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Christianity - Creative Heritage

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz takes at look at creative heritage. As someone with an active interest in religions, and Christianity in particular, you may well be aware of widespread claims that 'we live in a post-Christian age'. That may or may not be true, in terms of church attendance statistics and demographics ... but there is ample evidence all around us of Christian influence on our architecture, institutions and cultural heritage.

It is only quite recently ~ still within the living memory of some ~ that regular popular church attendance seems to have begun to crumble against the rival attractions of sport, supermarkets and other leisure pursuits. Prior to that, many people in Europe and further afield were regularly reminded of Bible stories, their phrases and meanings, almost like a larger and richer version of a child’s trove of nursery rhymes and fairy- and folk-tales.

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They knew the structure and punchlines of the Parables, the almost rollicking tales of kings and prophets in the Old Testament, a repertoire of hymns (some ancient, many Victorian) and the standard prayers, the psalms and canticles; they knew one end of a church from the other, and its fitments and routines, and what was the message in much of the stained glass (possibly installed, at least partly, as a visual reminder for earlier generations ~ who had had less education and couldn’t read the Bible for themselves).

Yet there are buildings, images and turns of phrase that continue to resonate in the folk consciousness: not only the forms of words at emotional occasions such as weddings and funerals. As and when we see these ~ onscreen maybe, in news or a drama ~ many of us will recognise the reference, even if we make no great claim to being regular churchgoers.

This quiz dips into that Christian creative and cultural heritage. How much of it may already be familiar to you?

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  1. Once upon a time*, in an age before SatNav, travellers by road or on foot who were looking for a village (nestled in the hills &/or forest, perhaps) would know where or when to look out for it by recognising the Ordnance Survey map symbol for the church building at the likely heart of it, and watching for that to appear against the actual skyline.

    The symbol for a small chapel (such as a nonconformist one) would be a small plain black cross, but for a church as such, there would be another shape underneath the cross. What was the 'code' for recognising these at a distance?

