Buildings are more than sheer bricks and mortar, they are touchstones where we connect with our surroundings and each other.
And dedicate ourselves to higher things. And that is why we are so deeply affected when a beloved monument such as the Notre-Dame erupts in flames.
A mainstay of Paris life for a thousand years in its various guises, it has been at the heart of all of the pivotal moments in French history, revolution, the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor of France, the funerals of several presidents and the triumphant singing of the Magnificat to celebrate the Liberation of Paris in 1944.
But it is perhaps best known as the backdrop for the heart-rending tale of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This Parisian institution is indeed the stuff of romance and a higher purpose.
Hallowed be thy name!
TO THE GREATER GLORY OF GOD
Five churches that lift us higher… and higher.
St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican:
The largest church in the world, and reputed to be the burial site of St Peter, the Rock on which Christ built his church, and the first Pope, it’s grand all right.
But you can find solace in the small chapels inside and confess your sins in the old-fashioned way, and in your chosen language (look for the flag signs) in one of the confessional boxes along the aisles.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.
The reputed burial place of St James the Great… having one of Christ’s apostles buried in your church certainly does give you kudos.
The holy of the holies for peregrinos who have trudged their way along the Camino.
The Pilgrims’ Mass where the red-cloaked clerics, or Tiraboleiros, swing the Botafumeiro incense-burner which is lowered down on a rope from a roof is a sight to behold.
Best stay in your pews though in case you want to be clocked by it though.
The Cathedral, alas, is closed for renovation work until next January.
For the best Camino experience, visit www.caminoways.com.
Westminster Abbey, London:
They’ve been crowning kings and queens here since William the Conqueror in 1066, and it’s probably felt that long in the waiting for Prince Charles too.
It’s also the final resting place for many a monarch, eight prime ministers, Thomas Parr who died, aged 152 and saw ten sovereigns on the throne, the Unknown Soldier, and the great and good of British life. Its Poets Corner houses, if that’s the correct word, Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, Edmund Spenser and has memorials to Shakespeare and Byron too.
But it’s not all pomp and ceremony, one of history’s greatest campaigners, William Wilberforce, who championed the end of slavery in the British Empire is honoured too. A real who’s who of British history.
Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany:
The beauty of this church is that it has been rebuilt in exact detail in just eleven years after being destroyed in the Dresden firebombing of the Second World War and being left in ruins throughout the entire Communist occupation.
In an act of redemption, the son of one of the bombers made an orb for the roof to honour those who his father killed, an act that had filled him with remorse all his life. Martin Luther, whose statue guards the church, would be proud of the diligence and reverence of his fellow Saxons.
Whitefriars Street Carmelite Church, Dublin
OK, a homer here.
And no, it’s not St Patrick’s Cathedral, as much as I love it with its splendour and its 800 years of history and Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels (it would have sold more if it had been Gulliver’s TravelsTravelsTravels) who was Dean there.
No, it’s Whitefriars where St Valentine’s bones are buried which we all fell in love with.
Of course, you know it already, but it’s worth the retelling that we owe it all to Irish priest Fr John Pratt who persuaded Pope Gregory XVI to dig up St Val’s bones and take them home as a gift for his compatriots.
Don’t be too hard on Fr John, Hallmark wasn’t around then, nor all-night garages,
…and with you soon… reviews of Paris with ma famille, Rome (and a special pilgrimage), losing my way on the Camino, London calling, and a rare oul’ time in Dublin… and much, much more.
Tell us what you think. And Meet You On The Road.