church paid much attention to the historical and cultural signifance of the building. Being there, experiencing it through the eyes of the visitors, really opened my eyes to what the building really meant in a broader context.

I am not a practicing Catholic, yet was able to communicate and share with a few hundred people the beauty of the building. It was the best summer job I ever had.

Thanks for reminding me of that!

Andrea

P.S. There are a great series of books for children on architecture by David Macaulay — there is one called Cathedral: The Story Of Its Construction that is a real gem and would be useful background for exploring any kind of religious structure.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 30, 2006 - 15:47

Actually I was referring to boy wonder in a car crash and not you, Marion, but your skills at giving shit are so wonderful I accept your punishment nonetheless.

Another Islander's picture
Another Islander on August 30, 2006 - 17:35

Very interesting post, Andrea. It encourages me to go see St. Dunstan’s for myself. Thanks.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on October 9, 2006 - 22:27

Alright:

1) The bible is full of reference to the multitude failures of humanity and humans (so’s the newspaper).
2) If I build a landing pad for an extraterestrial spacecraft then I’ve done exactly that — it matters not if such a craft exists.
3) Speech should be as free as possible unless it conflicts with professional obligation or,
4) …is likely to cause harm.

And from that I conclude:

Not only was the church built for the glory and honor of God [#2] but,

it does have a “bow down before me you foolish and vain humans” air to it, as the builders intended it to be [#1] — though that thought could be communicated less provocatively — and,

since the writer (Pete) was neither responsible to the paritioners, in the way the head of the Human Rights Commission was when he called those opposed to the Iraq war “peace at any cost appeasers”,

nor was Pete speaking to a Sunday School class [#4], then I see no issue at hand.

I see no issue with a magnificant building built with the combined power of pride, devotion, and coersion, and no issue with the comment “bow down before me you foolish and vain humans” which is simply artistic license.

But, as a ‘natural Islander’ I take offense at the “CFA” reference and the “we welcomed you to our bosom” comment; we’re all CFA, most likely including the Aboriginals since no evidence exists to suggest anyone ever lived here permanently further back than 400 years — a speck in time.

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