Ancient & Modern

By Jones, Peter | The Spectator, November 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Ancient & Modern


Jones, Peter, The Spectator


A RECENT book on English country churches makes the radical suggestion that churches should be regarded as museums and filled with modern religious art. 'Radical' comes from radix, ,root, source, origin', and, like all the best radical thought, returns us to our roots.

Religious sites have, in fact, been museums for thousands of years. The reason is that ancient sanctuaries and temples attracted offerings to the gods, and therefore objects of the highest interest, value and aesthetic merit. The Greek poet Herodas (third century BC) writes a delightful poem about two ladies visiting the temple of Asclepius on the island of Cos. They hurriedly make their offerings to the god and then get down to business, viewing the fabulous collection of sculpture and art on display.

One cannot be surprised. Greek sanctuaries were filled with thank-offerings from grateful patrons. The fifth-century Greek historian Herodotus reports seeing at Delphi, home of the financially very successful oracle, a throne of Midas of Phrygia (c. 700 BC), six gold mixing bowls given by Gyges of Lydia (fl. 660 BC), weighing some 1,730 lbs, and a gold lion from Croesus of Lydia (fl. c. 550 BC), weighing 375 lbs.

Sanctuaries secured mythological collections that celebrated the great achievements of the heroic past. …

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