God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience

By David Brown | Go to book overview

4 Placement and Pilgrimage

Dislocation and Relocation

In the previous chapter I used landscape painting as a way of illustrating how the natural world can function sacramentally. It is not that God speaks only in one way through the natural order but that significantly different types of experience tend to come to prominence in different epochs. In this, though, religion is no different from the rest of human thought. Some conditioning of expectation is inevitable, but that does not mean that there is no objective correlate any more than is the case in our experience of one another, in the workings of science, or in the perception of moral values. Here, however, as I turn to place, it might be thought that the parallel can no longer be sustained. At least with the landscape, it may be suggested, the focus was still on what could plausibly be seen as a divine creation whereas in this case, and even more so in the subsequent discussion of buildings, what we have are purely human artefacts. One possible response would be to appeal once more to the landscape, and note the way in which religious placement or building has traditionally identified with certain natural features such as mountains, rivers, and caves. But that would be to sidetrack us from the larger issue, the question of what happens when human imprints are imposed irrespective of unusual natural features.

Places can of course be given value for a multitude of different reasons. Sometimes the grounds are domestic (key family events), sometimes national (historical landmarks), and sometimes explicitly religious (where a couple were married, the hermitage of a great saint, the site of Christ's tomb, and so forth). Once again the temptation is, perhaps inevitably, to narrow the focus almost immediately onto the most obviously religious instances. But in my view that would be a serious mistake, for thereby no account can be taken of the possibility that any and every place that has a human imprint on it may actually have the potential to function sacramentally.

-153-

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God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • God and Enchantment of Place iii
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • List of Plates x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Sacrament and Enchantment 5
  • 2: The Place of Encounter 37
  • 3: The Natural World 84
  • 4: Placement and Pilgrimage 153
  • 5: Competing Styles 245
  • 6: The Contemporary Context 308
  • 7: Widening the Perspective 350
  • Plates 405
  • Interim Conclusion 407
  • Appendix 414
  • Index 419
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