In doing research for my next book, I came across this fantastic site in France: the cathedral of Notre Dame in Amiens. Capable of encompassing 10,000 people, it is the largest cathedral in the country. The facade has numerous statues and sculptures, and the interior boasts of a labyrinth and thousands of wood carvings and paintings. The church has been called “the Bible of Amiens.” Inside, 126 sky-high pillars support this immense structure built in the Middle Ages. Allegedly the skull of St. John the Baptist is kept there. It was discovered that at one time the statues that adorn the exterior were painted. Now in the evenings a polychrome light show illuminating these statues is presented. That is what you see in the video here. This is a far cry from the home churches where the Christians celebrated the Eucharist during the first three hundred years!
The magnificent cathedrals that sprang up all over Europe expressed the adoration the people knew God deserved. They poured their blood, sweat, tears, and money into building houses for God that were worthy of him. The United States too has magnificent structures for worship, such as the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Whether immense or small, our churches are sacred places where we believe God dwells today. They are holy ground like Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, and Mount Calvary where we encounter our God and speak with him.
Once I met a family whose father took them to a different church each Sunday during the summer. That is a good idea, for it opens their eyes to the larger Catholic family and introduces them to different saints and a variety of ways to worship. I hope on their itinerary was a cathedral, which is the bishop’s “seat” in each diocese. Perhaps they had a tour and learned about when it was built; the meaning of the stained-glass windows; who, if anyone, is buried there; interesting features; and so forth.
In my book “The Heartbeat of Faith” among the poems is one intended to instill in children reverence for a church as sacred space:
In God’s holy house, I’m as quiet as can be.
There I talk to Jesus, and Jesus talks to me.
Church, God’s holy house, is not the place for fun.
I do not laugh or giggle, wiggle, scream, or run.
Deep within my heart when I’m very, very still,
I hear God say, “I love you, and I always will.”
My earliest memory is being at Mass with my grandmother and crying because of the incense. Women around us were trying to hush me. Gradually I learned church etiquette, like being quiet in church, dressing up for Mass, and not chewing gum. Today children need to be taught not to use their cellphones during Mass!
What is your favorite church or chapel? Why?