Friday, May 02, 2008

A Church as it Should Be: Studies of the Cambridge Camden Society

I have always had an affinity for private presses, for they often seem to publish the most interesting subjects. Shaun Tyas is a private British publisher who publishes many titles of interest, particularly of mediaeval and Gothic revival focus. Some examples of the titles this publisher offers are, Cambridgeshire Churches, Medieval Lincoln, Gothic to Renaissance: Essays on Sculpture in England, Temple Moore: An Architect of the Late Gothic Revival, to name a few.

Now none of these titles are my focus. Instead it is a title which I have mentioned on the NLM before, A Church as it Should Be: The Cambridge Camden Society and Its Influence, which was kindly sent to me for review.

Long-standing readers of the NLM will recall that I have touched upon the Cambridge Camden Society before in a review of Temples... Worthy of His Presence, published by Spire Books, but a brief re-review of the history and accomplishments of this society seems to be in order.

The Cambridge Camden Society, also known as the Ecclesiological Society, founded in 1839, was the architectural equivalent -- it might be said -- to what the Oxford Movement pursued in the realm of theology. Essentially, this Anglican society sought to re-order Anglican churches to bring them back to their more mediaeval English Catholic form. They were quite successful in their programme, for prior to their labours, many Anglican churches had been "re-oriented" towards a triple-decker pulpit with "pue-boxes" and galleries, with the altar and chancel left obscured and well nigh forgotten.

(Underneath the extensions, the galleries, the pulpit and the pew-boxes is a mediaeval English church. The chancel and sanctuary are just visible behind the "patron's pew" which has been built across the chancel arch.)

(Another example, better showing the orientation of the church away from the altar and chancel and towards the large pulpit)

That one's thought of a "typical" Anglican church ordering today is represented by what one would see in King's College, Cambridge, or Merton College, Oxford is a testimony to the success of the Society in changing the face of Anglican architecture back towards its Catholic echoes.

The Society's success might at least partially be attributed to its use of inexpensive pamphlets which were targeted toward multiple audiences; from clerical to lay, academic to non-academic. It is a lesson that might still be learnt from today by those working in similar circumstances in the Catholic context, seeking to re-enchant our parish church architecture and liturgical ceremonial.

Now whereas Temples Worthy of His Presence was a collection of primary sources -- some of the early pamphlets of the society -- A Church As It Should Be is a collection of essays about the Cambridge Camden Society, edited by Christopher Webster (who also edited Temples Worthy of His Presence) and John Elliott.

The contents of the book are as follows:

* 'Absolutely Wretched': Camdenian attitudes to the late Georgian Church
* The roots of Ecclesiology: late Hanoverian attitudes to medieval churches
* 'Fond of Church Architecture': the establishment of the Society and a short history of its membership
* 'Mummeries of a Popish Character': the Camdenians and early Victorian worship
* 'Blink by [him] in Silence': the Cambridge Camden Society and A.W.N. Pugin
* 'The Stuff of a Heresiarch': William Butterfield, Beresford Hope, and the Ecclesiological vanguard
* A trusted disciple: Richard Cromwell Carpenter
* George Gilbert Scott and the Cambridge Camden Society
* Three men in a gondola: Ruskin, Webb and Street
* 'One of whom we know but little': John Loughborough Pearson and the Ecclesiologists
* George Wightwick: a thorn in the side of the Ecclesiologists
* Re-presenting the Church Militant: the Camden Society, church restoration, and the Gothic sign
* Ecclesiology in Scotland
* Nonconformist architecture and the Cambridge Camden Society
* 'A Mass all Sung to Ancient Music': the Society's influence on church music
* A Camdenian roll-call [biographical notes on all members]

One of the most interesting essays is perhaps that of Roderick O'Donnell, an A.W.N. Pugin scholar, who considers the relations, including some tensions, between Pugin and some members of the Camden Society, which further puts Pugin's own work into the context of the times.

An essay by Geoffrey Brandwood which looks at Anglican worship in the Victorian period, considers the Camdenians in relation to John Henry Newman and the Tractarians of the Oxford Movement with a specific eye toward liturgical ceremonial. This includes topics such as the gradual advancement of Eastward facing liturgical prayer -- something not without controversy in those times, being deemed "Papistical practices" by the opponents of these movements. Likewise, Brandwood describes the struggles associated with the adoption of stone altars, and the arrangement of candlesticks and cross upon the altar. In all of these regards, liturgically concerned Catholics might today find some interesting parallels.

The same might likewise be said of Donald Webster's essay on sacred music, A Mass all Sung to Ancient Music, which examines the Camdenian promotion of Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony and the tension between that and the question of congregational singing, or the opposition to chant in favour of other choral styles.

Overall then, what we have here is an interesting compilation of essays, which, while not necessarily from a Catholic perspective in each and every case, is of Catholic interest.

A significant part of that interest relates to matters architectural of course, but it also seems to me that the reform of the reform movement can learn from the strategies of the Cambridge Camden Society. While the task of the reform of the reform can at times seem daunting, even overwhelming, it is pertinent to consider the opposition faced by the Camdenians, who yet at the end of the day, as J.M Crook noted in The Dilemma of Style, "had succeeded in transforming the appearance of every Anglican church in the world."

Whether that is hyperbole or no, the fact remains that they exerted a substantial influence, something which the various essayists in A Church As it Should Be capture.

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