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This review is taken from PN Review 45, Volume 12 Number 1, September - October 1985.

MARY'S PLACES A. M. Allchin, The Joy of All Creation: An Anglican Meditation on the Place of Mary (Darton, Longman and Todd) £6.50

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Lady Richeldis' little replica of the Holy House at Walsingham, Norfolk, had fallen into disuse and desolation as an Anglican place of prayer. Pilgrimage was out of temper with an age in which the earthly realm - the range of strictly human capability - had grown so enormously as to press the divine and spiritual back into inner space, private recesses with little purchase on the material.

Until the Tractarians restored some sense of its mysteries, nineteenth century Anglican theology found itself with a dilemma parallel to that of Marxism: a rigorous material base determining an abstracted superstructure; but with little sense of the process of determination, little opportunity for two-way traffic, little real contact between the realms. Christianity had become an ideology like any other; Christ himself was reduced to a disembodied or discarnate figure, perhaps illusory or mythical, at best metaphorical, in Michael Alexander's words 'a liberal wielder of ethical paradoxes'; the Holy Mother was no more than an incidental piece of anthropological apparatus.

Just as Marxism had to adjust to the times, so too did Anglican (and all Christian) attitudes to the Holy Family. Christianity could not hope to survive for long detached from the central mysteries of the Annunciation and Incarnation (which, far more than Crucifixion and Resurrection, represent the essential core). Inevitably, the evangelical distrust of Mary came to be challenged. As we know best from Four Quartets, Walsingham has not been silent ...


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