Friday, September 6, 2013

High Church and Low Church

I would love to visit these two places of worship...

The Southermost place of worship in the world (according to Wikipedia, which never lies-- but this seems contradicted in other places on the web) is the Catholic chapel on the Belgrano II Base, owned by Argentina. It's made out of ice!

And the Northernmost place of worship is Svalbard Church, affiliated to the Church of Norway, but serving all religions.

I will never see either of them but it gives me a pleasure to think that they're there. The very idea that you are at the "Ultima Thule" is exciting to the imagination. I also can't help but thinking that the inhospitable environment would make a sacred place, which always feels the most welcoming of environments to me, even more welcoming by contrast.

But it's more than that. There is a perennial fascination with far-off, ill-populated, isolated places where (we imagine) everybody knows everybody, protocol can be relaxed, the details of everyday life become magnified in importance, and the (quite stressful) embarrassment of choices that we have in metropolitan and suburban life is diminished. This might be a romantic idea, and it might not be accurate. But I think it's part of why the thought of a little church in a tiny, snow-covered, far-from-anything settlement is so pleasing.

For this reason, I never understand why improved transport and communications are treated as such an unmixed blessing.

(It's also part of the appeal of Anthony Trollope, who I mention because I'm reading him at the moment. It's the provincialism of his stories that is so satisfying. Apparently, I am not the only reader who feels that The Last Chronicle of Barset-- often considered his best book, and his own favourite-- always become duller when the scene shifts from Barchestershire, with its little feuds to gossips and routines, to London, with its fashionable cynicism and foppery and high life.)

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