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Hallo again to all.

The Crystal CathedralIn our ongoing quest to figure out what it means (if anything) to be Anglican, we asked friendly-looking people who were waiting for the train with us if they knew what 'Anglican' meant. By and large they didn't have any idea, but one particular response intrigued us. A gentleman with a briefcase in a 3-piece suit said 'Anglicans? Aren't they the people with those fabulous stone cathedrals in old city centres? Yes, Anglicans are those church people with the cathedrals.'

Obviously he was not an experienced world traveler, having never noticed any but Anglican cathedrals, but his notion intrigued us. Our interest having been piqued by learning of the possibility of a temporary cardboard cathedral in Christchurch New Zealand, we wondered what the word 'cathedral' meant in secular English. We asked a dictionary about the word 'cathedral' and here is what it had to say:

ca•the•dral |kəˈθēdrəl|
the principal church of a diocese, with which the bishop is officially associated : [in names ] St. Paul's Cathedral.

ORIGIN Middle English (as an adjective, the noun being short for cathedral church [the church that contains the bishop's throne] ): from late Latin cathedralis, from Latin cathedra ‘seat,’ from Greek καθέδρα.

Other dictionaries say it in variously different ways, but every dictionary we consulted let us know that the word 'cathedral', regardless of whether it was a noun or an adjective, was derived from the Latin word meaning 'seat' or 'chair'.

Woodland CathedralCarefully avoiding anyone who looked like a scholar, we asked a scattering of people about the word 'cathedral'. We were in a crowded tourist area of San Francisco (a city not famous for its devout populace) when we asked these questions. Nobody said anything about chairs or bishops.

One person, asked at a coffee shop, said that a cathedral is an extremely serious and pious church, and offered Southern California's Crystal Cathedral as an example. The Crystal Cathedral's 'About Us' page lists pastors, directors, authors, coaches, and chairmen; there is no mention of bishops or chairs without men. They do assure us that they are extremely pious.

Another person said that a cathedral was a special kind of place, and that the curved branches of tall trees lining a rural road were so much like a cathedral that it felt closer to God there. She said that her parents had in their house a Wallace Nutting photograph called 'A Woodland Cathedral', in which the tree branches arched like cathedral arches. To her, a cathedral was a building with high arches. We talked a bit about why arches might define cathedrals, but she wasn't sure why. 'Cathedrals are places with high arches that meet in a point; it doesn't even have to be a building.'

Continuing the theme that the essence of a cathedral is visual, another tourist noted that in Pittsburgh there is 'The Cathedral of Learning', which is a tall university building whose lower floors are built in a 15th-century Gothic style. It's called a cathedral 'because it looks like one'. We looked into it a bit, and to the best of our knowledge there are no worship services held in that building, nor any bishops' chairs.

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the AssumptionMeanwhile, back at the bishop's chair, there exist glorious cathedrals that haven't a vaulted arch anywhere in them, and aren't necessarily Anglican. We've always been very fond of the Roman Catholic cathedral in San Francisco, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. The locals usually call it 'Saint Mary Maytag', claiming that its spire looks like the inside of a Maytag clothes washer. And if you've followed Anglican news for a few years, you know about the destruction and rebuilding of the Cathedral of Saint Jude in Nunavut, in Canada, seat of the Diocese of the Arctic and called 'The Igloo Cathedral' by locals and news readers. Alas, we never managed a visit to Nunavut before its cathedral burned down in 2006, but we fully intend to vist the rebuilt cathedral after it is ready for visitors, presumably in a year or two.

Sadly, what we learned from this investigation of cathedrals and their Anglican nature is that we still don't know, and we will have to continue our quest for what it means to be Anglican. We'll keep you apprised of what we might learn.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 7 August 2011

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