Wilfred Owen: Poems

Wilfred Owen: Poems Summary and Analysis of "Le Christianisme"


The church is hit with shells and a statue of Christ is buried, covered by its rubble and the church's rubbish. The saints packed together in ranks down in the cellars do not hear our trouble. There is still one statue of the Virgin that is immaculate and continues to smile her frozen smile for war. She wears an old tin hat as her halo, but a "piece of hell will batter her".


"Le Christianisme" is an extremely short poem – only eight lines in two stanzas of four – but it is nonetheless very effective. It was most likely written in France in April 1917. It can be summarized quite easily: a church is shelled and a statue of Christ is destroyed while the saints' relics are untouched. A statue of the Madonna remains as well, but wears a tin halo until she too is destroyed. Despite the simplicity of the subject matter, there is a great deal of ambiguity in the poem regarding Owen's feelings on religion.

One interpretation of the poem is that Christ, the Virgin, and saints are on the side of the soldiers. The statue of Christ is buried amid rubble and rubbish just like the young men fighting in the trenches. The saints are "serried", meaning they are lined up in ranks like soldiers. The Virgin wears a halo of tin, the same material of the soldiers' helmets. Even she, however, may be destroyed by war just like the young men who are fighting and dying for their country.

Another interpretation is derived from Owen's well-known problems with the Church and suggests that Owen was deriding the false message of Christianity propagated by the Church that was so popular during wartime. Scholar Andrew Gates writes, "there exists in Owen’s poetry a twin intent: to oppose a destructive and purposeless war and to restore the true Gospel, wherein such a war can never find a rationale." Owen understood, first of all, that the English did not have a monopoly on Christianity and the Gospel. He wrote on February 4th, 1917, "Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend. Is it spoken in English only and in French? I do not believe so." Germans were also Christian and believed God was on their side too; Owen was one of the few intellectuals during the war to so blatantly attempt to dispel the belief that God favored the English and the French.

This understanding of Owen's Christianity sheds new light on the poem. The statue of Christ is the church's statue – it is representative of the institution, erected to inspire devotion in churchgoers. Its destruction, coupled with the almost mocking imagery of the Virgin wearing a tin hat halo and the silent saints blissfully unaware of the events above their subterranean entombment, is a bitter commentary on the uselessness of the Church in trying to dictate morality and belief during times of war. Gates interprets, "The church has no place on the fields and in the trenches; it can say nothing of comfort to those whom it sends to be massacred. The creeds of the church are utterly complicit with the hellish brutality of the evil it abets."

In another letter to his mother, dated January 4th 1913, Owen writes, "I have murdered my false creed. If a true one exists, I shall find it. If not, adieu to the still falser creeds that hold the hearts of nearly all my fellow men." He believes that as an artist and intellectual it is his duty to illuminate the reality of war and the ineffectiveness of institutionalized religion to dictate behavior and belief. All of Owen's poetry, calling attention to the young men dying in the trenches and in war hospitals, and the inanity and absurdity of the conflict itself, is an attempt to get back to the true principles of Christianity, free of dogma – humility, brotherhood, mercy.