Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

On Churches & Cathedrals

September 21, 2010 · 1 Comment

St. Paul’s Cathedral is beautiful. I prefer it to the Westminster Abbey, which is too firmly Gothic, and thus too intimidating – even disheartening – for me to enjoy. The Mandir was beautiful, but its opulence was too demanding. Rather, I found the short service we were able to see to be the most pleasant thing about the visit. The mosque was simple but I felt nothing. The exterior of the synagogue wasn’t impressive, but its main service hall was quite a spectacle. The church, or space in which worship is held, is where religion meets art and the two become intertwined, rendering contradictions obsolete. As much as the theological aspect of our religious sojourn in in London was important, I want to emphasize just as much the self-evident, formal beauty of the physical structures that provide a spiritual retreat from the material world. Pater tells us to use our eyes in a most bare and sensuous way, to indulge in the uniformity of lines and colors of such beauty, holding nothing back in the appreciation of the aesthetic object as if one was a child.

St. Paul's, exterior

While Westminster Abbey and the Mandir may have a more impressive exterior, I think the interior of St. Paul’s trumps all. I liked the presence of large, unstained windows bringing in natural light; a nice counter to the overall grandeur. (Of course, the Abbey doesn’t use clear glass so the interior is dark and gloomy, just as its exterior suggests). Furthermore, the light in St. Paul’s has the benefit of moving through an expansive space. When you step into St. Paul’s, a sense of liberation overwhelms you, a sentiment I think that has much to do with the way in which copious space and light are joined.

St. Paul's, Interior, Nave

There is the question, however, whether St. Paul’s, Westminster and even the Mandir is an ideal place for worship, when there is a strong emphasis on exterior beauty. I’m not a catholic nor a hindi, but having experienced small cross sections of these religions, the question persists. Can art and religion co-exist? As some people have noted, these religious institutions have become hot tourist spots, so much to the point that the spirituality has diminished. These “landmarks,” however, achieve a certain iconic status not just through its historical relevance, but through its aesthetic power. People go to see St. Paul’s because it looks so damn beautiful.

First Photo, courtesy of London Pass
Second Photo, courtesy of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Categories: 2010 Sean · Churches and Cathedrals

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