The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World

The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World

by Keith Anderson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819229960
Publisher: Church Publishing Inc.
Publication date: 05/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 534,786
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Keith Anderson is an ordained Lutheran minister and recognized expert in using social media and digital strategies for enhancing church life and mission. He is pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia. He lives in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

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The Digital Cathedral

Networked Ministry in a Wireless World

By Keith Anderson

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2015 Keith Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-2996-0



"The story begins on ground level, with footsteps."

Michel de Certeau

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP of Canterbury Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking. Looking out from Bell Harry Tower, the view extends to the horizon in every direction, with the English Channel to the south and London to the west. From the top of the 235-foot tall bell tower, even the enormous nave of the cathedral seems small. Further down below the nave lies the town of Canterbury, founded by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago. The Roman walls still mark the circumference of the city center, encompassing a street plan that largely dates from the Middle Ages. There is layer upon layer of ancient, medieval, and modern history in Canterbury, and at the center of it all, just as it has been for more than fourteen hundred years, is the cathedral. After soaking in the view from the tower, I headed down inside the cathedral, entering through the western portal, moving slowly eastward through the nave, the transept—where the two axes of the cathedral intersect, the choir—where wooden stalls serve as seating for worship leaders, the high altar, and finally to the Trinity Chapel. The cathedral interior is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The vaulted ceilings seem to rise all the way up to heaven as light pours into the space through the tall stained glass windows. Every surface is covered with highly detailed artwork, which all together proclaim the glory of God and reflect the beauty of heaven. It nearly overwhelms the senses and the soul. After taking in this celestial experience, I exited the cathedral and meandered through the streets surrounding the cathedral precincts checking out the local shops and cafés, marveling at how the modern rhythms of life pulse through this medieval town.

Like other pilgrims in this digital age who can't make a physical journey to the storied religious site, I took this excursion through Canterbury online—from my laptop, sitting at my dining room table—taking a virtual tour on the cathedral's website and checking out the city on Google Street View. It is a far different pilgrimage than that of Chaucer's pilgrims to Canterbury: the knight, the miller, the cook, the pardoner, the wife of Bath, and the parson, of The Canterbury Tales fame, traveling to venerate the shine of the murdered archbishop, Thomas Becket. Nonetheless, the advanced technologies used to create the virtual tour make the cathedral accessible for digital pilgrims like me. There's another important difference: Chaucer imagined the fictional characters of the Tales in Canterbury. My pilgrimage was neither fictional nor, in the sense of grounded, embodied experience on High Street, exactly entirely "real" in any conventional pre-digital sense. It's not quite the same as being there with travelling companions, hearing choral music echo through the great building, but the high resolution and three-hundred-sixty-degree views of the cathedral provide some sense of immersion and the ability to linger over the fine details of the cathedral's art and architecture.

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the greatest and most beloved cathedrals in all the Church. It is the mother church of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. And, subtly to remind you of that, Canterbury Cathedral's Twitter handle is @No1Cathedral. When I learned that, I tweeted "Love that Canterbury Cathedral's Twitter handle is @No1Cathedral #werenumberone ...," which the cathedral favorited, and to which the dean of Durham Cathedral, Michael Sadgrove, replied "But NB this cathedral has six times as many Twitter followers. It's not a competition. @durhamcathedral" Not a competition at all! Here, at the outset of this project and in the spirit of my digital pilgrimage, I was able to cross three thousand miles with a single tweet and connect with both Canterbury and Durham Cathedrals, which became, then, an occasion for them to engage in some playful digital ribbing.

This brief exchange had the effect of making this book project and cathedrals themselves much more personal for me. These were no longer distant, historic buildings and institutions to be studied, but real places and real people to be understood and engaged. It engendered in me a genuine affection, which sustained and informed my work. Months later, as I was finalizing my manuscript, I had the occasion to correspond with the staff of the Canterbury Cathedral archive. They were incredibly helpful and gracious. And so, nearly six months to the day after that first exchange, I tweeted back to Canterbury once again, this time expressing my gratitude: "Cool book writing moment: corresponding with the very helpful @No1Cathedral archives today for research on @thedigcathedral." Our relationship, like this project, had come full circle.


Exploring these sorts of digital relationships draws on the ethos of cathedral life that goes back at least to the early Middle Ages. Although the origins of Canterbury Cathedral can be traced as far back as 597 CE, we will look particularly at the era from the eleventh century through the end of the twelfth century. It was a defining time for Canterbury. In 1067 the Anglo-Saxon iteration of the cathedral was burned and completely destroyed by Vikings; it would take a decade to rebuild it under the direction of Archbishop Lanfranc. When he arrived in Canterbury from France in 1070, "Lanfranc found a community in a ruined church holding their services by the tomb of St. Dunstan, huddled under the eleventh century equivalent of a tarpaulin." The new Romanesque-style cathedral was completed seven years later, and a series of building improvements immediately ensued under the direction of Prior Conrad and Prior Wilbur.

