Friday, 2 July 2010

Pillars of Strength

I only attended church a handful of times in my very early childhood. I remember our church being a log cabin.

Later on, I never gave the churches in the communities where I lived so much as a second glance when I would drive by them.  They were all quite generic boxy buildings with no steeples, or a long skinny building with one small steeple at the front entrance. 

The first time I stood in awe of a place of worship, and recognized the magnitude of religious deference, was when I stood in St. Peter's Square, at the age of 22, staring at St. Peter's Basilica and thinking I'd never seen any building that was so grand.

And when I actually stepped through the doors...forget about it.  To date (and this even includes a return visit a couple of years ago) I have never been so visually overwhelmed as when I stepped inside, felt the coolness of the marble on my fingertips, and looked up.  It took every single brain cell I had to wrap my head around what two hands and a lack of modern machinery can build.

Touring around, we decided to go down into the papal treasury where the cynical part of my brain started whirring as I surveyed the gold (literally gold) robes and papal headdresses bejewelled with precious stones, and contemplated the broken souls that twined together to make a strong and devoted bridge these religious leaders trampled over in their quests for bloody victory and material spoils.

When we returned upstairs, and I was standing in front of the almost 100 ft tall baldacchino, there was a nun kneeling at the alter.  She was wearing a white skirt, a grey sweater, and a long white headpiece.  Her eyes were crinkled closed, her mouth was moving in prayer, and she was crying. 

She showed me that being cynical is easy.

I looked around again and, erasing any sort of cynicism from my brain about the motives behind the elaborate construct, I chose instead to see devotion.  So many prayers have been heard by those marble walls, so many weary feet and tired hearts have travelled looking for spiritual sanctuary under Michelangelo's dome, that I could not do myself the disservice of letting old history lessons and modern news broadcasts ring in my ears while I stood in a place where men physically laboured, where their strength was spent,  to build something they would never see finished in their lifetime. 

Despite what side of the fence you fall on in terms of religious belief, and despite what religion you subscribe to, there is no denying that some of man's most beautiful and functional artistic creations are the varied and different buildings he has constructed to worship in.  The beauty in these ancient forms are the rough and devoted hands that built them up stone by stone, slab by slab.

In Bern, there is the Berner Münster--a Gothic giant whose bell tower can be seen from anywhere in this beautiful city.

I have lived here for a month now, and I have been to this church about seven or eight times. Mostly I like to sit in the gardens, and people watch for the afternoon and do a bit of a typing.  But I have also climbed the bell tower, I have sat in the empty pews and listened to the organ, I have stared at the intricate stained glass, I have felt the ding-dong of the bells vibrate into my bones, and I have studied the Last Judgment sculpture above the entry door. 

I have taken hundreds of pictures.

Over the next couple of days I'm going to show you the outside, inside, what a ride, pictures of the Berner Münster.

I hope you love its Gothic mystery as much as I do.


Ais said...

I really like this post today Cait. It made me teary for some reason! I liked the part about how men laboured for their whole lives to build a church that they will never see finished. It seems sad.

T said...

Wow! I can imagine the overwhelming feeling you must have had there. I miss that feeling where everything else seems to just fall away and you are able to just stare in awe at what you are experiencing.

I might cry too if I had witnessed a nun crying. Regardless of what I believe in I am always humbled by seeing such passion. I look forward to reading more Caitie!