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Redeeming literature, religion, society - and St George

Posted on 10/05/2010

St George

As part of a major AHRC / ESRC grant winning project, academics from Royal Holloway, University of London, in alliance with prominent poets, novelists and theologians are seeking to create a new St George’s Day liturgy based on Book 1 of Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene’.

Dr Ewan Fernie, from the Department of English at Royal Holloway has joined forces with colleague Jo Shapcott, winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, the National Poetry Prize (twice) and the Forward Poetry Prize, and another major contemporary poet, Michael Symmons Roberts, as well as with the theologian Andrew Shanks, who has made a case for ′shaken poetry′ as a source of religious renovation. Also involved are, among others, former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and the best-selling novelist Salley Vickers.

This team will prepare two extraordinary, inclusive events for the two very different environments of Manchester Cathedral and St George′s Chapel, Windsor Castle, working in each case with an impressively diverse group of consultants including scholars, artists and theologians from different faith traditions, including Islam. The culminating event in Windsor will form part of the Windsor Spring Festival, 2011. The event in Manchester, on 8 May 2011, will be preceded by a procession, through the city streets, with Catalan-style ′gegants′, giant puppets, representing Spenserian figures. The project has recently won further funding to commission new ‘Faerie Queene’ Canticles’ to be performed on these occasions from composer Tim Garland and jazz trio Acoustic Triangle and the College Choir.

It is hoped that after these premieres this new civic liturgy, which respects the idea of a national church but aims to reach well beyond the established Anglican Communion, will be adopted by other churches for St George’s Day.

Dr Fernie says, “In the age of Philip Pullman and the blockbustering ‘Lord of the Rings’, The Faerie Queene’s magnetic, often lurid tales of questing knights in fairyland look newly interesting and attractive. One aim of our project is to redeem St George from his current association with far-right groups such as the BNP. We have a unique opportunity to create brand-new rituals, drama and fables inspired by The Faerie Queene for some of the greatest places in the country, including Windsor Castle, Manchester Cathedral and King’s Place. And if this project is a test-case for creative responses to our national traditions and history, it could also really change our sense of what is possible for contemporary religion, society and art.”

For more details of the project and events, please see the project website: http://www.rhul.ac.uk/English/faeriequeene/index.html.


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