Prior Wilbur is not one of the great legendary figures in the history of Canterbury like Lanfranc or Thomas Becket, but he made enduring and important contributions to the cathedral and its history. One of those contributions is a drawing of the system that supplied the cathedral precincts with water. Known as the Waterworks Drawing from the Eadwine Psalter, it dates from around 1167, the last year Prior Wilbur was Abbot of Christ Church, and illustrates how water was piped in from a spring outside the city walls to the water tower that still stands on the northeast side of the cathedral to be distributed throughout the precincts.

The color-coded plan, using green for fresh water, orange-red for used water, and red for sewage, shows how the water flowed into the cathedral precincts first to the water tower and from there to the infirmary, then to the great cloister, where monks could wash before services, on to the lavatorium, and then out to the kitchen, bakery, and brewery, before being deposited into the fishpond. From there it was carried back to flush away the waste at the necessarium (the monastic latrines) and finally emptied into a city ditch. Looking at the drawing today, the lines indicating the location of pipes seem more like lines of fiber optic cable networking the buildings to one another. Indeed, the Waterworks plan shows just how interconnected the cathedral was to its precincts—the buildings immediately surrounding it—those who worshipped and worked there, and the town of Canterbury itself.

The Waterworks may not have been remarkable in its engineering compared to other monasteries. However, "what is exceptional is the quality of the cartography by which they are recorded. Decorative and apparently accurate, it constitutes most of the evidence for the disposition and architecture of the cathedral and monastic buildings in the mid-twelfth century." It is so accurate that "if we were to cut around each building, the drawing would become a pop-up model for the monastery." But it's notable for more than just its accuracy. Maps—especially, as French philosopher Michel de Certeau notes, medieval maps—are not just static documents, but communicate movement, an active story. He writes, "What the map cuts up, the story cuts across." The Waterworks Drawing opens up for us a larger story of life and people in Canterbury.

Take, for instance, the story of Ingenulph the plumber, who worked for the monastery during this time and probably helped to maintain the Waterworks. He made twenty-five shillings a year as the staff plumber, a trade he inherited from his father, Norman. He lived near Burgate with his wife Eldrith, herself a brewer (a common job for women at the time). She supplied the monastery with beer for eight pounds a year, four times her husband's annual salary.

Or, meet Feramin the master physician, who tended to sick monks in the infirmary, also served by the Waterworks. He was among the wealthiest citizens of Canterbury, one of only about thirty residents who could afford to live in a stone house. He is reported to have had two religious visions of St. Thomas Becket— one in the cathedral crypt, which he saw filled with young queens weeping for Thomas' approaching death, the other near the former bell tower as the monks made their procession at Pentecost riding through the precincts of Canterbury, again foretelling Thomas' future glory. Later, he would found the hospital of St. Jacob for leprous women near the part of town called Wincheap.

Then there is the story of Godefrid, who worked in the bakery indicated on the Waterworks, along with his co-workers Roger and Walter. He lived on Orange Street not far from the Christ Church Gate, and tended a couple of acres outside the city walls. He was married with three sons. His family was also touched by the cult of St. Thomas. It is said that his sons were cured by the touch of a rag that had been dipped in Thomas Becket's blood when he died. In fact, "one of the early Miracles of St. Thomas is the recall to life of the dying child of Godefrid the baker, by virtue of the holy blood, while the saint saved two other children in this somewhat sickly family." Godefrid was also the notorious ring-leader of a revolt by the monastery servants against the cathedral monks in 1188.

These snapshots of the real and complex lives of average people in Canterbury are not the ones typically found in official histories of Canterbury or other cathedrals. These stories are compiled from medieval rental records of the priory of Christ Church dating from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Canterbury was administered by Christ Church Benedictine monastery until the mid-sixteenth century, when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries during the English Reformation. The monks were responsible for the construction and care of the cathedral, as well as the administration of the cathedral properties.

It is estimated that the monks of Canterbury Cathedral were the lords over between one-third and one-half of all the domestic property in Canterbury, collecting rents and recording payments— and they kept all their receipts. Thus, many of the three thousand or so residents lived as tenants of the cathedral. The stories of Inguelph, Feramin, Godefrid, and their families begin to open up for us the life of this thriving town of three thousand souls, which,

By 1234 had at least two hundred shops, ranging from "holes in the wall" to more substantial edifices, of which over a hundred owed rent to Christ Church. There was a full range of markets— cattle, butter, fish, timber, oats, salt, and perhaps wine—some of which have left traces in the present day topography (Wincheap, Oaten Hill, Salt Hill) and the various trades and professions necessary to service the monastic communities within and without the city walls as well as the citizens: butchers, bakers, brewers, mercers ... saddlers, wool merchants, weavers, plumbers, masons, glaziers, and carpenters.

