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The United Kingdom

The Sacred in a Secular Context

Considering that secularization has impacted social life in the United Kingdom as much as any other nation-state in the 20th Century, what have been the implications of secularization for the conceptualization of the sacred? The research is conducted by Dr Ferdinand de Jong and Dr Clare Haynes, each researching this question in a specific context.

A Space Set Apart: St Peter Hungate, Norwich 1933-2019

This historically significant medieval church was under immediate threat of demolition in 1933, when, in a bold move, the City of Norwich developed a new kind of partnership with the Church of England to convert it into Britain’s first ecclesiastical museum. For 60 years it operated as one of four Norwich museums, exhibiting religious objects from the main museum collections as well as from parish churches in the City and the Diocese of Norwich. After the Museum was closed in 1995, it was re-opened under the stewardship of a trust, now called Hungate Medieval Art, and it operates still as a museum and as a space for contemporary art, which is site specific or in some way sympathetic to the Trust’s aims of promoting medieval art in Norfolk.

St Peter Hungate


Although it is now a museum, St Peter Hungate is still considered a church. While the objects on display (which include the building and its fittings) are presented using the language and techniques of heritage, the medieval architecture, stained glass and monuments speak in different ways of the religious past of the building and, for some, a religious present. How does this work? It has been said that heritage is based on “a secular gaze” in its focus on history as the formative past of individuals, places and nations. However, heritage also involves the setting apart and other quasi-ritual behaviours that are strongly reminiscent of religious activities. Indeed, so much so, that some scholars speak of the ‘sacralization’ of heritage. Thus, multiple and conflicting ideas of sacred and secular may potentially operate at the museum.

St Peter Hungate

In this study, Dr Clare Haynes (Senior Research Associate) will focus on the history of the museum and its display practices. Using archive materials including photographs and guidebooks, inventories and City of Norwich committee papers, she will trace the ways in which St Peter Hungate/Hungate Medieval Art has been used, and regarded, as a space set apart.

Conservation and Interpretation of the Abbey of St Edmund

The Abbey of St Edmund in Bury St Edmund is a ruin, situated next to St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The Abbey is named after Edmund, king of East Anglia, who was defeated in battle with the Danes and martyred. His martyrdom has been memorialised throughout the Middle Ages and has survived the Dissolution, even though the incorrupt body has been lost were found under a car park in Leicester, rumours have it that St Edmund’s body lies buried under the tennis courts, located in the ruins of the Abby of St Edmund.

Associated in the Heritage Partnership, stakeholders have started to explore St Edmund’s heritage “to deepen public understanding of the life and times of St Edmund and the Medieval Abbey at Bury St Edmunds”, and, “to encourage people of all ages, beliefs and interests to experience the spiritual, historical and environmental significance of the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gardens in the modern world.” The research project “The Conservation and Interpretation of the Abbey of St Edmund” will examine how the legacy of St Edmund will be conceived and received in this context. The leading question will be how Christian faith is understood as heritage today. Member of the Heritage Partnership, this question will be explored by anthropologist Dr Ferdinand de Jong.