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Saturday, November 15, A.D. 2008
Ely Cathedral

When I travel, I typically spend a good deal of my touring time in religious edifices. There are several reason for this . . .

1) Religious buildings are usually free, and therefore they are good places for someone on a budget.

2) Religious buildings generally have the most beautiful, most impressive architecture in a town. Before the heathen age, men thought it proper to dedicate their finest artistic and civic achievements to God. In our land of mammon, architectural genius is more often dedicated to banking, commerce, funeral arrangements, and sporting events. Sigh . . .

3) You can learn much of a people and a period by examining their temples. I suppose that I subscribe to a generalized form of lex orandi, lex credendi, where the cultic life of a people demonstrates, and perhaps determines, their general way of life. The link between cult and culture is not only etymological.

4) I am keenly interested in religion, and I suppose that such interest leads to my enjoyment of religious buildings.

5) Churches, at least, function for me as sanctuaries. Of course, thieving gypsies might wait outside in ambush, but locals typically treat you well in their churches as long as you are respectful. If you need a rest, stop in a church and just sit. Observe, pray, and collect yourself before continuing on your journey.

My favorite churches, in general, are English Gothic cathedrals. The Anglicans do not deserve their beautiful hallowed halls anymore, but they are lovely. I appreciate the English practices of altar choirs, entombed notable figures around a cathedral, cathedral gardens and cloisters, and the Lady chapels in the apse. Each town’s cathedral is unique and beautiful in its own way. The windows, the sculptures, the vaults, the colorful ceilings, and the side chapels all delight the wide-eyed visitor. Durham, Winchester, Peterborough, Wells, Salisbury, Saint Alban’s, Canterbury, Exeter, Lincoln, Worcester, and others show how the English once had good taste and appropriate priorities. Now, the well fed peasants on the dole act like barbarians at soccer games. Sic transit gloria mundi.

It is hard to choose a favorite, but I think that Ely Cathedral captured my heart more than the rest. I have never seen its octagonal turret like tower anywhere else, and the interior and adjacent Lady Chapel are breathtaking. The town of Ely’s visitor center has this page for the cathedral, too.

The vistors’ center page mentions that Cromwell (hot coals be upon him) had the cathedral closed during his tyrannical reign, during which he used the cathedral as horse stables. Calvin and his minions were perhaps the most disgusting and worthless creatures to carry the name Christian before the French revolution.

Anyway, let the celebrants of ugliness rot—the beautiful cathedrals that embellish the English countryside remain. You ought to visit them before they undergo the same fate as the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople and become mosques or museums.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, November 15, Anno Domini 2008
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