Millennium Dome Visit

A group of some seventeen Tyndalians, under the guidance of David Daniell, visited the Millennium Dome at Greenwich on 6th June. Although two of our members found their own way there direct, the remainder met at the Millennium Pier, which is on the South Bank of the Thames by County Hall, overawed by the London Eye, to travel by City Cruise boat to Greenwich. The weather was kind, it not entirely benign, and we had a pleasant journey down the river. The boat passed under the newly completed Millennium footbridge which links St Paul's to the Tate Modern on the South Bank. Shakespeare's Globe is nearby. The four structures, if viewed as a group, form an incongruous selection of purposes and styles: difficult to imagine as possible in any other major city in the world.

The bridge itself' is an impressive structure, not in size, rather in concept and elegance, seemingly defying certain of the well-proven principles of suspension bridge design and engineering. But as Ove Arup. the consulting engineers for the project have said publicly, much more sophisticated calculations can he made using computers today, thus enabling architects and engineers to depart from established norms. Perhaps the Millennium Bridge has proved to be too ambitious. Since our visit it has disgraced itself by vibrating somewhat alarmingly when carrying a large number of foot passengers: a problem inherent in structures of this type, which has been evident for two hundred years, if not for a full millennium.

The Dome itself is also impressive. It is of vast proportions, particularly for those who think in terms of the Dome of St Paul's in London, St Peter's in Rome, or St Sophia, Holy Wisdom, in what was once Constantinople. There is little sense of being inside a building, rather a roof has been put over a large open space.

On arrival the party headed direct for the Faith Zone. The audio visual displays were brief, ten or fifteen minutes at most, but well presented. Tyndale was given pride of place, with excellent reproductions of his New Testament text and a brief account of his life's work translating the Bible into English, and his eventual martyrdom. The material is well known and no doubt all Tyndalians would be familiar with it. Significantly for those who treasure the beauty of his language, the accuracy and precision of his translation, and for some his contribution to the Reformation of English Christianity in the years following his death, only Tyndale's Bible was featured in the Faith Zone: the King James version was not there. He was accorded his rightful place. No doubt David Daniell was delighted.

Inevitably Henry VIII figured. There was an account of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and other religious houses, emphasising the extent of the change it wrought in the religious, and life generally, in England in the sixteenth century.

Space was also given to church architecture. Durham Cathedral was featured and a particularly fine photograph of a Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon cross was displayed. Mention was also made of other Christian traditions in England, the Free Churches featured, as did the post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. A particular point was made that thirty thousand churches were built in Britain in the Victorian period. Other faiths featured prominently; Judaism, Islam and Hinduism were all there. Although, Judaism apart, they have played little part in British life except for in the last fifty years or so, they are certainly of significance today.

What comes through most strikingly in the Faith Zone however, is that for those who prepared the exhibits at least, religious faith is just one aspect of life in Britain today, an optional extra, not central to its life and culture. This point is made, nevertheless, but it was not always so. One photograph shows the Ten Commandments displayed in a church, as a standard by which the congregation should live their lives. Further, the fact that the Legal System is based on Christian precepts and values is made strongly, but the unspoken implication is that whilst Christianity was a formative factor in the development of English Law, and presumably Scottish Law also (although this was not specifically referred to), it is not necessarily so today.

In summary the Faith Zone is of our time, for our time. It puts forward religious belief as an aspect of life today, not central to it and formative of it.

After the visit to the Faith Zone, the Tyndalians largely went their own way. Some flirted with Mammon and went to see the Millennium Jewels and the Money exhibits. Others joined the long but fast moving queue to the Body Zone and walked, largely uncomprehendingly, through the gargantuan representation of the human body. Few of the crowd going through would have learnt anything significant. There were too many people there simultaneously for that to happen. Probably for many, the Body Zone joined a long list of 'been there, done that' experiences which clutter peoples' lives today.

There was much to see and experience in the Millennium Dome, a lot more than could be covered reasonably in a single day. When the feet finally rebelled one could always sit down for a time and watch the show in the arena at the centre of the Dome. Your reporter did not participate so no comment on this would be appropriate.

In all it was an interesting day out. The overall impression of what the Dome offered the visitor is of gold nuggets obscured too frequently by commercial dross. One has to search for the content in a sea of presentation. Fortunately, in the case of the Faith Zone, this was not necessary. Tyndale was treated kindly and well.

Derek Portman

Message: 'Fight the Good Fight'
I wish you all a very pleasant day out at the Millennium Dome and am only sorry that I cannot be with you today.

As you are all aware there has been much said, written and broadcast about our national millennium project and as most of you know the Tyndale Society has played a small part.

The story of the Dome runs almost along Biblical lines. The Genesis of the idea, the Exodus of the public, the Lamentations of the media. the Proverbs of the pundits. the Job-like sufferings of the Chief Executive, the Prophets of doom, the Epistles (that's me!) to the Times, the Acts and the Revelations of all and sundry ...

Throughout all this William Tyndale has shone. We should be marvellously glad. The Faith Zone is visually and intellectually dominated by Tyndale and the 1526 New Testament. His is the only Bible in this display. He is acknowledged as the prime source of our language, our literature and, at that time, the ordinary people's access to the Christian religion.

We should thank the Dome organisers for this privilege and make clear to M. Gerbeau that we are grateful.

Along the way were many pitfalls and frustrations. But these were eclipsed by the well wishers and helpers. Colin Fletcher, the Archbishop's Chaplain, Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, Joanna Trollope, Libby Purves, Lord Rees Mogg, Prunella Scales and her husband Timothy West, Philip Howard of the Times. and a host of others gave us encouragement when the idea of a Tyndale Bible in the Dome seemed a far off project.

If we have fought the good fight to get Tyndale in front of six million people then we should eat, drink and be merry as I am sure you will this Tuesday.

Rowland Whitehead

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