On my trips to Europe, I have made the effort to visit a couple famous Cathedrals/Churches, such as the Notre Dame in Paris and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Oh, and not to forget St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican. I have gone inside the Notre Dame but not Sagrada Familia or St. Peters Basilica. I was happy enough with photos of the outside. I didn’t have enough interest in them to stand hours in long lines and pay to go inside. I’m pretty sure a lot would consider me unappreciative of the meaning and treasures of art they held. They just never appealed to me.
Why the Lack of Appeal?
Firstly, architecturally, they all seemed the same, tall, dark, with big arches and lots of statues of saints. Secondly, I had a distaste for the history of the way the churches acquired their riches. People were poor and starving but the churches raked in money and treasures. Each bishop in a race to build a bigger and shinier building at every cost. Reminded me of the small man syndrome.
Then, I read the book Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It is a story of people involved in building a grand cathedral. You get to experience it from everyone’s perspective, from the cardinals, the masons, the architects, artists and common people. This book has not only touched every emotion in me but has given me a whole different appreciation for the effort that was put forth in constructing such a church. I have come to look at everything about them in a different light. Although I still think the poor people were used and abused to build these buildings, I believe a lot of them really believed and trusted it was a good deed they were doing. The least I can do now, is appreciate the effort they exerted and try to understand the meanings behind every statue and art work they created.
I understand more about the architectural milestones that were reached. The taller the arches and bigger the windows, the more complex the design. I now realize they all differ and don’t all just contain statues of saints. There is more to them, you just need to discover it.
On my last trip to Europe, I made the effort to visit a couple. I still don’t like the idea of standing in long lines but as mentioned earlier, there are thousands of churches you can visit and not all are filled with hordes of tourists. Don’t be afraid to see one that isn’t listed as the top tourist attraction in your guide book. I ended up choosing San Luigi dei Francesi and Sant’Agnese in Agone, both in Rome. The positive part is it was free (unless you choose to leave an offering of an amount) and it was not stuffed with tourists.
How to Choose which Church or Cathedral to Visit:
- Of course it’s great to see the most famous ones. How could you say you were in Rome without seeing the Vatican, or be in Paris and not see the Notre Dame but if they are too busy, there are always other ones to appreciate.
- Don’t just choose the ones at the top of the list in your hand book. They will most likely be the busiest.
- Read and get to know the ones you decide to visit. It will make the tour a lot more meaningful when you know what’s special about that particular church. Some churches provide headsets with recorded information (at a cost). I usually like to read before hand and make my own printout of the information to refer to (at no cost).
- Choose at least two and choose them based on variety. Different era, different structure and different artistry. Notice the differences in architecture and art.
- Make sure to familiarize yourself with the hours they are open to the public and whether they even allow access to the public. Most churches hold mass at certain times of day and if you like, you may be able to take part in one.
- Remember, most churches will not allow flash photography, especially during mass. Overall, flash-less photography is allowed so don’t forget to bring your camera stand.
Churches and Cathedrals have opened the door for more history discovering for me. It’s another aspect of travel for me to include and share in my blog. Please share which ones you found worth seeing in Europe that are not as popular. I would love to learn about them and hopefully visit some on my next travel trip coming up in 2016.