Monday, November 14, 2011


The earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand caused major structural damage to the Anglican Cathedral causing it to be condemned for safety reasons. Because it is a cathedral, before it was torn down, it had to be deconsecrated, that is, it had to be transformed from a place with special designation and recognition as more meaningful than other places back into a mundane building.

The act of consecration is fairly unproblematic. Because of an event that occurred at a place or a social need to conduct certain socially important functions, we specify a location and endow it with special significance. From the Vatican to Graceland, from City Hall to the Ben and Jerry's factory, consecration -- either secular or religious -- occurs because we do attach special meaning to places.

But is it really possible to deconsecrate a location? The people of Christchurch clearly understand the reason why the Cathedral needs to be torn down and no one is arguing that it shouldn't be. But it clearly still holds special significance for them. Jewish weddings end with the breaking of a glass, an irreversible reaction. Once the glass breaks, the world is different. It cannot go back to the way it was. Is consecration the same sort of thing? We move courthouses and churches all the time. Broadway theatres are renamed for more recent celebrities. Is it irrational romanticism to think that places cannot be deconsecrated or is a place, once endowed with meaning, forever?