Monday, February 13, 2006

Architectural Reflections


I think I must balance out my pregnant rant posts with some remotely intelligent ones.

One of my favorite things in all the world (I have oodles of favorite things) is St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The summer I was in London I would rush straight there after I attended church at the Peckham ward so I could listen to service. The combination of the acoustics, the windows, the light, the organ, the boys choir, and the sheer history of the place just gave me tingles. Yeah, I felt the spirit in St. Pauls all the time. Is that bad?

In fact I had spiritual experiences in almost every Cathedral I visited in Europe. I especially remember wandering around Canterbury Cathedral listening to an absolutely stunning organ recital and peering curiously at the vibrant colors of the stained glass windows that replaced the originals that had been blown out in WWII bombings. The people who built these things must have had enormous faith in something. Even if I believe they were missing big chunks of light and truth, I have to give it to them for their faith. With the notable exception of Christopher Wren, most of the people who built (as in actually did all that marvelous work with their hands...) these huge monuments are forgotten. But what a thing to leave behind. It reminds me of a great line from "Sunday in the Park with George" - the only things you can really leave behind are children and art.

I remember regretting that nothing that magnificent seemed to exist in my religion. We do have temples, and especially the earlier ones seemed to have a similar spirit of sacrifice in their construction. But nowadays all the temples and chapels are built in cookie-cutter fashion by speedy construction teams and the art and sacrifice portion is all diminished and it makes me sad. I remember hoping at the time that my experiences inside the temple would be as awe-inspiring as what I felt in Cathedrals. Well, it turned out to be... different. Not bad though.

I think, or at least I hope, God has a special place for Cathedrals. I hope that place has a great organ and a boys choir.

5 comments:

hairyshoefairy said...

There is nothing like a boy's choir! I dont' think it's strange to have felt the spirit in cathedrals. I agree, there are things missing and sometimes the images depicted in the artwork are grotesque, but the builders did believe in something. When I was 15 I sang in a childrens choir that toured to England. We sang at Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral. It was beautiful! We rehearsed there for almost a week and saw so many beautiful things and heard so many wonderful stories! I'm sad we didn't go to St. Pauls. We did a few other places instead, but even now, when I read Canterbury Tales I have to grab my scrapbook from that trip and remember the feelings I had there.

-->jeff * said...

i smiled while i read your posting, as i had just come across the entry on 'cathedrals' in 'mormon doctrine' a few days ago....
on the other hand, brother brigham sent architects to europe to study the great cathedrals in preparation to designing the great salt lake temple.
and while there are several legitimate reasons for the changes, it rings true that 'they don't build them like they used to.'

i think the only true cathedral i have been in is the cathedral of the madeline in salt lake; but i do have some experience in buddhist temples in asia.
be it cathedrals or asia temples, they can be very beautiful indeed. i loved my high school humanities class, where i was introduced to the baroque architecture. art history 2 at byu gave me a reason to go to italy, as i fell in love with the designs of the vatican.
be it of wood or stone, the great buildings of worship made by people around the world are awesome even after thousands of years, not because they are coated with the riches of the world, but because they are built by faith, devotion, and love of what they knew.

Tracy M said...

Em- I am so right there with you. I love the great cathedrals of Europe, St Pauls, Westminster, Canterbury, and even the remains of some of the relics, like at Glastonbury. I too got the chills and felt the Spirit there. The magesty and grandeur tap into us like little else can.

My personal favorite? Die Frauenkirche in Nuremberg, Germany. Oh lovely, lovely.

Oh, and "Sunday in the Park with George"? My ALL time favorite play!

Shelley said...

I've been wondering about this since I read your blog. To add to it, there's a chapter in the "Book Seller of Kabul" that deals with one character's pilgrimage to Ali's burial mound. There were so many pilgrims the local police had to take whips to get them out. So it makes me wonder if there's something to a "sacred space." Does something make an area more sacred than another? If something happened there a long time ago, does the place still retain some special aspect because of it? Like the Sacred Grove. It is an amazingly peaceful place, and I can say I did feel the spirit there, but is it because the place is more sacred than others, or was I paying more attention to the spirit because I was concentrating? What do you think Em?

Em said...

Shelley you are right... feeling the spirit in any place is more a matter of what's going on inside of me than where I am... I just found it remarkable that I consistently had such intense experiences in Cathedrals. So what was it about being in a Cathedral that made me "pay attention" so much?

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