In one passage on 'The Sacred Groves of Devon', Deakin goes in search of the 'Green Man' - the woodland spirit of rebirth often seen carved into beams in old churches - in various villages. He notes the oddity of having a basically pagan deity carved into the very supporting fabric of these ancient Christian places of worship - "nowadays such an inspired conjunction would be called 'multiculturalism'" - but then goes on to quote a great piece of Ruskin:
"Go forth again to gaze upon the old cathedral front, where you have smiled so often at the fantastic ignorance of the old sculptors: examine once more those ugly goblins, and formless monsters, and stern statties, anatomiless and rigid; but do not mock at them, for they are signs of the life and liberty of every workman who struck the stone; a freedom of thought, and rank in scale of being, such as no laws, no charters, no charities can secure; but which is must be the first aim of all Europe at this day to regain for her children."
I had never appreciated this before. In the hundreds of tiny country churches - many built around the 16th and 17th centuries, we see local communities expressing, through their craftsmen, their faith and spirituality. Later, as more grand projects emerged, the masons were still able to throw their personal touches into their work through gargoyles and other features.
Have we lost something here? Are the warehouse churches that we throw up or rent just bland, interchangeable shells for an equally bland and interchangeable God?