Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Mystery in the Cathedral

(Despite the sound of that title, I saw zero Nancy Drews in the Cathedral of St. Paul.)

Let me begin by saying this:  I am not Catholic.  I was not raised Catholic.  Yes, the pope and I are best one-sided friends, but there are many things I don't understand about Catholicism.

Like this:

Now.  Have there been times when, all other disciplinary measures having failed, I have sprayed water our on children, chanting, "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!"?  But of course!  Sometimes the only thing that will do is a good old-fashioned exorcism.  I'm pretty sure I read that in The Happiest Baby on the Block.  

Seriously, though, sisters of mine, what on earth is this for?  Is this one of those things I didn't even knew I needed until I had it, like my bendable cutting mats or good, warm socks?  Is this for cooking the best, most pasta-y pasta this side of heaven?  Am I going to hell for joking about this?  

Fortunately I wasn't quite so befuddled by all the wonders contained within the Cathedral.  I may not go to the kind of church that houses massive statues of the doctor, but I still understand this one.  I think.

Not The Doctor, of course- Dr. Luke.  OH, OH, OH, UNLESS... no.  I have tip-toed uncomfortably close to blasphemy already in this post.  I will restrain myself from suggesting that the gospel writer Luke and Doctor Who are one and the same person.

It's true- we don't have any of this fun statuary in my church.  Or, hang on, whaddayoucall'em- shrines, I think.  Is that right, my Catholic brethren?  Shrines, correct?

Whatever they are, I enjoyed the heck out of them.  Partially because they were so beautiful, so impressive, but also because most contained elements I wouldn't have expected.  

Take the above photo- is that a pegasus there on the bottom right, next to Luke?  I don't really remember reading about a pegasus in the book of Luke, or in any of the gospels, to be perfectly honest, which is really a shame.  Was this a strange whim of the sculptor ("You know what this disciple needs?  More pegasi.")?  Or is this yet another mystifying Catholic thing?  Do you unlock the mystery of the pegasus when you're going through Catholic confirmation classes?  Because in the Lutheran ones the most mysterious thing ever discussed was the Office of the Keys, which, after nine years of Lutheran school and two years of Lutheran catechism classes, I still can't tell you exactly what that dang thing is.  It just sounds cool. 

My questions about this one were answered by the tour guide:

I took these photos before the guided tour, and I may or may not have discovered the unfortunately impressive acoustics in the Cathedral when I snorted aloud at this picture of Catholic story time:

"Goodnight light, and the red balloon."
I was taught during the tour that these are Saints Cyril and Methodias (don't ask me which one's which, they're like those identical twins you went to school with, where you could never quite remember if Mandy or Mindy was the one with long hair, except with beards here, I guess), as in the Cyrillic alphabet.  I've decided that until they name an entire alphabet and its associated language after me, I should probably forfeit the right to make fun of them.  This notion was followed by some pretty intense guilt, which they apparently pump right into the air in these places.

Unlike the rest of the shrines, however, I knew this guy the moment we made crazy-eyed contact:

Oh, John the Baptist, with your hair toga-thing and your steady diet of locusts.  


It's a little frustrating to look at these photos now, because they really don't give you any sense of the scale of this place.  It's massive, that dome up there soaring some 186 feet above the ground.  

It's the same with the stained glass.  The Cathedral's just dripping with it, but you're not experiencing the incredible play of light and color through them unless you're there.  

And while I may not be Catholic, I'm Lutheran enough to know that you don't just sashay up to the altar to walk your dirty little sinner's fingers all over everything, something a lady in our small tour group started to do, prompting two other women and I to audibly gasp and the kind elderly gentleman who was our tour guide to do a kind of, "UBUGUHGGG-D-D-DON'T GO UP THERE!  *Ahem* Excuse me, you are permitted to walk behind the screens to view the shrines, but please don't approach the altar."  It was a moment.

I just loved the whole thing- the beauty, the incredibly knowledgeable tour guide, the insane amount of detail, the shrines, all of it.  Makes me want to put stained glass in one of our windows, and maybe one of those bathtub shrines you bury in the dirt in our backyard.  Probably exactly what the architects of the Cathedral had in mind.  


  1. I was raised Catholic (I'm now Unitarian Universalist), and the one thing I miss is how absolutely beautiful the church interiors are. All those wonderful sculptures, even in smaller churches. The first time I was ever in a non-Catholic church was when I went to my MIL's memorial service in the Presbyterian church my in-laws attended. I was stunned by how stark and boring it was. I honestly hadn't realized other churches weren't decorated to the hilt :-)

    1. I forgot to add that we never took holy water home --I wonder if that's something newish?

  2. My favorite is the photo of the dove in the ceiling of the dome. It looks like it is glowing. Another example of the amazing things one can see when one looks up!

    That's a stunning portrayal of John the B. It's hard to imagine what that guy was really like - probably annoying and smelly and scarily prophetic. AAAAAUGH indeed!

    That is an extremely cool photo of The Doctor. I bet it is true, what you said in small print...

    I have asked my friend J.J. who grew up Catholic and is now Presbyterian about the holy water. I have never seen such a thing. But my pastor did bring back a jar of water from Israel and sometimes uses it to baptise people.

  3. Can you just make your blog pictures with funny captions? You really have a knack for it. Catholic story time made LOL. I only type that when I mean it.


Studies show that that people who leave comments are kind, intelligent, generous, creative, and have really nice hair.