    (* Way back in the 20th century, before you were born ~ if you are a potential GCSE candidate in or beyond the '20-teens'!)
    Apart from the surmounting cross itself, the symbols are quite logical: a tower would presumably have a square (or at least, cornered) cross-section, whereas a spire or steeple would be more or less circular in cross-section ~ since, taken as a whole, it would be in the form of a cone.
  2. One of the most famous and recognisable pieces of sacred classical music is the 'Hallelujah Chorus' from the first great English oratorio (an art-form that lies, in broad terms, somewhere between church music and opera), written by George Frideric Handel in the mid-18th century. The oratorio outlines, and reflects on, the major stages of the earthly life of Jesus. What is the work's overall title?
    'Messiah' is the title by which Jewish people believe God is yet to come again, but for Christians Jesus was already the one. The 'Hallelujah Chorus' is effectively a great fanfare of praise for His conquering death through the Resurrection. It is widely believed that King George himself was so overcome with awe at its first performance that he stood up, and everyone else present felt obliged to do the same ~ a practice quite often echoed during modern performances.
  3. Of which of the following creative and visual arts might you expect to see active evidence in a place of Christian worship?
    It would, of course, depend on the size and tradition of the building, but except in the smallest or sparsest you should be able to find examples of at least a few, possibly plenty of the above. Unlike some other faiths which prohibit likenesses of living things (including people) in their places of worship, many churches have for centuries had stained glass to remind congregants of key episodes and characters in the Bible. Even the simplest such building will have been put up 'to God's glory and in His service', as nobly as the faith-community's budget will allow. In the case of cathedrals they can of course be vast and elaborate, and richly decorated with all kinds of craftsmanship from soaring ceilings to vast pipe-organ cases and large co-ordinated sets of commemorative or inspirational kneeling-cushions for times of prayer. The sense of devotion can very much be a 'part of the fabric' as one visits and participates in worship.
  4. After Coventry's ('old', i.e. mediaeval) Cathedral was bombed during World War II, by enemy aircraft trying to destroy the local motor industry, a cross was made with three pieces from the old structure, and this has since become an international emblem for reconciliation and forgiveness. What items were salvaged to make this cross?
    Of course, nails were the 'other significant component' (than the two wooden beams) of the original crucifixion routine, making this all the more poignant
  5. If you were to ask someone you knew that had no particular grounding in 'religious music' as such, to name any such piece they could think of (perhaps something they had last sung along to at a wedding or funeral) ~ apart from the odd Christmas carol, perhaps ~ they might at least be vaguely aware of 'Abide with Me, 'The Lord's my Shepherd' and 'Amazing Grace'. This third piece has 'Gospel' overtones, and indeed refers to the fairly spectacular personal conversion of a former 'sinner': who was he?
    There is at least one very readable book under the title 'Amazing Grace' which tells this story in gripping detail. As and when you have researched it further, singing the song in future will give you rather a more resonant perspective on it!
  6. If you see any form of reproduction of an artwork (even ~ God forbid! ~ some modern parody of it) in which about a dozen men, probably bearded and in 1st-century clothes, are sitting around the far side of a long meal-table, with bread and wine prominent at the centre ... which Biblical occasion is this probably illustrating?
    This would be the final meal taken by Jesus with His Disciples on what we now know as Maundy Thursday (for them, originally, also the Jewish Passover), at which He offered the model for what has now become the Communion ritual of the Christian Church. There are many fine examples of this scene by great artists of the Renaissance and ever since, which you should be able to find without difficulty online or in works of reference.
  7. Another 'holy' image which we might rightly dub iconic, is of a robed-and-sandalled Jesus pausing in front of a half-overgrown doorway. He has a lantern with Him in the darkness, and a crown of thorns on His head, and He is shown knocking at the door. What is the correct title of this richly-painted, heavily symbolic 19th-century image?
    This is a craftsmanly, but instantly recognisable interpretation of Revelation 3:20 ('Behold, I stand at the door and knock'). Answer 2 was a complete fabrication, answer 3 is in a very broadly similar tradition but otherwise hardly comparable, and answer 4 was another made-up 'distractor' with strong echoes of Abbey Road (recording) studios in the 1930s!
  8. Which rightly famous organisation, that anonymously supports other people at their times of greatest personal crisis and need, takes its own name from the unlikely 'hero' of one of the Parables of Jesus?
    In Jesus' story, the only man who came to the aid of a traveller who had been attacked and robbed and left for dead, was 'a Samaritan' (i.e. from a neighbouring tribe to His original hearers, but who crossed the street ~ and the huge cultural divide ~ to rescue and look after him). When Rev Chad Varah set up his first phone line (using the then-new technology) with a kindred 'listen-and-help' aim in mid-20th-century London, he took the 'Samaritan' label to represent his organisation.
  9. Which of the following is NOT a phrase in modern English use that comes from within stories in the Scriptures (i.e. the Holy Bible)?
    Answer 1 refers to Jesus' teaching on forgiveness; answer 2 is from 'the Lord's Prayer' (His model for anyone's daily prayers to God); answer 3 goes back to Moses and his requests to the Egyptian Pharaoh to let the people of Israel emigrate and found their own nation-state in the Promised Land.
  10. Here are some song titles which you may well recognise (and you can sing or hum along if you like ... despite our splendid technology, we at this end very sadly won't be able to hear you)!

    But which of these, as with question 9, is NOT overtly inspired by Scripture?
    These, and many others, are splendid examples of what we can still (nowadays, just about) refer to under their correct musicological category as 'Negro Spirituals', in that they were originally created and sung by slaves of African origin in the New World. Their slavemasters, however cruel they may sadly have been, stoutly maintained that everyone on their plantations (etc) should be more or less Christianised, and the slaves ~ as you may imagine, if you care to consider it ~ latched onto many of the Old Testament stories of oppressed individuals and people (Daniel, the Hebrews, weeping Mary and others) and fashioned these into songs that resonated with their own bleak experience and hopes, using simple but noble and elegant tunes from their own heritage. In due course this tradition developed further into the Blues and other more mainstream forms of 20th-century popular music.

    For particularly iconic performances of some of these pieces, you might like to find recordings of Paul Robeson (a very interesting man in his own right, as you may discover), particularly singing versions in the arrangements by Harry T Burleigh. If those aren't evocative of 'Christianity within Culture', we'd be hard put to it to suggest more plangent examples!

Author: Ian Miles

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