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Christ Church Cathedral in 25 Objects: Monumental Mistakes

Written by Andrew Bunch, posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2020

MonumentMonuments to people who have died are a common feature in our older churches and cathedrals in this country. As cathedrals are grander buildings than parish churches, it isn’t surprising that the monuments in a cathedral are grander than those you will find in an ordinary parish church. But don’t make the mistake that the grander the monument, the more worthy the person that is being commemorated. The opposite is often the case, especially in this cathedral, for genuinely great people don’t need to make a big thing about themselves.

When people choose to put up a monument, it is common practice to state what status and position the deceased achieved in their lifetime in glowing terms. Great things are remembered whilst the more mundane parts of their life are passed over. This tendency fits with the sentiment that if you are going to have a monument erected in a cathedral you must have been a really good person who achieved great things in their life. Although this attitude might inspire people to strive to be good and only present their best qualities to others, this approach to life isn’t consistent with Jesus’ teaching or the way he interacted with people.

The heart of Jesus teaching was about Love, Humility and Forgiveness. He taught that the purpose of life was not to try and impress God by your good works but instead to allow God’s love to flow through you into the wider world. Jesus accepted we make mistakes, so perfection and being good are not the primary aims of life, but this hardly ever comes across in the monuments in a cathedral.

Monument MistakeThere is one glorious exception in this cathedral in the memorial to Johannis Fanshawe in the North aisle. The sentiment is not conveyed in the wording of the monument, but it is in the lettering. When the monument was first carved, a W was mistakenly carved as a V V. Maybe the person who was carving couldn’t read but he could cut beautiful letters. There was an attempt to cover up the mistake, how very human, but the passage of time has revealed the error in all its glory!

The fact that this mistake is preserved in this monument is a triumph of  Jesus’ teaching over the convention that “you have to be good if you are to have a place in God’s house”, especially when it is a cathedral. Mistakes happen in life. So often we don’t admit them, we try to hide them, but is this God’s desire? If we can accept that we make mistakes, we are beginning to accept our true reality and recognise what it is to be loved by God. Once we know this, then we can afford to be a bit more generous in the way we judge others and allow God’s love to flow though us and make the world a more beautiful place in which all of us can live together in peace and harmony.


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Andrew Bunch is an Honorary Canon of this Cathedral. He is gradually realising that we learn most in life by acknowledging our mistakes and that in a perfect world we will never discover the reality of God’s love.