Sacred Modernities: Rethinking Modernity in a Post-Secular Age
19 September 2009
Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Kings College London)
Sanctifying the Street: Resurrecting the Spiritual Lives of East London Inhabitants, 1880 – 1929′
In 1881 the Reverend Samuel Barnett, the Anglican vicar of Whitechapel’s St. Jude, proclaimed on a poster outside his church that there was ‘within you another life, a buried life’ waiting to be resurrected. He believed that urbanisation and industrialisation had caused the urban working classes to forget, or suppress, their religious selves. Yet inside every working man was a hidden, suppressed spirituality, thought Barnett, waiting to reconnect with their modern secular selfhood. In the same year Barnett along with his wife Henrietta established the Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibitions. Three years after they started these exhibitions their friends presented them with a mosaic of G. F. Watts’ ‘Time, Death and Judgement’. The mosaic, executed by Guilio Salviati, was intended to be a record of the yearly exhibitions and the Barnetts endeavours to brighten up their parishioners lives. They placed the mosaic on their church’s west wall which faced Commercial Street where any passer-by would have caught a glimpse of ‘Time, Death and Judgement’. This paper will consider how the Barnett’s sought to enchant urban space. It will therefore expand on pervious studies of the Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibition to examine how their religious aestheticism moved beyond exhibition space and into the street. Unfortunately the mosaic can no longer be observed on Commercial Street. Falling church attendance at St. Jude’s in the interwar period meant that when the church was demolished the mosaic was also taken down. Yet it presence on the cultural landscape illustrates how some Victorians including the Barnetts attempted to enchant and sanctify the modern period.
Picture: The Mosaic and Fountain on the West Wall of St. Jude’s Church, Commercial Street, Whitechapel, c.1920. Tower Hamlets Local Library, 221.24.
Lucinda Matthews-Jones has recently submitted her PhD thesis entitled ‘Centres of Brightness: The Spiritual Imagination of Toynbee Hall and Oxford House, 1884-1914’. She is presently working at King’s College, London as a Research Assistant for the AHRC knowledge transfer project ‘Building upon History: The Church in London, 1790-1939’. Her first article ‘St. Francis in the Settlement: Imagining a Modern Monastery for East London’ will shortly be published in Sean Brady’s What is Masculinity? Historical Perspectives and Arguments.