Along with the cathedral and Christ Church monastery, there were two other monasteries, a convent, twenty-two parishes with eighty priests, and even a synagogue spread throughout the city. There were potters, masons, millers, bakers, spinners and weavers, mercers (cloth traders), metalworkers, tanners, butchers, shopkeepers, the poor, goldsmiths, and government officials. Although marriages and baptisms and much of the worship life in Canterbury were celebrated in local parishes, as we have seen, many of these people were connected to the monastery and cathedral through rental obligations. Many others were also connected by their work constructing or servicing the cathedral building, commercial dealings, family ties to particular monks, or religious and spiritual devotion. Throughout the cathedral's history, it and the town have had a symbiotic relationship. Today, the city's identity and self-understanding continue to be shaped by the cathedral.

It's almost impossible for us today, cloistered and separated as we are in our private homes and widely distributed workplaces, to imagine the expansive and profoundly interconnected nature of life in a cathedral town such as Canterbury (or, of course, Durham). Here, people lived life fully "in cathedral"—in relationship to one another within an expansive, everyday understanding of "church." The phrase "in cathedral," coined by Elizabeth Drescher, is a play on the term ex cathedra, literally "from the chair" of the bishop installed in the diocesan church—that is, speaking from his official station. By contrast, "in cathedral" speaks to the often overlooked spirituality of everyday life in Christian community in distinction from the formal spirituality of the institutional church. As we begin to see all of life as "in cathedral," we move from the historical equivalent of the virtual tour on the cathedral website, standing high atop the cathedral bell tower, looking at the surrounding town from a distance, to something more akin to Google Street View, taking in the everyday life that surrounds and shapes the cathedral.

* * *

This all became embodied for me as I was sitting at a table in the sidewalk patio of the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a small café, at Amsterdam and 111th Street in New York City. I had stopped at the café for a quick bite before a day of exploring the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the third largest church in the world. As I enjoyed my coffee—and an utterly life-changing cheese Danish—while gazing across the street at the massive cathedral, I watched the neighborhood of Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side of Manhattan spring to life. Delivery trucks and tour buses had already begun stopping outside the cathedral. So had the traffic cops who were keeping tabs on them. Dog walkers were on their beat, as were young parents outfitted with chest-mounted baby carriers. A fruit and vegetable stand was set up just across the street to entice visitors and locals. Early morning cathedral visitors were flowing back and forth to the pastry shop, taking in both spiritual and physical nourishment. The cathedral and pastry shop offered something of both. In fact, the first religious artwork I saw that day was not at the cathedral, but the pastry shop itself, as paintings of angels and the mystical covered the exterior of the shop.

This would be my first visit to St. John the Divine and I planned to spend the entire day absorbing life "in cathedral" here. I took two tours and attended the daily noontime Eucharist, but, mindful of Wilbur's Waterworks, I was equally interested in exploring the surrounding neighborhood. Like Canterbury and its cathedral, St. John and the neighborhood of Morningside Heights grew up together, the development of both dating from the late nineteenth century. For some time the neighborhood was referred to as Cathedral Heights. Still today, West 110th Street, and the subway stop along it, is known as Cathedral Parkway.

Just outside the doors of the cathedral—its modern-day precincts—are Mt. Sinai St. Luke's hospital and emergency room, the Engine 47 fire company, a convalescent home, and an assortment of apartment buildings, restaurants, and cafés. In the surrounding blocks, students from nearby Columbia University hustled off to class. Homeless people with shopping carts stuffed with bags sat at the entrance to Morningside Park. During my tour of the neighborhood, I would walk past a small neighborhood street fair, a farmers' market, and softball games in the park—people and places that all fell "in cathedral."

The stories I heard on my tours inside the cathedral—stories of its history, art, and architecture—continually pointed outside the cathedral to the city. There were stories of local artists and work they had done not just in the cathedral but also throughout the city, such as the famed Guastavino tiles that also adorn the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, public bath houses, and subway stations. With my companions on the cathedral tour, I learned that the crypt below the nave of the great cathedral was home to, of all things, a basketball court where children from the cathedral school played and where meals for the homeless were served. We heard how in the 1970s and 1980s young adults from the neighborhood were trained in cathedral construction and helped to build the cathedral for a time. What I learned from our tour guides at St. John the Divine was that the story of a cathedral, any cathedral, cannot properly be told without telling the story of the neighborhood and city that surrounds it.


Excerpted from The Digital Cathedral by Keith Anderson. Copyright © 2015 Keith Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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