Triumphalist bad taste

(not a lot of linguistic interest, but some ick factor)

Severed heads are, regrettably, much in the news these days. In an only too topical piece by Dan Chiasson, “Heads Will Roll: The story of a morbid curiosity” (Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 2014, p. 93-6), a review of Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Found, by Frances Larson:

Power inevitably enters the discourse around heads, and especially the heads of tyrants. For centuries, one of the most prized collectibles on the market was the head of Oliver Cromwell, which had a metal spike driven up its neck and out the top of its skull. Cromwell had been buried in state, but his body was exhumed after the Restoration, subjected to posthumous execution, and decapitated. His head was displayed atop Westminster Hall for more than twenty years, until a storm brought it down.

Westminster Hall is the meeting place of the two houses of Parliament — that is, the center of government, here firmly identified as the province of the Anglican Church.

In a nutshell: the country went through two terrible religious wars: Catholics vs. Protestants, set off by Henry VIII; and then Anglicans vs. Puritans, set off by Oliver Cromwell. Some friction between Catholics vs. Protestants and between “chapel” (dissenting Protestants) vs. “church” (Anglicans, the Church of England) remains, but mostly the old antagonisms burned themselves out, though the Church of England is still the “established” church of the UK; in any case, religious observance in the country is way down.

Still, the Anglican Church is the established church, and the sovereign is the “defender of the faith”, the supreme governor of the Church of England. No matter how grand a Presbyterian church, or a Catholic cathedral, might be, the coronation of a new British monarch is going to be in Westminster Abbey, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Footnote: Princeton University, with its Presbyterian roots, nevertheless has a University “chapel” that is in fact a cathedral in design, and at least when I was an undergraduate there, had a Sunday chapel service that included the singing of the patriotic song “America” (“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”) — to the melody of “God Save the King/Queen”!

From Wikipedia:

The Princeton University Chapel is located on that university’s main campus in Princeton [NJ]. It replaces an older chapel that burned down in 1920. Designed in 1921 by Ralph Adams Cram in his signature Collegiate Gothic style, it was built by the university between 1924 and 1928 at a cost of $2.3 million.

… Its size and design evoke a small cathedral of the English Middle Ages. The only university chapel of its size at the time it was built was King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge.

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