OPINION: History is to be learned from, rather than to be ignored. That's why the decision by St Mary's Cathedral to shift a collection of coats of arms that recalls the bloodshed of the 1860s Taranaki land wars is an eminently sensible compromise.
There were calls for them to be removed altogether, because they could be offensive to Maori, just as there were calls from others to leave them where they were. Ultimately though, commonsense has prevailed and the hand-painted military coats of arms are to be moved to the transept, on the cross arm of the building.
There, they will be displayed alongside an explanatory panel which will clarify the significance of the coats of arms, their history, context and just how they came to be in the cathedral. To quickly recap, they were given to the parish as tributes to the fallen men in the land wars, which began in 1860. They have been displayed in the main area of the cathedral which, as Dean James Allen pointed out, was inappropriate because they dominated a space designed for prayer, peace and worship.
In that one sentence, he went directly to the heart of the issue. There were many men, women and children who died in the land wars, but the tribute was to the men who died on one side of the conflict - Pakeha.
Anyone worshipping in this most sacred of places could hardly avoid that conclusion. The evidence was there before everyone's eyes. For any Maori worshipper the House of God seemed to honour only some of those who died in that bloody conflict.
Let's make it clear that the sentiment behind the gift of the 17 coats of arms was never intended to be offensive to anyone. Far from it. They were given with the utmost respect and dignity in an attempt to honour those who gave their lives.
That said, intent no longer forms any part of this debate and the tributes, as they stood, are almost anachronistic in 2013.
It is also pertinent to note that the move marks the end of an issue that has simmered for more than 40 years. There had been much discussion about whether the symbols of a bloody war between Maori and Pakeha should adorn the walls of a church and from next month they won't.
Admittedly the move is not that far, at least physically, but in a cultural, devout sense, it is significant. Churches everywhere face an ongoing challenge of being relevant to their communities and to leave the tributes where they were would risk continuing to ostracise a potentially significant part of St Mary's congregation and the wider community.
As Dean Allen pointed out, "they recall a troubled period in our history" so they should not be banished to some dusty room where they could remain from view.
"They're fascinating items. They tell a significant part of our story, the history of Taranaki," says Dean Allen.
Most would say amen to that.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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