Friday, 30 December 2011

The comfort of churches

As I grow older I find I’m changing,  and I'm not referring to my waistline or the effect of gravity on my body.  I’m becoming interested in things I wasn’t interested in before.  One of these things is architecture. Another is my family history. A third is a curiosity in churches. There are probably more if I think about it.

My interest in churches lies in two things: their architecture, and how I feel when I’m inside one. 

I like being in a church with very few people. Preferably on my own. I think that’s because other people are a distraction. 

And the church has to be old.  I have to see its age in the smooth, well-polished wooden pews, and its character in the stained glass windows.

I like to study the scenes depicted in the windows. Mostly, they tell me about the kind of church I’m in.  I like to know that countless people have sat where I’m sitting, and I like to think about why they might have been in church. I have to sense the church’s history.  

I’ve often wanted to enter a church, and simply sit, and let the church enter me as it were.  This morning I did this.  And I was lucky, the church was empty.  Everything else seemed to fall away as I sat there, the outside world, any concerns that I’d had.  I felt at peace. Cocooned and protected.  I also felt small and insignificant. The church I’d chosen to sit in is cavernous. I was dwarfed by awe.

The building almost seemed to be alive. I’m not religious, but I did feel the spirituality.  

And when I emerged into the street I found I was walking slowly, almost trance-like, which is unusual for me. 

I remembered, as I was sitting there, that when I was in England, my cousin took me to Winchester Cathedral. There’s a church where you can sense history. Unfortunately, it’s always full of people.   I went to Google to refresh my memory of it, and found the photograph below of Antony Gormley's statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. I am able to reproduce it here because of a Creative Commons Licence. (Some photographers are very generous.)   

Photograph by David Spender.

I hope you like it.  I find it inspiring.

It made me think of the deep-sea diver, William Walker, who worked six hours a days six days a week for something like six years, saving the cathedral from submergence.

But, as I am fond of saying, that's a story for another day.


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