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Exploring a 'Living Heritage' Approach to London's Medieval Churches


Renie Choy, St Mellitus

Initial Description

Whose stories do the places and objects derived from the history of Christianity in England represent? The teaching of church history has in recent years benefitted from an important broadening of curricula. Yet, a more immediate issue concerns the restricted engagement of ethnic minority students with the material remains of church history in this country, as demonstrated by their underrepresentation in the membership and governance of heritage bodies such as the Churches Conservation Trust, Church Monuments Society, English Heritage, etc. The problem stems from our continued dependence on traditional narratives about the meaning and value of historic sites and objects, which prioritise technical expertise, professional judgement, and interpretations centred on national history and identity. As long as the physical evidence of church history in this country are presented as ‘national treasures’, then stressing the global dimensions of Christianity alone will not address the marginalisation of ethnic minority students from significant dimensions of the TEI curriculum.

The project aims i) to understand the ways in which an individual’s protected characteristics and life stories affect their experiences and interpretations of a historic church; ii) to experiment with creative processes and responses which foster sense of belonging to it. The planned impact is to identify new directions for the presentation and interpretation of ecclesiastical sites which move beyond significance to national culture and identity.

Reflecting on themes related to migration, diaspora, race, conversion, missions, and other dimensions (class, gender, sexuality, ability), participants will identify how their response to an ecclesiastical site differs from, or supplement, expert assessments concerning its importance. Participants will submit a creative work (art, poetry, personal essay, fictional narrative, musical composition, etc.) and brief commentary highlighting an aspect of their experience and what a feature or object from their visit means to them. Employing recent theorisations about ‘living heritage’, this project expects both the processes and products of historical research to create new solidarities between marginalised groups and the traditional guardians of the CofE’s cultural assets.


For the outcomes of the project, see Renie Chow Choy, “Inclusive Heritage: Implications for the Church of England”, Religions 14.3 (2023)