Friday, January 12, 2007

Adopt a Gargoyle--And Save Good Will's Church

Stratford-upon-Avon. Its a rather idyllic place. I've been there on various occasions, sometimes to see the latest versions of the Bard's plays. But unfortunately while his plays and his theater thrive and go from strength to strength, William Shakespeare's home church is going to wrack and ruin. Between the deathwatch beetles (no not Paul or Ringo), the dry rot, the leaks and the likes, Holy Trinity Church in which Shakespeare and his wife Ann Hathaway is buried is going down for the count. The chief problems lie above, namely in the spire, the roof, not to mention some broken windows. The cost for the repair? A mere 5 million dollars. So the church is sponsoring an adopt a gargoyle campaign (you've got to love it). Of course the reason the medieval church (some 800 years old) is in these desperate straits is because of the decline of Christianity in England over the last 150 years.

Still, saving this church is a part of saving our irreplaceable Western heritage, and so I am happy to do my bit by advertising the dilemma here. You can check out the story at You see part of the problem has been the fear factor response of Americans to 9/11. American tourism to England is way down. So this is a way we can help, even if we don't go over there and visit.

Shakespeare was baptised in this church on April 26 1564. His name is recorded in the baptismal record as Gulielemius (the Latin of William), son of Jonathan Shakespeare. William Shakespeare was not only born and baptised in this place, he retired to Stratford in 1611. In 1605 he had bought the privilege of being buried in the church, in exchange for which he had set aside a fund to keep up the chancel. Alas, it ran out a long time ago, and since his works are in the public domain, the church gets no cut of the royalties from his plays. Like so many tombs with likenesses of the deceased we have a likeness of Shalespeare, looking, as one has described it, rather like a plump pork butcher, and there is indeed as well a famous epitaph---

"Good frend, for Iesus sake, forbeare

To digg the dyst encloased heare

Bleste be ye (the) man (who) spares thes stones

And curst be he (who) moves my bones.”

Since no one wants to endure that curse, it would be better if we sent some funds for the upkeep of the church. I'm betting where there a Will (and a love for his work), there's a way.


Peter Kirk said...

You wrote, "Of course the reason the medieval church (some 800 years old) is in these desperate straits is because of the decline of Christianity in England over the last 150 years."

While I accept that this is to some extent the reason, I would also suggest that the state of such churches is part of the cause of this long term decline (which has actually now stopped). The British church is burdened with hundreds of gothic etc buildings, often in a poor state of repair, which are not suitable for 21st or even 20th century church life, but are very expensive to maintain. Congregations are not able to replace such buildings or make significant changes to them. So they end up putting most of their resources into maintenance rather than evangelism or Christian service. Meanwhile the buildings, and the continual appeals for funds for upkeep, contribute to the general public perception that the church is out of date, out of touch, and out to get money.

I wish well to the appeal for Shakespeare's burial place. But if so it should be for a historical and literary memorial, and not for a church. I have no knowledge of this specific congregation, but if they are as I imagine, I would encourage them to sell their building as a museum which could no doubt make a profit from charging tourists to visit the tomb, and use the proceeds to build a modern worship centre which would meet their needs, but would be unambiguously dedicated not to Shakespeare but to Jesus Christ.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Peter:

I quite agree with everything you say. The National Trust is sometimes more of a burden than a blessing when it comes to such active churches I would imagine. There is only so much one can do with such buildings when there are so many preservation rules.