Monday, April 25, 2016
ANZAC Thoughts - the Erasure of the Sacred
It felt odd to observe the laying up of the colours of New Zealand's Scottish Regiment in Dunedin's Toitu Otago Settler's Museum. For most of us it is a sensible place for the Colours to be laid up - maybe behind glass and almost certainly in a carefully controlled environment where they will be splendidly maintained and easily and readily on view for the locals and curious tourists. What's to lament?
I'm thinking of the reverence and sense of the sacred that the colours hold for the military; the ritual with which they are treated - and I am remembering the occasions that those colours have been paraded and their surprisingly hefty weight laid upon the altar in the cathedral. There have been occasions when some good folk (and probably other deans) have deplored such reverence as a glorification of war and many might well consider it a fine thing that these colours are now finally consigned to a museum to become yet another artefact among many.
Something in me is uneasy at this. I would feel no uneasiness at a replica of the colours being lodged in a museum but the actual colours require, I think, a different arrangement. The tradition of usually laying up the colours in a church or cathedral where they would be hung to fade, thin and in time fall away seems to me to better preserve their special character, what one might describe as their 'sacredness'. They are not just an artefact to be preserved and gawked at, another item among many, but something irreplaceable, that even as it tells the story will itself also eventually fall to dust with those long gone who held its honour dear enough to die for.
At stake here is that unique sense of the sacred that the colours invoke. When the sacred is consigned to being an object, something is lost.