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Hallo again to all.

Not long ago we found ourselves in Palo Alto, California, traveling past the house that Steve Jobs lived and died in. His widow still lives there, and the grounds of this pretty house are very nicely maintained. There were half a dozen people in front of it on a windy weekday afternoon, all with camera phones, taking pictures of themselves standing in front of the house as if it were a shrine. We mentioned this to a colleague who lives in that neighbourhood, and his response was surprising. 'Dozens of people every day, sometimes as many as a hundred, stop to gawk and photograph themselves in front of the Jobs House. It has become a shrine.'

We were at first a little startled; if nothing else, we thought that the ubiquitous and iconic Apple Stores were the shrines to Mr Jobs. After reflecting on it for a long while, we realized that the house had become not a shrine but a roadside shrine.

Formal and official shrines erected to saints and martyrs of the Christian church are something one sees here and there all over the world. There are myriad shrines to the Blessed Virgin Mary in most Roman Catholic countries, but typically there is just one official shrine to St Whomever, or perhaps one shrine per country. But there are hundreds or thousands of roadside shrines.

We've seen roadside shrines in almost every country we've visited. The style is regional: roadside shrines in, say, Argentina have a style to them that one doesn't see in Mexico or Greece. In Mexico every roadside shrine we've seen was dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. In South American countries the roadside shrines often have a less formal dedication, perhaps to Gauchito Gil or Difunta Correa. It varies widely.

In continental Europe, roadside shrines have a strong Catholic style to them, and are almost always dedicated to an official saint or to Jesus. From time to time an innkeeper has told us that a nearby roadside shrine has been there for centuries, lovingly maintained by descendants of its original builders. These are not piles of wooden sticks.

A roadside shrine is not the same thing as a roadside memorial, though both probably come from the same place in a human heart. Roadside memorials are placed at the spot where someone died, and serve a purpose somewhat like that of a gravestone*. We've seen white 'ghost bicycles' attached to roadside memorials that mark the spot where a bicyclist died. Roadside memorials are never official and are probably considered a public nuisance by highway authorities.

An aside: the most poignant roadside memorials we've ever seen were along the Oregon Trail in the USA. Years ago we took a month-long 2000-mile 'camping trip' from Missouri to Oregon, following the path of the Oregon Trail over which half a million people emigrated westward after gold was discovered in California in 1849. Many of the emigrants died, especially children, and the dead were buried as best as could be done. Memorials were made of cattle bone or hand-sculpted adobe mud or simple cairns. In those places where the trail has not been overrun with roads and housing, hundreds of those sad markers still exist, a century and a half later.

Back to shrines. There are roadside shrines in Anglican countries, but every one that we've ever gone to visit has been a Roman Catholic shrine. There may well be Anglican roadside shrines, but we've not seen one. In the USA the roadside shrines that we've seen are either in a Mexican style, a French Catholic style reminiscent of New Orleans, or a Southern Baptist style. An Episcopal roadside shrine in the USA? Never seen one. A roadside shrine in England commemorating someone in the Church of England calendar? Never seen one. Perhaps they once existed, but Cromwell knocked them all down?

Have you ever seen an Anglican roadside shrine? If you have, please tell us about it. We're anxious to know.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

18 May 2014

*Though they are not gravestones, since the victim is not buried there.


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