Thoughts on Churches

When travelling in Europe it is impossible not to consider the plethora of churches that dominate most cities, towns, and villages. Many are interesting for one reason or another and often they evoke emotions of one sort or another. These emotions will depend upon your expectations and experiences. Here are a few of mine.

. Larger images for all can be seen by clicking on the picture.

St Peter, St Paul & St Thomas of Canterbury,  is the historic Church of England parish

St Peter, St Paul & St Thomas of Canterbury

church of Bovey Tracey in Devonshire.  A church community has existed here since Saxon times. The building has an interesting history as it has suggested that in the 13th century the church was commissioned by Sir Henry de Tracy, (who subsequently became the first Lord of the Manor of Bovey Tracey), as a means to expiate the sin of his kinsman, Sir William de Tracy, one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

It is also the church where a number of generations of Underhays had been baptized, and married, so I felt a personal connection to the town and building.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The city of Cambridge has a number of interesting churches including St Bene’t’s Church, the oldest standing building in the city and the unique round Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

St Bene’t

Also in Cambridge, The Michaelhouse Cafe is a re-purposed church currently being used as a cafe. Formerly the church of Michaelhouse College, the cafe also houses church services, concerts, and other

Michaelhouse Cafe

events. The coffee house is in the nave, while the apse, sanctuary, and altar remain intact. It is a great place to stop for lunch, as the stained glass window adds a distinctive light to the building.

In other examples of churches being re-purposed, in Torquay, Devonshire, one church is currently a children’s play land and another has become a bar and nightclub.

Bar Church Torquay

The Church of the Purple Door

One of the interesting points about some of the churches above, such as St Peter, St Paul & St Thomas of Canterbury, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and St Bene’t’s is that at least part of the structure of these buildings has survived since Saxon times, before William the Conqueror arrived from Normandy in 1066.

Notre Dame de Paris

In Paris, Notre Dame is a grand building with amazing stained glass windows. It was also the setting for victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of NotreDame. The gargoyles themselves make this a fascinating building. Unfortunately, we were unable to gain access to the towers because of a long line-up. (This is a serious problem for some of the attractions in Paris). We were inside the church itself however.

Barcelona is home to the famous Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, originally designed by Antoni Gaudi, and under construction for 130 years. Although there is some debate how subsequent architects have re-interpreted Gaudi’s vision, it is certainly a unique architectural achievement. While I

La Sagrada Família

was impressed and awed by the design, Patricia was forbidden access to part of the church as her dress didn’t completely cover her knees, driving home to her the ridiculousness of sexist dress codes. This resulted in an overall negative emotional reaction to the building as a whole.

Toledo Spain is a beautiful city with a long and varied history. A previous capital of the region, it has been home to the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and finally the Christians. Because of the multicultural aspect of the city, it was also home to a large Jewish population. The combination of age and architectural styles have combined to make this a truly

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo

remarkable city. The Catedral Primada Santa Mar, however, was for me a totally different experience.  The first thing noticeable about the church is the huge steel fences that are across several of the entrances. Similar fences, at least 8 feet tall and pointed were also between viewers and the paintings by El Greco and others. This is in contrast to the many major museums were visited where the curators trusted viewers to respect the artwork and not touch the pieces. In addition, the building was ostentatious with the use of gold. This gold was

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo

everywhere and one could almost hear the screams of the natives of North and South America who died in the Spanish quest for precious metals.

Throughout its history, Toledo had been a cultural crossroads, and in the 11th century, it was the location of the re-introduction of ancient writing into Europe. The Muslims had not destroyed Latin and Greek writings as the Catholic Church had done, and it was here that translations were made. The city remained a centre of learning and education until the days of the inquisition and the wars against the Moors. This killed, exiled, or forced the conversions of most of the Jews and Muslims.

In the cathedral, almost all of the painting and carvings were of christian martyrs, enforcing the myth of the persecution of Christians, in the middle of such examples of persecution BY the Christians.

During my month long trip around Europe, as well as previous visits around the world, this is the only building I have ever left. The feeling of revulsion was so great, I could not bear to remain inside.

A subsequent visit to the Reina Sofia, the modern art museum in Madrid, home of Picasso’s Guernica and other examples of political art created during the Spanish civil war where the Catholic Church supported Franco, solidified these feelings

Emotions. Churches are built to drive emotional responses from people. Sometimes they don’t realize the emotions they evoke.

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One Response to Thoughts on Churches

  1. ac says:

    1938 October The Church Gazette reports on alterations and additions to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre including the installation of the present English High Altar and the construction of the Lady Chapel. These were designed by Charles Towle the architect of the original design for Holy Trinity Cathedral and were a memorial to family members. 1939 June The Church Gazette notes that the Altar from Holy Sepulchr has been given to either St. Helier’s Bay or Kohimarama parish, along with, eight pews, sanctuary accessories, and oak credence table in memory of F. M. Sangar, choirmaster and synodsman etc. [the gift included the altar steps and hangings]. 1944 October 5th A Faculty is granted to place a doorway from the sanctuary of the church and also to remove and replace three brass memorial tablets.[presumably for either the Lady Chapel or the new sacristy.] 1945 November The Parish ‘petitions’ the Bishop for a Faculty for the replacement of the ribbed glass panes of the side aisle windows with ‘coloured glass’’ 1949 N.Z. Herald [Wednesday December 14th] The Reverend Frank L. Parsons overcame an intruder who had damaged stained glass windows, torn altar hangings to shreds, bent an alms dish in half, snapped 5 ft oak candle standards in half, and damaged the altar cross. Sections of six stained glass windows were damaged and each window is reportedly insured for £720…. 1946 March 12th A letter is sent to Rev’d. Parsons acknowledging his request for a faculty to place lead lights into the aisle windows.

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