Disco! at the Cathedral

Apr 14, 2024 by

by Dan Hitchens, The Lamp:

On a rave in Canterbury Cathedral.

On the train to Canterbury I am buttonholed by a tall, dreadlocked man.

“Are you Josh?” he asks. “No,” I say apologetically. “You’re not deejaying at the silent disco? I’m one of the D.J.s and I thought you might be one of the others on the WhatsApp group.”

“No, I’m going but luckily for the people attending—”

“You’re not deejaying.”

He gives me a broad grin and I return a sheepish one. Only the pleas of THE LAMP’s editors could ever have sent me to Canterbury Cathedral’s so-called Rave in the Nave, Britain’s ecclesiastical controversy of the moment. In total about twenty Anglican cathedrals have hosted, or are planning to host, these events in collaboration with the event organizer Silent Discos in Incredible Places. A group of protesters led by Cajetan Skowronski, a doctor from Sussex, has described the enterprise as sacrilegious; but the dean of the cathedral, who emphatically disowns the term “Rave in the Nave,” rejects such complaints. “Our 90s-themed silent disco will be appropriate to and respectful of the cathedral,” the dean has promised in a statement, adding that “cathedrals have always been part of community life.”

As the train enters the town, we pass a sign reading “St Dunstan’s Level Crossing,” and I remember again that the story of Canterbury is the story of English Christianity. That story begins, conventionally, in 597 with the arrival here in Kent of the monk Saint Augustine and his band of missionaries. But there were Catholics in these parts already: King Ethelbert’s wife, the Frankish Queen Bertha, worshiped in a little chapel which is still standing. The building is itself made of stone dating back to Roman times, so you can believe if you like that it was a chapel during those lost centuries when the Gospel first reached these shores.

In any case, it was Augustine who began the grand institutionalization of Catholicism. He founded a monastery, was installed as archbishop in the first version of the cathedral, set up a school, and appears to have helped re-establish Roman law in the land. He also founded a distinguished line of archbishops. In the seventh century, there was the cultured administrator Saint Theodore of Tarsus—under whose reforms, Bede tells us, “Never had there been such happy times since the English first came to Britain.” In the tenth, there was Saint Dunstan—abbot, scholar, mystic, and de facto prime minister, who once defied a pope’s attempt to compromise the indissolubility of marriage; who excelled at music, manuscript illumination, bell-casting, and metalwork; and who was a shoo-in, if you ask me, for the title of greatest Englishman. After the Norman Conquest, there was Saint Anselm, who combined in his supremely gentle soul the roles of miracle-worker and Doctor of the Church. Nineteen saints sat on the archbishop’s throne here, in the premier see of England.

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