I read Ann Leary’s blog with great pleasure. She is a gifted writer – very funny – and she’s a MAJOR dog and horse person.
Plus, she’s married to actor Denis Leary. What’s not to like?
The Learys just returned from a visit to Italy, and I enjoyed reading her account of visiting some cathedrals there:
“Denis and I are both emotional about cathedrals. When I enter a medieval place of worship I’m filled with awe. I find it incredible that when resources were so hard to come by, when lives were so short and so perilous, when, instead of cranes and forklifts, they had only the muscle and sweat of man and beast, people chose to build elaborate structures that didn’t offer them shelter or supply them with running water or food. but instead, were designed as glorious offerings of magnificent praise; monuments of faith and hope and love. That the spiritual life so clearly took precedent over the material is what makes me blink back tears and reach for my husband’s hand – a hand that, in cathedrals, is usually clenched in rage.
Denis is infuriated by cathedrals. He sees in the rich ornamentation, the statuary, stained glass and all the cold, expensive marble only the filthy corruption of the papacy and the ruthless exploitation of peasants. His view is the polar opposite of mine – he sees, in cathedrals, the material completely obliterating the spiritual. The nuns, visiting from points across the globe, give him chills. The smell of incense launches him into a sort of Catholic school PTSD trance and by the second day on any trip, he just waits outside whenever I want to wander into a church.”
Hubby and I are much the same as Ann and Denis. I, like Ann, get caught up in the beauty and the history. Hubby (who went to Catholic school) would just rather wait outside.
When I read Ann’s account, it reminded me that I hadn’t shared my recent cathedral experience yet. So, here it is…
When I found myself outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue and 51st Street here in Manhattan
I darted in, with my camera, to take a few pictures. Tourists are encouraged to come inside, so this is not inappropriate.
Wikipedia tells us:
Work was begun in 1858 but was halted during the Civil War and resumed in 1865. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated on May 25, 1879.
Here’s a photograph that recently ran in the New York Times, taken in 1868 during the construction:
The outside is certainly impressive; the inside is just breathtaking!
Just look at those ceilings!
And the intricate stained glass
and the candles everywhere.
The cathedral’s website says, “Every year, more than one million prayer candles are lit here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
Artifacts and statues and paintings are every which way you look.
Then I noticed in particular…
A lovely decanter and cup, up front, on a table.
Not behind a partition or rope…
Just sitting there.
I had to get a closer look.
I went up and slid into the second row of the pews, and slid over right behind the items.
This is no dime store decanter and cup!
Wouldn’t you guess – lead crystal, solid gold, jewel-encrusted?
I was totally in awe.
I sat there for quite some time, taking it all in.
THEN, a small group of nuns appeared.
I have a dear, dear friend who is fascinated with nuns.
I was determined to get a nun picture or two for my friend.
Then, they all came over and sat in the 1st and 2nd row pews – right next to me!
Maybe if you are Catholic – or accustomed to nuns for whatever reason – this wouldn’t excite you, but I was excited.
I knew my friend would be excited.
I knew that Hubby, like Denis, would have the chills – thinking back to Catholic school and their nuns.
I was thrilled.
Then the pews began to get more and more crowded. People sat in my pew next to me, and I realized that a mass was about to begin.
I didn’t feel quite right, staying through mass. I don’t know the process, I wasn’t dressed for church. I don’t know how to cross myself.
I was right there in the front.
I excused myself, left that pew, and stood back in the rear of the cathedral for a few more moments, then exited before the noon mass began.
So, what about you? Do you have a love/hate relationship with Cathedrals? Or, do you fall solidly into one camp or the other?
On December 15th, the Cathedral is having their 23rd annual “A City Singing At Christmas” evening. “Celebrate this joyful time of the year with traditional and contemporary Christmas hymns and carols!”
I may have to go experience that. No religious rituals I’ll need to know…
Maybe my nun-loving friend will join me.