This mostly Protestant invention has little to do with our tradition and turns us into passive participants

The queen consort of George V was consistent in her sense of duty and unswerving in how she expressed it. Crowned with dignity and corseted with confidence, at 5ft 6in, Mary of Teck was the same height as the king, but they were called George the Fifth and Mary the Four-Fifths.

Of her many benefactions to the empire, perhaps her most conspicuous was her habit of removing climbing ivy from regal residences and public buildings. Her detestation of the ivy was a lifelong obsession, quite the opposite of Queen Anne’s love affair with boxwood. Even in the dark days of the Blitz when she was billeted outside London in Badminton House, home of her niece, the Duchess of Beaufort, and forced by wartime exigencies to reduce her private staff to 52, Queen Mary led them in tearing down the ivy from the house and surrounding walls, like Samson bringing down the Temple of Dagon, with not a single hair out of place.

A few generations before then, ivy had become the picturesque fad for architecture, but only hid it, and also damaged the stones. There is no clear explanation for that fashion; accounting for it is no easier than explaining how our mostly clean-shaven Founding Fathers paved the way for a generation of bearded Civil War generals as hard to distinguish one from the other as Byzantine bishops. Perhaps it was because ivy gave a romantic air of antiquity, and ivied halls metastasised into the Ivy League. As fashions come and go, ivy has disappeared from buildings as fast as beards from faces do.

The whiskering of buildings with ivy is a metaphor for another aesthetic offence, and one more serious, since it is a reproach as much to ascetics as to aesthetics. Pews are the climbing ivy of God’s house. My case is that they should be removed.

I immediately alienate from this argument anyone whose limited aesthetical perception sees nothing wrong with electric votive lights and bishops wearing mitres in colours matching their vestments. But the problem with pews is worse, for it is not simply a matter of taste. Pews contradict worship. They suburbanise the City of God and put comfort before praise.

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