Anti-Capitalist Protest at St Paul’s Turns into a Morality Play

The Anti-Capitalist protest outside St Paul’s cathedral has turned into a morality play after the resignation of a turbulent priest

The following notes were written as events unfolded in October 2011.  The headlines have moved on, but the basic story remains as dilemmas between radical protest and stability; between economics and ethics

Murder at the Cathedral

T.S.Eliot wrote a celebrated verse play about an historic Murder at the cathedral. It dealt with the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Eliot’s play written in the 1930s can be taken as an allegory of rise of Fascism and its subversion of the ideals of the Christian Church.

A dramatic protest

I was reminded of Eliot’s play by the events surrounding the Anti-Capitalist protests outside St Paul’s cathedral [October 2011]. This drama also involves a protest, and has been billed as involving violence visited on the protestors by the forces of authority, and with the collusion of the Church. The tented protest was originally targeted at the nearby Temple of capitalism, the Stock Exchange. Protesters decamped to the sanctuary provided by the grounds of the Cathedral.

The turbulent priest

The turbulent priest who saw the symbolism of the demonstration was Giles Fraser. According to the Independent

Giles Fraser, the charismatic Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, said he resigned because of fears an eviction would lead to “violence in the name of the Church”. Dr Fraser, a media-savvy commentator who regularly writes for newspapers and appears on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day, told The Independent last night: “The red line for me is that I am not able to sanction the use of force in the name of the Church to move the protesters on. There are other people who have different priorities and I respect those.”

The article went on to note that

George Pitcher, an Anglican priest and until earlier this year the Archbishop of Canterbury’s media adviser, said: “The Cathedral appears to be embarking on a strategy that will end with the eventual forced – and quite possibly violent – eviction of protesters which would damage the reputation of the Church of England for an entire generation. It’s bad enough to lose Giles Fraser… but somehow the Church has also managed to grab a PR disaster from the jaws of something which could have been really quite successful.”

The leader of the Church, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was in Italy yesterday meeting the Pope and has been informed of the developments. There have been calls for him to make a statement on the issue, but one Church insider said [the Archbishop] would be “reluctant” to intervene as it would mean undermining the Bishop of London and the Dean of St Paul’s.

Or as the Mail put it so eloquently: Will beardy save the church martyr?

The Good Man Jesus

I was also reminded of another more-recent morality play, by Philip Pullman, which opposes the radical charismatic vision of Jesus with the formal structures of an established church.


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