Wandering around the eclectic foodie's paradise of Borough Market (at which I consumed the most heavenly doughnut) in London with my friend Holly and brother Nate, I was impressed by a magnificent church across the street to my left. I asked the gentleman at the nearest stall, "What building is that over there?"
"Yes, but what church?"
"I don't know."
I was saddened by his indifference to and ignorance of such a gorgeous edifice. What was in fact Southwark Cathedral deserved to be referred to by name. I walked over to it shortly afterward and gazed on it from just outside its gate, reading the welcome posted on the bulletin there. The Anglican cathedral was by the River Thames, and I could see an enormous ship docked in the distance. It begged for some artist to sketch it in charcoal.
The whole of England, from what I could tell in my short visit, was home to hundreds of magnificent churches, and each one had for me a powerful magnetic pull. I never grew weary of seeing or being in them. Each was home. Though I confess that I had the ungracious thought once or twice, This used to belong to Catholics, I was soon corrected: No, these all belong to Christ.
And that was why I loved them.
Visiting the Tower of London on Thursday, we had the good fortune to sit within St. Peter-ad-Vincula's Church and hear the history of some of the executed prisoners buried beneath its floors and how they were all given a Christian burial by Queen Victoria. The Yeoman Warder, who lives at the Tower, explained his own good fortune in having the use of that church for the baptism and weddings of his children. I did not take any pictures, because it was forbidden, but it had quite a beautiful organ in it, a simple altar, a raised tomb in its midst, and a tricky step just outside the door before one ascended the narrow stairs. It was less ornate than expected. The Norman St. John's Chapel within the White Tower, over 1000 years old, held greater attraction for me. Though simpler still, its stone glowed like solid sunshine; its rudimentary pews invited; and its bold arches inspired.
Holly, a true friend, accompanied me without complaint or protest to Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Sunday morning even though she isn't Catholic. Within that church far more intricate than any I had worshipped in, the feeling of being home was more complete, for Mass is the same wherever you go in the world. Every parish reads the same readings all over the world on any given Sunday. The Our Father is prayed by all. The "peace be with you" is always proffered to our fellow Christians. We always have communion. Even if half the Mass is in Latin or all in a foreign language, you feel that you are a part of an enormous, culturally rich, global family.
|The Byzantine-inspired Westminster Cathedral|
On the way in to Mass, a gentleman tried to forestall me.
"Stop!" he cried, waving a pamphlet, perhaps one that had a few points against Catholicism. "Just give me a moment to speak with you. Jesus saved me!"
I smiled, shook my head and walked on, but I wanted to reply, "Doesn't He save us all?"
After Mass as Holly and I wandered around the various chapels, she said, "I've never been in a church where so much was going on before."
The cathedral was lined with chapels to either side of the sanctuary: the Blessed Sacrament chapel to its left with its sign begging quiet for those praying, a chapel of St. George, one of St. Paul, another for Divine Mercy. There were also lines of people waiting to enter the ornate, traditional confessionals before the next Mass. An enormous baptismal font with a statue of John the Baptist near the front of the church greeted those who entered.
Holly loved the architecture. I, too admired the structural elements, lighting and colors. The crucifix reminded me of the San Damiano one before which St. Francis of Assisi prayed when he heard Christ tell him to rebuild his church. The altar was ethereal, and the architecture in general surprised me, for I was sure that such a relatively new church, built in the 1800s, would not compare to that other Westminster, much older. In fact, I had never heard of the Catholic Cathedral before my parish priest told me about it.
I may never know how the interiors of the two compare, for when Holly and I went to Westminster Abbey later that day, it was closed to tourists. I was more pleased than disappointed, despite not being able to see the names and tombs of the many famous English buried within. It was Sunday, and the Abbey belonged to those who worship, those for whom it was home.
And we could at least take pictures.
|Holly, always the artist, poses beautifully. Perfecto!|