This article has been prompted by my sharing of architectural interest with tweeps such as @natekev this blog’s Landlord, @dnahinga and @mafex_inc. Nate challenged me to guest blog on Cathedrals and I’m surely not one to pass up a challenge!
Being a Christian [devoted or not is neither here nor anywhere] means I have visited my fair share of ‘Houses of God’. In Kenya we have some extremely opulent churches as well as some shacks….but I think that what matters most, as many would say, is the ‘use’ and not the ‘structure’.
When we talk about Architecture and Religion, it becomes impossible to discuss one without the other. They are intertwined or better still, become two sides of the same coin. By biblical proportions, the Egyptians designed some magnificent temples dedicated to gods such as Amun-Ra, Osiris and Hathor as well as extravagant residences for the Pharaohs who were deemed to be gods too; they lived in opulence in life as well as in death [the pyramids].
The earliest that we can talk of architectural masterpieces in temple buildings is when King David wanted to build God a Temple and his plan was put aside because Solomon his son was the one appointed to do so. When you read through the Bible and particularly on the temple that King Solomon was to build….the opulence and artistry required plus the materials to be utilized would simply leave one baffled. Here is an excerpt of 1 Kings 6 where the description is as vivid as can be:
1 Kings 6: 14-18 :
14 So Solomon built the temple and completed it. 15 He lined its interior walls with cedar boards, paneling them from the floor of the temple to the ceiling, and covered the floor of the temple with planks of juniper. 16 He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 17 The main hall in front of this room was forty cubits[i] long. 18 The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers. Everything was cedar; no stone was to be seen.
I believe it’s from that point that religion and architecture were joined together at the hip for eons to come…
Cathedrals are behemoths….monolithic structures that are more attached to Christianity ( especially Catholicism) than any other form of ‘organized’ religion and the grandest of them all has to be the Seat of the Holy See, the Archbishop of Rome, and the Pope! St. Peters Basilica. It is made even more famous by the weekly Papal audiences, attended by thousands of faithful.
Built on the tomb of St. Peter, The superlatives describing this church are beyond me. It has been described as the “greatest of all churches in Christendom..” and with very good reason.
St. Peter’s Basilica.
Commissioned by Ivan The Terrible
Next we have St. Basil’s Cathedral which is the very icon of Moscow. Just the other day, St. Basil’s doodle ‘graced’ the Google homepage, as it celebrated its 450th anniversary! Clearly, cathedrals boasting 100yrs are pretty young in this trade. The Basil Cathedral is officially and mouth-fully termed as “Cathedral of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat” and is situated rather majestically, at the famous Red Square in the Russian capital, Moscow. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible after Kazan and Astrakhan were captured, the cathedral is under the Russian Orthodox.
St. Basil’s Moscow.
The Seat of the Archbishop
Then we have Our Lady of Paris, famously known as Notre Dame de Paris. It’s the Gothic Cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, the seat of the Paris’ Archbishop. It’s been said to hold the reliquary of the Crown of Thorns. It also has the Organ, a common feature in all these Cathedrals. Its organ has 7,800 pipes, of which 900 are historical. The cathedral suffered extensive desecration during the French Revolution though it has since been restored to its ancient grandeur. There is also a treatise to its praise, titled Treatise on The Praise of Paris [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_de_Paris]
The Notre Dame Cathedral The Iconic Notre Dame Organ
When talking of cathedrals, we can’t avoid touching on The Sistine Chapel. It is among the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City’s Pope’s residence. The Sistine Chapel is more famous for its frescoes worked on by Rennaissance Artists like Michelangelo, Borticelli, Pietro and Sandro, commissioned by Pope Julius II. The frescoes cover the ceiling, Eastern, Southern and Northern walls. It is also known to be the venue of the Conclave for the College of Cardinals when a new pope is to be installed.
The Sistine Chapel
The Duke and Duchess’ Wedding
We now land in England where we have the Westminster Abbey officially referred to as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster. The Abbey has become more prominently featured around since most recent ceremonies touching on the UK Royals have been held there; including the funeral service of the late Princess Diana as well as the wedding ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Under the Church of England, the Abbey holds the burial grounds of all monarchs of Britain and its realms.
The Westminster Abbey
In Cologne, Germany, we have the Cologne Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cathedral is a monument of Christianity, German Catholicism and most of all Gothic architecture.
The Cologne Cathedral
Guinness World Record
Moving to Ivory Coast, known more for its cocoa production and a President who stole an election; He refused to leave the seat and had to be dragged out of his bunker in a vest. Cote de Ivoire as it now known, is home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world, in the city of Yamoussoukro: The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro. Built at a cost of $300M it mirrors St. Peter’s Basilica especially on the Dome and the plaza. The Guinness Book of World Records even terms it as the largest church on earth with an area of 30,000sqms (322,917 sq ft) and 158m (518 ft) high, though it holds much less people than St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace – Yamoussoukro
Cultural Melting Pot
Next is Turkey, the cultural melting pot that lies between the Arabic South and the European North and joined by the Greeks and the Cypriots. The Hagia Sophia has quite a history… Originally an Eastern Orthodox Basilica under the Patriarchal of Constantinople for more than a 1000yrs, it later became a mosque after Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks for nearly 500yrs. Thereafter, the cathedral secularized to become a museum. Its massive dome, a hallmark of the Byzantine architecture, is it’s trademark.
Revered by All
And then we have The Dome of The Rock. I know we are handling Cathedrals here,but we are also on architecture. The Dome located on Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered a holy site to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It’s the only building of worship in the Middle East that all major religions deem to be holy! Again, like the Hagia Sophia, what is seen here are intricate external architectural designs that are more at home in the Middle East region. The same case applies to the dome and the arches.
The Dome of the Rock
We obviously can’t cover all the Cathedrals here, for they are many and their traits are as unique as they they are. But one thing is for sure, the architectural designs and works that go into creating one, are immense and lasting forever!
* I thank @mmnjug for taking the time to conjur up this post. You can follow him on twitter, quite a brilliant and well-versed guy. Tweet/comment what you think…