Friday, January 28, 2011

Return of The Armchair: Salute to Churches

Churches are everywhere. Big ones, small ones. New ones, old ones. Ones with gargoyles and flying buttresses and ones with digital billboards and frank and bean suppers. Cathedrals, chapels, minsters, meeting houses...the list goes on. And for someone who isn't particularly religiously inclined, I feel like I've seen a lot of them.

...Which is not to say that I’ve never gone to church for church’s sake. My first memory of participating in organized religion, like most of my vivid memories, is 1) embarrassing and 2) involves a boy.

It was probably 1992. The boy in question was my very first real crush. We’ll call him “Scot,” because that is his actual name and I can't think of a good reason to give him a fake one. Anyway, when I was young, my family went sporadically to the local Congregational church attended regularly by Scot and his family. The part of the service I dreaded most was the rounding up of the children for Sunday School. I was having none of it. My parents, probably because they felt just as out of place and uncomfortable as I did, indulged me. I would crouch low in the pew until all the little kiddies had filed out and I knew I was safe. But once, just once, my plan was dramatically foiled. Shouting across the sanctuary with the fervor of a true zealot, Scot said, “Julia! Julia! Aren’t you coming?”

Yeah, okay, it's really not that mortifying viewed through the lens of adulthood. But it was mortifying back then. Incidentally, Scot would go on to feature prominently in a number of my more humiliating moments over the years, including getting stuck in a bathroom stall at summer camp, losing a toenail in his hot tub, and (my favorite) on my 19th birthday, after confessing to years of (not so) secret admiration, falling spectacularly to the floor when the chair on which I was sitting inexplicably snapped in two.

Anyway, I could go on for ages about humiliating missteps and the crushes that caused them, (a likely autobiography title, so don’t steal it) but we’re here to talk about churches. I don't really know why. Just an idea I had. And I happen to have taken a lot of pictures of churches over the years. So why not.

This is St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Foley, Alabama, the only church featured in our Salute that has palm trees.

Westminster Abbey. Old. Gothic. Expensive to get inside. In short, a classic.

This is somewhere in the vicinity of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I absolutely love this church, mostly because I know nothing about it except that it's creepy, isolated, and has two recent gravestones. I wish I wrote short stories.

Bratislava, Slovakia. Another church I knew little to nothing about. I just remember that I really liked the way it was lit. Anyway, I've since done some Google research and discovered that it is St. Martin's Cathedral. A couple of interesting facts (for nerds): This was the place to have your coronation if you were an Austro-Hungarian emperor. Maria Theresa was crowned here! AND it was the site of the first performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Although, I think it was officially premiered in its complete form in St. Petersburg. But still...neat.

This is a wee wooden church in the Österreichisches Freilichtmuseum (Austrian Open-Air Museum) in Stübing, Austria. It's exactly what it sounds like- a huge sneeze. No, just kidding. It's an open air museum filled with replicas of traditional Austrian homes/farms/etc. Pretty neat. It's near Graz. Check it out.

Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco. St. Mark's. Venice. The Doge's Palace. Monteverdi. Pigeons. You know the deal. It's really shiny inside. Chiesa d'Oro. Church of Gold. All that.

This is the one of a kind Mariazell Basilica in Mariazell, Austria. It's part pink! It's also called the Basilica Mariä Geburt or the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Big pilgrimage site, mostly to do with the presence of a particularly powerful wooden image of the Virgin Mary. Also the site of the orientation session for my study abroad program. Whole different thing.

Ah, Amsterdam. This is the Oude Kerk, or Old Church. The fun thing about this church is that it's in the Red Light District. That, and about 10,000 people are buried underneath it. People with awesome Dutch names like Jacob van Heemskerck and Cornelis Hooft and Frans Banning Cocq. (Apart from having a sweet name, that last guy is the main dude in Rembrandt's The Night Watch.)

York Minster. The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter. It's in York. That's in England. The UK. THE UNIVERSE. Anyway, here's another classically awesome cathedral. The second largest Medieval Gothic cathedral in the world, in fact. The biggest is Chartres. In France. Also, Dame Judi Dench is from York. Now you know.

Tintern Abbey. No jokes to be made here. It's too beautiful and poetic. Ok, one joke. Did you know there was a psychedelic 60s rock band called Tintern Abbey?...and that their hit song was called "Vacuum Cleaner?" Vacuum Cleaner?? Somebody go find it on YouTube and tell me what it's all about.

Back to London and back to St. Martin. This is St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Very Anglican. Very English. Very... Sir Neville Marriner.

Paris. Montmartre. Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It stays white because of the special kind of stone they used to build it. Interesting.

So there you have it. The Armchair's Salute to Churches. It's good to be back. Fair warning: I have enough material for a Salute to Churches II. See you next time?

1 comment:

SoundsLikeCanada said...

Oh Julia, you have such a way of reeling me in with your embarrassing moments...

I really love that Eureka Springs church, too. Your line about writing short stories is so on the mark.

Have you seen "Night Watching" - the Peter Greenway movie based on The Night Watch? It's pretty strange, but you know, in a good way.

When my high school choir went to England, we spent more than half the trip in York, and I went to York Minster several times (why exactly? Maybe just because the town is so small).

Anyway, I'd come back for Salute to Churches II.