A Day For Churches (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

On a day when so many go to church, I thought I'd talk about some of the remarkable cathedrals and churches, large and small, that I recently had a chance to see in Europe.

BEAUTY AND HISTORY

I returned a week ago today from a couple of weeks in England and France.  The centuries-old buildings there are fascinating...and so many of the greatest of them are churches and cathedrals. Easter Sunday seems like a good day to share images of some of the places I saw.

We'll start relatively small.  This is the Parish church in a small Oxfordshire village called Culworth. I went to school in this village and lived in the next one over in the mid 1970's.  Culworth church dates back to the 13th century and is built next to the spot where Culworth Castle once stood, in the late 11th century!  This shot is taken from across the village cricket pitch where we played as kids.

A bit bigger now, with a bit more history attached.  Below is Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.  That's the town where William Shakespeare was born nearly 450 years ago.  This church was old then!  It's celebrating its 800th anniversary this year.  The Bard is buried in this church, that's his grave in the third picture.   Note the curse he wrote before his death on anyone who dared to move his bones.

            

Not far away is the ancient town of Warwick. (below) From the top of the wall of Warwick's spectacular medieval castle you can see St. Mary's Church.  (behind me)  It was founded on its present site in 1123.  Mostly built in the centuries after that...English Gothic.  The nave and tower were destroyed by fire in 1694, re-built in 1704.

On to London...one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, St. Paul's.  Built between 1675 and 1710 it was designed by Christopher Wren.  It's perhaps best known in the US as the wedding site of Charles and Diana.  This is the 4th church in this spot since 604 AD.  This one replaced the one destroyed by the great fire of London in 1666.  The Millennium Bridge over the River Thames (right) offers a wonderful views of St. Paul's.

 

Westminster Abbey (below) is one of the most amazing buildings I've ever seen.  Stunning. Burial place of notables from Edward the Confessor to Laurence Olivier..Chaucer, Dickens, Carroll, Newton, Hardy, Kipling, Darwin ...The building itself is unbelievable. Every English Monarch has been crowned here since William the Conqueror in 1066. The Abbey was first founded in 960 AD.

Salisbury Cathedral (below) has parts which are more than 750 years old and it has the tallest church spire in Britain at 404 feet.  Heard the choir sing here for a few minutes.  Inside Salisbury Cathedral (right). In all of these places you marvel at how they managed to build them without the modern techniques available now...and you realize they could never be duplicated.

    

Off to France...the most famous of the French cathedrals, Notre-Dame.  It was started in 1163 and took 200 years to complete.  The two towers are 226 feet tall.  On the right, Notre-Dame as seen from the Tour Montparnasse..a modern highrise building to the South.

    

This is my favorite building in Paris.  ...Sacre-Coeur at the top of a hill called the Butte Montmartre.  It's newer, built from 1871-1910.   It's made from a travertine stone than bleaches white with age.  Bottom picture, Sacre-Coeur as seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

  

 In One more in France, in the Loire Valley city of Tours.  Below is another Gothic cathedral. It was started in 1170, parts burned down and were rebuilt...it was finished in 1547.  You don't have to seek out beautiful old monuments to faith in these countries.  They're everywhere.  It can be moving just to stand in one, large or small, and think about what went into building them and maintaining them over the centuries..and about all the thousands and thousands of people who have had significant moments in their lives inside those walls.   

I want to end on a more modest note. Below is the beautiful Church of St. John The Baptist.  It's in the English Midlands, in a village called Thorpe Mandeville.  It's less than two miles from where we started, in Culworth, and it's the village where I used to live.  My family lived in a house a couple of hundred yards from this church from 1975-1978.  I walked past it thousands of times..but I didn't appreciate it then, I was a child.

Here's what I appreciate now.  This ironstone church dates back to the 13th century.  It is not a tourist attraction, not a rarity...just a simple parish church serving a village with a population of about 200...that happens to be nearly 800 years old.

 

 

I'll leave you with a look inside, where light has been shining through that window for centuries.

Happy Easter

We'll talk again soon

Don Ward

 

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