January 28, 2011

And Some Thoughts About Churches

Throughout my travels I have had the opportunity to visit many significant and beautiful churches and places of worship throughout the world - including on this trip to Europe. In London we visited St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and in Paris we went to Eglise Madeleine, Notre-Dame de Paris, and the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse.

Westminster Abbey is not only an amazing building, it holds a great deal of the history of the country within it's walls. From the tomes of kings and priests to memorials for artists and scientists - this building is a monument to the past.

It also has recorded the footsteps of the many people who have visited in the worn steps and paving stones. As you walk through the main cathedral and the cloisters you can also see the changes in style throughout the years of the abbey's history. This is a place to come and be reminded of the long, and often complicated, history of England.

When you view the skyline of the old part of London the grey dome of St Paul's Cathedral stands quietly among it's more modern neighbors. Although not as old or as famous As Westminster Abbey it is a beautiful building - inside and out. It is built on the highest point in the City of London, the present structure was built 17th century, and it is the fourth cathedral on this location.

One of the striking things about the inside of St Paul' Cathedral is the sheer open space. It is a vast area of peace that is a lovely reprieve from the city streets outside. Visitors to St Paul's can also climb to the top of the dome as well and look out around the city. Unfortunately we visited on Christmas Day and that area of the church was closed for the holiday.

Église de la Madeleine - or La Madeleine for short - is a large and imposing church in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. From the outside it looks like a Roman-style structure with large columns and is elevated from the surrounded streets. We visited the church on New Year's Day. I had never been inside this building before and was fascinated to see the high vaulted ceilings and detail in decoration. There were beautiful statutes lining each side of the church and the lighted candles at the base of these figures caused the whole room to glow.

Of course, the most famous church in Paris is Notre-Dame de Paris. Located on Île de la Cité construction on this church began in 1163 and took almost 200 years to complete.

While in Paris we visited this church twice - once in the evening during mass and then in the morning a few days later during the day. However, since we were staying nearby in the 5th arrondissement we walked it almost daily.

The outside of this church is beautiful with its many sculptures that adorn the facade and the gargoyles that look out in every direction protecting the church from evil.

On our first visit the church was filled with people and music. It was more vacant on our second visit, but the windows were illuminated and the scenes in the stained glass light up the space.

The last church we visited in Paris is the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse. This is a small chapel off a courtyard at 140 Rue de Bac and is often referred to by its address. From the street you enter through a wooden door, walk through the cobble stone paved courtyard, and through another wooden door into the chapel. Inside is a medium sized and beautifully adorned room of worship.

This is the final resting place of the body of St Catherine Labouré. It is said she that in 1830 she witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary in the location where she rests today.
I am not religious. However, I was in awe of the beauty of these sacred and historic structures. In addition, I found a unique sense of calm inside each of these places. Perhaps it is the many years - actually centuries - that people have been coming to these churches to pray. Maybe it is the fact that these buildings have are dedicated to quiet reflection and were created as a place to give thanks. Or perhaps it is atmosphere that is evoked by the quiet statutes and flickering candles. I do not know.

1 comment:

Loree said...

I've been to Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. Both are beautiful and unique buildings and I enjoyed both equally.