Why Visit a Cathedral?
One of the things most tourists do in every part of Europe is visit cathedrals. Most major cities had one. They still dominate the vistas and tower over the streets below. They are still incredibly impressive as feats of engineering, architecture, art and design.
Most people these days seem to be motivated by the historical and visual aspects of cathedrals. They enter with camera (or smart phone) in hand and hope for good photos. They may read information posted or rent an audio-guide in the larger cathedrals. They come from all over the world as witnessed by the languages spoken. No doubt some are of other faiths than Christian and some of no faith at all.
How many visit with an open heart, hoping to be surprised by God, or at least touched by something of the Spirit?
As a pastor, I am also fascinated by how the present parish administration handles the throngs of tourists, aware of the significance of these buildings yet trying to maintain a living congregation in the midst of the historical setting.
In Barcelona, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Family (La Familia Sagrada), a cathedral begun in 1882 and scheduled for completion in 2026. The architect, Antoni Gaudi, was a humble man of sincere faith. The parish administration makes an effort to connect the visual aspects of the church with the faith which inspired Gaudi.
On the audio-guide, they mention specific parts of Scripture which are featured in the design, such as the western doors with sections of the Gospel of Matthew in metal relief. As a visitor listens to the audio-guide about the great south door with the Lord’s Prayer in various languages, also in metal relief, the narrative invites you to pause and then recites the entire Lord’s Prayer in an unhurried manner. At another point in the tour, the audio-guide points out the altar area and, after explaining it, suggests the listener sit, turn off the audio-guide, and contemplate the spiritual significance of what has been described. I don’t know how many other people did that, but Dan and I found it very meaningful. We were touched again by the Holy Spirit, even amidst the crowds of tour groups and individuals taking selfies.
In Cordoba, we visited the unique Cathedral that was originally built as a mosque, started in 785. The architecture is certainly fascinating, with its mix of Arabic and European Baroque elements. During the 11th century, it was the largest mosque in the world, outside of Mecca. During the 1500’s, an ornate Christian chapel was built within the structure of the mosque. The result is unlike any place else in Europe!
Here is a “reflection” from the brochure produced by the Cathedral: “The Church, through the Chapter, has ensured that this Cathedral, an old Western Caliphate Mosque, and World Heritage Site, is not in a pile of ruins today. In fact, this has always been one of the missions of the Church, to safeguard and inspire culture and art. The visit to the Cathedral of Cordoba may awake the demand and the quest for a greater Beauty that will not wither with time. Because beauty, truth, and righteousness, are an antidote for pessimism, and an invitation to take pleasure in life, a shaking of the soul that provokes the longing for God.”
Whether you are able to visit a cathedral, may some sight of beauty today lead you towards truth and provoke a longing for God!