Monday, April 1, 2013

Cathedrals of Europe

Happy Easter, friends!  I hope everyone had a blessed and wonderful day, full of family and church and chocolate. :)
Easter, to my mind, is such a perfect fresh start, even more so than New Year's.  It's a brand new beginning for the world, and anything seems possible because of God's love for us.
To celebrate, I thought I would do a little tour through some beautiful European cathedrals.  Stopping in churches is one of my favorite past times when travelling in Europe - and I certainly found plenty of lovely ones during my recent peregrinations.
Really, I think it's a pity there aren't many grand cathedrals here in the States; it impoverishes both our spiritual and our architectural landscape.  But then I suppose our efforts are now put into creating marvels on a miniature scale - iphones and tablets and such - rather than on the massive scale of these gorgeous churches.
So let's start out in Paris.  I arrived in the city of lights, after a red-eye flight, at about 9 in the AM.  After navigating the rather gritty RER and metro stops, I at last stepped out into the Parissienne morning at Les Halles.  I hadn't quite reached the romantic side of the city yet: there were construction barriers and dirt everywhere.  But then I found this rising up amidst it all.

That entrance and those charming painted windows were calling me.  You entered through the battered white door, then turned a corner and went through another door, and then found yourself in the peaceful dusk of the church.
Surprisingly, this is just a church, not a cathedral: L'Eglise St-Eustache is what it's called.
A sea of wooden chairs invited me to put down my heavy luggage and sit for a minute to say a prayer. :)
I had been reading a book about cathedrals before my trip, and it's astounding to think that these beautiful spaces were created five hundred years ago, with far less technology than we have now.  It sounds like the building projects were often accomplished by one or two big personalities who were just determined to get it done and remained determined through decades of delays, set-backs, and difficulties.

What an incredible legacy to leave for so many generations to come.  I wonder if the architects and priests and patrons who created these cathedrals could have imagined how many hundreds of years they would endure!
I was certainly thankful to have such a glorious sight to welcome me to Paris.  How cute are the heart-shaped windows?  This winter I did an engagement shoot for a friend, and I photoshopped a window in one of the photos to make it heart-shaped.  Too bad we couldn't have done the shoot here!
We have more cathedrals to see!  So let's "sortie" (exit), and check out another church in Tours, France.
Tours is in the Loire Valley, and served as our base for exploring some amazing castles in the area (of Impressions de France fame).  The city of Tours had not one, but multiple incredible churches.  The one in this post, that you see rising up behind the bare branches in the photo on the left, is the Cathedrale St-Gatien.

Also note the main doors to the Cathedral on the right.  European cathedrals have the most epic doors.
Rose windows are so beautiful.  And the way the stained glass shines out against the shadows in a cathedral, like gems sparkling, is absolutely gorgeous.
Interesting fact: if you make a tour of cathedrals in Europe, you will find some of them have dark, sooty ceilings, blackened by the ages; whilst others are shining and white.  If they're the latter, it means they've been lately cleaned.  In the Tours Cathedral, you could tell they were mid-way through the cleaning process!  I wonder how long it takes for them to get dark and sooty again?
Clearly I have a thing for old doors.  Can you tell? ;) This one led to the Cathedrale de St-Louis in La Rochelle - a seaside town in the west of France, and another sight from the Epcot movie!
You could tell this was a seaman's church as soon as you entered - it was airy and open and bright and nautical somehow.  Another church in La Rochelle actually had model ships on the walls where you would normally find statues.  This one did have a chapel entirely dedicated to sailing.

We only had a few hours to see Nantes, as it was a stop in between trains, but we did manage to see the Cathedrale St-Pierre-et-St-Paul there, pictured above!  It must have been very recently cleaned, because it was the most shining and ethereally bright of any church we visited.
Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate the incredible thing that is morning light filling a cathedral?  There is nothing else like on this earth - in fact, it doesn't even seem like it could be from this earth, it's so beautiful.
Pictures don't do it justice.  You have to be standing in it; it's just transporting.

So those are a few of the churches we visited in France.  A town doesn't seem to be a proper town in France unless it has at least one awe-inspiring church/cathedral.  In England we somehow didn't seem to stop in quite as many, although there were two towns with incredible cathedrals that we made sure to see.
Salisbury Cathedral is surrounded by a beautiful green park, called the close, which sets it apart a bit from the city.  Interesting fact: it also has the tallest spire in Europe.  I couldn't even fit the whole thing in the photo!
You might think the cathedrals would start to blend together, when you see a whole bunch, but Salisbury definitely stands out.  The use of dark and light stone is so interesting.  (Apparently the darker stone on the pillars is prehistoric rock from the nearby Jurassic coast!)
Check out those supports in the photo on the left.  The spire was added to the cathedral some time after it was built, and caused the building to sink into the ground, so they had to make sure to add supports for the extra weight!

I know, it's a lot of pictures - but we're nearing the end, I promise!  Only look at how lovely the colors on that ceiling are!  After viewing the cathedral, I had a stroll through the cloisters...

 So pretty and peaceful!  This wasn't the only English cloister I saw, however; the other one was at Chester Cathedral...

Much more dark and somber than the airy cloisters at Salisbury.  But then Chester is much further North, so maybe they needed to keep it enclosed to keep warm!

Chester Cathedral itself was quite darker with its brick and very different from other cathedrals we visited on the trip.

Beautiful tile floor.  You never know what gorgeous detail you're going to find - a floor, a ceiling, a painting or plaque - when you enter a church in Europe.

Chester Cathedral had many, many memorials on the wall that my brother and I found interesting to peruse.  One was a man who had moved to New York in the eighteenth century then moved back to England.  Apparently the "rebels" had stolen all his property.  Oops.  I think that was we Americans.  ;)

This photo (obviously) came out kinda blurry, but I thought it was rather artsy!

It was nice to see the prayer books set out in Chester Cathedral, all ready for the next service - good to see that the cathedral is still primarily a place of prayer.  Although I think that even in the more touristy cathedrals of Europe, they can't help but revert to their original purpose even for the sightseers.

In these soaring spaces, your thoughts and your soul can't help but soar up as well. :) 


  1. Those pictures are gorgeous! I'll be spending my summer in England, at Oxford University, and I can't wait to see some cathedrals for myself.

  2. That is so amazing!! Thanks for sharing with us...and I agree about Easter and new beginnings...I was thinking that in church Sunday morning!!!

  3. A few summers ago I got to sing in Westminster Abbey, Christ Church Cathedral, St. George's Chapel, Wells Cathedral, and Canterbury Cathedral. And I thought all of them were magnificent. But then I got to have a tour of SALISBURY and I was floored. (Alas, I did not get to sing in that one!) You are right when you say it stands out from the rest. What a truly inspiring place!