On display in a glass case in the treasury of Canterbury Cathedral is a bishop's episcopal staff called The Canterbury Crozier. Made in mid Victorian times by William Burgess, it is an exquisite piece, worked in silver and ivory and encrusted with semi precious stones. The curve of the staff is carved to depict St. George fighting the dragon, with the dragon's intended princessly victim tied to the handle. The detail, in for example, St. George's armour and the ropes tying the princess Is astonishingly realistic. When this beautiful and valuable thing is not in a glass case being oohed and aahed over by tourists, it is used by the Bishop of Dover as he goes about his episcopal duties.
What interested me in it enough to ask the obliging cathedral verger to unlock the treasury and let me see it, is the fact that the first owner of this remarkable object was Henry Lascelles Jenner. In 1866 Jenner was selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the first Bishop of Dunedin and was duly consecrated as the same. He then spent a few years touring England raising funds to buy necessary stuff for his new see, such as, for example, a really nice crozier. While Jenner ticked all the boxes as far as the authorities in England were concerned, no one had thought to ask the people of Dunedin, and they were not so sure. Jenner was Anglo Catholic, and they were not. A period of negotiation and argument dragged on for about 5 years, at the end of which the Diocesan Synod formally rejected Jenner's claim to the kathedra, and Bishop Samuel Tarrant Neville was consecrated and installed instead.
In one of those nice little pieces of synchronicity, I found Bishop Neville's crozier just a week or two before I left for England, propped in the corner of the dean's office, looking a bit loose and dusty but nevertheless in not bad nick, all things considered, and certainly worth a trip to the cleaner's. Notwithstanding the fact that it is solid brass and weights almost as much as I do, I intend to use it. But looking at this gorgeous piece in the Canterbury treasury, I did for a moment think I might have preferred it instead. But only for a moment. The legend of St. George and the dragon is one of the silliest stories in the literary history of the church: it is, shall we say, blatantly Freudian and, although of course the symbolic links to the Gospel story are there, they do require some sophisticated ability in non literal thought to see them.
Looking at the Canterbury Crozier, I had two thoughts. Firstly, on the durability of culture. The independence of spirit and disregard for authority are characteristic of my city, my province and my diocese to this very day. Secondly, while it might be a fitting symbol in an English church ( patron saint and all that), I would be hard pressed to think of an object which could less symbolise my diocese than a piece of elephant ivory depicting a bloke fighting a dragon and a woman tied to a tree. It must have been tough on poor old Jenner but perhaps, if things had gone as originally planned, there would have been some very unhappy people in the fledgling Dunedin colony, including Henry Lascelles Jenner.
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