Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spaces for the spirit

This photo of the chapel in the Tower of London helps me remember how it felt - even with all the people filing past behind me - to be in a sanctuary, almost cave-like.  How inviting to stay on one of the basic straight-backed wooden chairs, and soak in the light from the arches bouncing off the warm stone of these massive pillars.

The architects of churches - indeed of all spaces deemed sacred - understood what would inspire awe in people, bring them to their knees. I have seen it, and felt it in so many places - Salisbury Cathedral, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and sometimes in tiny chapels in remote European villages. The steeple rises above all other buildings, a beacon for the faithful. Inside, the high vaulted ceiling takes your gaze up. The long central nave draws you forward to the focal point, the altar. (Even if the floor and walls in so many of these old churches are cluttered with effigies, tombs, crests and other furnishings and paraphernalia, there's always the ceiling!) In the oldest cathedrals, the chairs or pews seem to me redundant - here is a place for being on your feet basking in the light of an ancient stained glass window, or on your knees.

Islamic mosques with the high central dome - representing heaven - congregate everyone in a circular space. Surely meant as a symbol for equality!

Wherever we are, it's worthwhile to look for places of sanctity, sanctuaries for the spirit. Here are some of these havens for sanity that I visited. The first four photos are of Southwark Cathedral - at the end of Borough Main Street by London Bridge.

These photos are two years apart - the first time we walked by Southwark was in the winter of 2008. Against a summer sky in 2010.

Inside Southwark, the mind is drawn to the spaces above. Outside, a mound in tribute to the Mohegans brought from the New World, who died in England.

And in Amsterdam, a church to find your way by - the towering steeple of Westerkerk centred us by day and by night.

The steeple with a crown on top - Westerkerk can be seen from streets and canals in Jordaan, Amsterdam. At night with a full moon!

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