Posted tagged ‘basilica’

The Cathedrals of the World.

June 14, 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I’m not a particularly religious person. It’s simply not something I dwell upon and as such I find myself drifting into the ‘agnostic’ category of religious beliefs rather than towards any one religion or another. However it does not take a man of god to be impressed by the feats accomplished in his name. The sheer majesty of some of the structures built in a gods name and the amazing effort and work that must have gone into creating these massive behemoth structure is simply mind-boggling. I do not exaggerate when I state cannot even comprehend the magnitude of effort that must have at some point gone into many of these places.

Now I say Cathedrals because while I have been in mosque and temple for various religions from around the world, I don’t have nearly the same amount of experience with those ‘style’ of religious artifact as I do those of the more Catholic persuasion. Something which I aim to change with an upcoming trip I’m planning, but which remains true till then. And so keep that in mind as I continue; I care not for the ‘who’ in particular these buildings were built for, neither do I praise these structures for any particularly divine reason. These are simply the most impressive building I have ever seen and perhaps will ever see, perhaps, we’ll see…

Have you ever stood at the base of a structure and stared upward in awe, your mouth gaping as your eyes seem to drill into your brain from the sheer effort of trying to take in the mass of detail which has been put into this structure before you? And as your feet carry your forward you mind only continues to reel as passing beneath a monumental archway, statues of kings and heroes past staring down at you from every conceivable corner, you find yourself feeling weak from the impossibility of it all as you stare wide-eyed down a seemingly never-ending hallway, massive stone pillar supporting an arching roof so high that it seems as though it were touching the sky. Beams of light shinning inward through tall multicoloured windows wasting the world before you in a surreal haze even as the unearthly sound of pounding organ music invites you to transcend from simple awe and fall to your knees instead as you embrace whatever divine creator must have descended from the heavens to craft such a marvel of this world, for surely you think, no human hands could have crafted such artwork…

I ask because that is the ‘purpose’ of these cathedrals. That is the desired effect! And for thousands of years of human history it has worked perfectly, tempting these simplistic people who’s days consist of endless tedium and dreary despair to see the wondrous and fall to their knees in rapture as they soak up the ambiance around them and dream of a land beyond their own they might visit, one like this, grand and beautiful. Cathedral are symbols, and as such they interest me greatly. Not just because they are symbols of a particular divinity, but because almost unconsciously these massive structure are also statements of the time they were built, the ways of life for the people where the building was constructed and sometimes even stark reminders of when dreams fell.

If this all sounds a little obscure let me to explain further. One needs to remember when they look at any sort of church or cathedral that although they may stand as symbols the the divine, they are inevitably crafted by the hands of men, and men are fickle creatures that tend to leave imprints of themselves whenever they tread and work. As such each church and cathedral in the world is unique and will have been twisted and changed to suit the location where it was built. Not only that but these buildings have continued to grow and evolve as time passed, changing to suit the needs of future generations long after the original builders have long since passed on themselves. So if you look closely and you pay attention you can ‘see’ the outlines of the people who built these places, if you look at the details and pay attention you can ‘understand’ them even and ‘why’ they built what they did. They stand not just as symbols of their divinity but of the people around them.

Allow me to recount one of the most dramatic examples. In Germany many church and Cathedral lay bare in the middle of cities, the roof long ago collapsed and the ground swept clean of debris but otherwise left bare. There are rarely any signs or plaque to explain the reason for this, but an astute person will quickly pick up on just what these barren structures represent. It was while wandering once such ruin in the middle of busy downtown Hamburg that I got caught in the heavy rain and ran beneath the remains of a stone arch for shelter. To my left stood a statue of a figure hunched as though crying atop a pile of bricks. Reading the small plaque there read that people must remember the truth and learn from it, and although I’d picked up the concept earlier in my travels, it was only then that it struck me that these ruins were a sad monument, a reminder of the past atrocities and conflicts of World War 2. The roof no doubt destroyed in the allied bombings, the walls collapsed from the thunder of conflict and the walls blackened by flame. Just like that is has evolved, its purpose has changed from that of a symbol of the divine to a stark monument to the terrors of the past, pleading and begging future generations to heed by its example and to not repeat the mistakes of the past. It tells alot of the culture of the people who live there.

Dramatics aside Cathedral also tend to be some of the most beautiful buildings architecturally in the world. The style varies from country to country, but as mentioned, these are buildings built from the ground up to impress. In Britain you’ve got Westminster Abbey and the Yorkminster, both of which are amazing to behold whether it’s the plethora of history at Westminster or the sheer awe one feels while staring upward into the Yorkminsters central tower while choir sing in the background. Then there are the smaller places which I also enjoyed. Bristol’s St. Mary Radcliffe I found to be a particularly memorable experience. The Amiens Cathedral in France is just as grand as nearly other cathedral in France and yet not nearly as crowded nor busy. Italy has a neat meditterenean style to its cathedral and church with a much higher focus on painted artwork rather than stonework, and so on.

In North America, Canada specifically since I’ve never really seen that much of the US, I can only think of one cathedral that can even begin to compare to its European counterparts; The Basilica Notre Dame in Montreal Quebec. Although not nearly as big on the outside as many others its interior is an amazing display of wood-carved artistry that easily compares and even beats the best I’ve seen elsewhere in the world. Highlighted with multi-coloured spotlights and other more modern touches while still maintaining the classical design of the original cathedral, it’s an amazing sight to behold.

Hmm… you know, I’ve run out of things to say. There never really was a point to me typing this, just an entertaining rant I thought up while looking over pictures. I have alot of those; rants that is. I remember once being compared to Louis Black and his rant-themed comedy, but I’m getting sidetracked, best to end this now before my mind wanders elsewhere.

Looking forward to being able to compare the buildings mentioned above to the more Asian specific shrines and such. I’ll be travelling to Japan within a month, should be interesting.

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