By Jessica Voigts
When visiting cathedrals, have you ever been “cathedral’d” out?
You know what I mean – traveling around Europe, and seeing every single cathedral there ever was? After a while, it gets tiresome. After all, one cathedral sort of looks like the next. The first few you see are stunning – and you take hundreds of photos, amazed by the architecture, history, and purpose. Then, you get cathedral fatigue.
They all start to look the same. You’d rather sit in a café with a coffee and croissant than tour one more. But I’ve got a shift in mindset for you. Instead of seeing visiting cathedrals and great churches for the usual reasons (religion and architecture), why not explore them for unusual reasons? Take a look…
- Visiting Cathedrals for Great Art
- Besides famous paintings and sculptures located in cathedrals (think Tintoretto and Titian in Venice), you can also see tapestries when you’re visiting cathedrals.
- Head to Angers Cathedral to see one of the most famous collections of medieval tapestries in Europe.
- If you’re in London, be sure to visit Westminster Abbey and explore the Cosmati pavement – imagine how many people have walked on that beautiful floor!
- I like to look for small details – I especially love misericords , small carvings that can be really funny, and are definitely fascinating. If you’re in a cathedral and you see someone staring off into space, I bet they’re looking at misericords, somewhere in the interior.
Visiting cathedrals to understand history.
- At Westminster Abbey, there is an ancient door, thought to be covered in human skin. Recent revelations have shown history to be a little less gruesome.
- In Florence, there are two really cool things to see and learn about – the Cupola’s fallen ball, and the story of the Bull and the Baker. When you find small pieces of really interesting history, the cathedrals come alive, somehow.
- In the Orkney Islands, Scotland, you can even see the only cathedral with a dungeon, at St. Magnus. Of course, there’s a story to go along with that…
Visiting cathedrals to see extraordinary, influential architecture. Yes, many cathedrals look the same – soaring interiors, flying buttresses, plenty of stained glass windows to let in the light, tall spires reaching toward heaven. But remember – these were new at one time! Think back to medieval times, when houses were not very large, and were definitely dark inside. Can you imagine the joy of being inside a cathedral? More recently, look to newer cathedrals for architectural influences. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was designed by the famous architect Gaudi. His work, throughout Barcelona, is revered as a cultural treasure.
Visiting cathedrals for… food? The cathedral in Cuzco, Peru, has an amazing piece of art – the Last Supper. It shows Jesus and his disciples dining on a cultural delicacy in Peru – guinea pig. When you’re wandering through great cathedrals, take a look around. You might find more cultural clues than you expect.
Visiting cathedrals for celebrations and community. The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, in Podgorica, Montenegro, has an incredible celebration for Orthodox Christmas . You’ll need to bundle up, but you can see fireworks, participate in a huge bonfire, and see, firsthand, the importance of the cathedral to the community.
Visiting cathedrals for the view.If you’re lucky, you’ll get some gargoyles in the process (think Notre Dame). Many cathedrals and great churches have viewing platforms up high – worth the hike for the incredible views.
- You can see the tomb of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Canterbury Cathedral;
- the tomb holding the heart of Richard I (the Lion-Heart) at the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen;
- or the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides.
- You might also see an empty tomb – Florence and Ravenna have an ages-old dispute over the remains of Dante. If you’re in Florence, you can see an empty tomb reserved for Dante (hope springs eternal – I bet Ravenna will not give up those remains!).