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St Paul’s Cathedral the Non-Touristy Way

Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Originalpost.

Sometimes the reasons that make me want to see a place are not the most rational. The reason I wanted to see Prague, for example, was a Donald Duck pocket book that had an adaption of Franz Kafka’s „The Metamorphosis“. It started by the words: „Prague – the golden city by Vltava river…“ I read it when I was 9 years old, and I imagined golden rooftops and a golden river and golden sunshine, and I heard in my head the sound of Smetana’s Vltava, a piece I had already learned to love back then, and I wanted to see this magical place more than anything. When I went there 12 years later, it was every bit as golden as I had always pictured it to be, and the music played in my head and heart all the while I was there.

I had a similar reason I had wanted to see London for a long time. Not because of Big Ben, or the London Eye, or the Houses of Parliament, or Westminster Abbey. Not because of Oliver Twist or Peter Pan. I was always just drawn to one place – St Paul’s Cathedral. And again the reason was musical: Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins and her song about the little old bird woman selling breadcrumbs to feed the birds with.

Originally I had wanted to visit a service at Westminster Abbey that morning – but there was security and a lot of people in uniforms moving about in a concerted way that struck me as rather funny and not as awe-inspiring as it maybe was supposed to. At any rate the service could only be visited if you held a ticket. Sometimes fast decisions have to be made. I ran to catch a tube, and another, running up the streets, and I reached St Paul’s having to catch my breath.

St Paul's, London, EnglandThe service hadn’t started yet, but it was high time, and so my first impression of the building was very different from what I had envisioned. I had seen myself carefully approach the church and slowly take in all the details, I had pictured myself walking about, barely being able to keep myself from humming the song about the old bird woman. Instead I ran and rushed up the stairs, „To the service?“ someone asked, I nodded, had a leaflet stuck into my hand, the sound of the ringing bells in my ears, and only found it in myself to calm down when I had already crossed through half of the nave. Finally slowly, I took step upon step forward to finally reach the dome, lift my head and let my eyes wander across it. Instantaneously, tears were running down my cheeks. I never even noticed the moment when I started crying. The beauty, the sublimity of it was completely out of this world. An usher approached me and asked: „Alright?“ I stammered: „It’s so beautiful!“

I sat down in one of the benches rather shyly. I love going to church in foreign countries, because every service in a different language or of a different confession that I have seen has only made my belief stronger that faith is universal, and spirituality transgresses the ideas of different religions. In this place of such great festivity, however, I was a little uneasy at the thought of someone realizing that I was somehow different, somehow not part of this. After all I had – and, as I shamefully must admit, still have – practically no idea about the Church of England and their principles.

As soon as the service started, however, all of this went away. There was a men’s choir all dressed in frocks. Their singing was unearthly, the sounds resonated with something deep inside my soul, and the melodies stretched out into the church dome and felt eternal. They were more solemn, more mighty than I knew church music at home to be, and they seemed to dissolve barriers inside of me and allowed me to fully give in to the entire emotional range that was at my disposition.

The sermon on the other hand was a graceful combination of philosophical depths and true-to-life happiness. It was about equality, and there was one sentence that has never left me since, and that said: „We are all one in Jesus Christ, whether we are male or female, black or white, straight or gay.“ I had never heard someone speak about matters of sexual orientation equality in a church, and I was equally impressed and touched. I do not think the sentiment of that sentence only holds valid for those who believe in Jesus. Equality is a value that is rooted in humanity, not in Christianity. This phrase is just a specifically Christian way of saying something that is bigger than any specific confession.

I left the service happier than I had gone in. I think that is what I like about religious services. They keep me from becoming cynic and restore my idealism somewhat – however much religious institutions may also have the power to destroy that same idealism when I look at other actions they take every day. Is it phony of me to concentrate mainly on those parts of it that go with my own belief system? I don’t know – what harm can it do if it may help me to be a better person?

8 Comments

  1. Lovely story and great to hear that each service, irrespective of country inspires you. I’m glad that St Paul met all your expectations. Hopefully you’ll make Westminster Abbey next time?

    • bridgekeeper

      März 21, 2013 at 11:10 am

      I would really love that. The plan had been doing a service at Westminster Abbey, because St Paul’s I wanted to see badly enough so I would have paid the entrance fee, while Westminster wasn’t calling for me in the same way 😉 loads more to discover in London at any rate though.

  2. I know what you mean about not having a solid reason for visiting places. My reasons for visiting Gdansk were based on having read about it in ‚The Tin Drum‘ – which I loved. I think it was probably the best holiday decision I’ve made so far in Europe. My next stop is Salzburg to check out some of the areas Stephan Zweig wrote about in his autobiography. I think it helps make the books feel more real. 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      März 21, 2013 at 11:12 am

      So glad I’m not the only one who draws inspiration from teh fictional world to see places, Mariko 🙂 I did tour Gdansk in the traces of teh Tin Drum when I went there for the first time 🙂 did you go to Wrzeszcz to see the house where Oskar Matzerath lived? 🙂 It’s a great book.

  3. Oh wow that really sounds lovely Mariella! I would love to visit the church during a service one day, I think I did went past this church when I was there a loooong time ago. Taking part in a service at a cathedral is so much more different than „just“ visiting it.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

      That is true, Aggy, a service will allow you to experience a church on a much deeper level, or so I think. It’s not even necessary to understand the language. I went to a lovely service in Ljubljana that I particularly remember, and I have been to loads of services in Poland even when my Polish wasn’t yet so good. It taught me so much about the culture!!

  4. I’ve been to London three times and the closest I’ve gotten to St. Paul’s is the steps, and it had just closed for the evening. I’ve always wanted to visit the inside and hope to one day.

    • bridgekeeper

      März 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

      I hope you get to do it, Lance. It is a beautiful place full of spirituality and beauty. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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