Exhibition:‘heretical’ bishop’s works

2014-02-04 00:00

TO mark the bicentenary of the birth of the “heretical” Bishop John Colenso, an exhibition of his private letters and publications was opened yesterday at St John’s College, Cambridge, in the UK, where he was a student.

The exhibition, titled “The Missionary College”, highlights his enlightened political and religious attitudes.

“Colenso occupied a position of influence and was deeply controversial, partly because many of his views were slightly ahead of their time,” said Kathryn McKee, special collections librarian at the college.

Appointed the first Anglican Bishop of Natal in 1852, Colenso became a prominent and often controversial public figure, campaigning against the colonial government in defence of indigenous peoples and publicly criticising the colonial authorities for engineering the outbreak of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

Colenso was also at variance with his own church, and at one stage was excommunicated after causing outrage by questioning the historical accuracy of parts of the Bible.

Found guilty of heresy, he was deposed and then, after refusing to acknowledge the verdict, excommunicated.

Colenso had this ruling overturned by direct petition to the British government, which led to a schism in South Africa, with Bishop William Macrorie being appointed Bishop of Maritzburg by the Anglican authorities.

Colenso’s defence of Chief Langalibalele of the Hlubi, who was accused of rebellion and subsequently found guilty of treason and imprisoned on Robben Island, led to the verdict being overturned and also ended his close friendship with Theophilus Shepstone, the influential Secretary for Native Affairs.

Items from the Colenso private collections were given to St John’s and are now kept in the college library, where the exhibition will run until April 17.

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