The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Alan Harper, OBE, last night (12/11/08) gave a notable talk entitled, 'The Power and Significance of Sacred Space' at the Armagh Club, Upper English Street, Armagh, organised by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. In his wide-ranging paper, which discussed sacred buildings, sites and structures in a ritual landscape and the importance of burial grounds, he expressed his belief that sacred spaces offer an opportunity to experience 'otherness' and called for 'a more reverent and less utilitarian approach to our estimation and evaluation' for burials.
Archbishop Harper said, 'Intimations of the sacred continue to exert powerful influence even in the absence of any commitment to faith, especially but not exclusively where sacred space is demarcated by "landmark buildings". This is not merely because of the quality of such buildings but also, crucially, because of those intimations of an encounter with "otherness" that such places enshrine'.
Drawing on his former archaeological experience, the Archbishop spoke of the ancient significance of hilltop sites such as the Hill of Armagh and the choice of lofty sites for both of the city's two cathedrals. He also spoke of the importance of ritual landscapes as at Navan and Tara. He commented that he, 'longed for the day when something can be done to restore and render accessible some vestige of Lough na Shade in its integral, spatial and historical relationship with the ritual landscape that is Emain Macha'.
Finally, he spoke of graveyards bearing the 'sequential fingerprints of change', remarking, 'So rich a repository of human knowledge and self understanding are our graveyards that their respectful care and preservation need to be seen as both a human and scientific necessity'.
The full transcript of the Archbishop's lecture can be found at www.ireland.anglican.org.