Thursday, December 19, 2013

Steeple Chase

I have mentioned my favorite church in a previous post. Now, the bigger picture.

We visited many churches. What struck us is:

Churches in France are in worse condition that others we saw.
They were all Catholic and they were often run down and felt dank. 
The price to light a candle was between 2 and 10 Euros. There were constant signs and plenty of opportunities to buy and light.

In Switzerland and Germany the churches were in excellent shape and asking for a donation of .50 Euros with smaller, less frequent signs. The lighting was good and the places seemed warm, not only in temperature but in life.

The big churches of Amsterdam were often no longer churches, having become simply tourist attractions or museums, and thus charged admission. 

Don't get me wrong- I don't begrudge any church that lets in tourists trying to recoup some money for their hospitality. I'm not a candle lighter, but I never left a church with dropping some euros in the box. (We scorn freeloaders.)

The Cologne Cathedral is so ornate and so filthy from years and years of air pollution it just seemed depressing. It was the most French of the German churches in that it was dark and dank. Another tourist told me that the cathedral cannot be cleaned because the stone is so soft that power washing would only hasten the disintegration. 

This is how Mark Twain saw one church in his visit to Europe:

"The great altar of the cathedral and also three or four minor ones are a perfect mass of gilt gimcracks and gingerbread. And they have a swarm of rusty, dusty, battered apostles standing around the filagree work, some on one leg and some with one eye out but a gamey look in the other, and some with two or three fingers gone, and some with not enough nose left to blow--all of them crippled and discouraged, and fitter subjects for the hospital than the cathedral."

(Think of all the famous people who have also visited places like Notre Dame, in whose footsteps we all walk. It's like Andy Warhol said - I drink Coke, you drink Coke, Elizabeth Taylor drinks Coke.) 

Many of the German churches had modern insides. This is the result of needing to be rebuilt after the war and they sensibly did not attempt a replica. In some cases, the rebuilding continued into the 1980s and vastly remodeled the interior to contemporary standards.

(The glass here small squares, giving it a pixilated look.)

And below, this window in Heidelbug commemorates the bombing of Hiroshima.

Other times churches changed their look because they began as Catholic and became Protestant. Post Luther.

In Strasbourg, they went back and forth between Germany and France, Protestant and Catholic so often they became inured, I think, as Strasburg was the first city in Europe to call for a European Union; that was 1950. Imagine, while still surrounded by war rubble they asked for unity.

But back to the churches.

What continues to astound me is that these behemoths were built in an age we think of as primitive. It often took a dozen or more generations to complete. People starved, died young, were slain for being witches and heretics, bled people to cure their diseases and buried their children at an alarming rate and yet all resources went into palace building. 

I am glad to be able to visit and marvel at the artistry. I am glad that most people no longer see the point. 

(Like so many things, the photos don't capture the grandeur, but illustrate we must. 

Note the Porta Can behind Notre Dame de Paris.  Rare was the grand church that was not also a construction site. It can't be easy maintains something 300, 500, 800 years old.

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