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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Through Rose-tinted Glasses: Churches and Cathedrals

athedrals are impressive things – immense structures of intricately engraved masonry, artwork and stained-glass – a testament to the very best architecture mankind can assemble. As a student living in Lincoln, the cathedral looms over me every day. It is breath-taking – all the more remarkable when you consider it was built more than 700 years ago. Indeed, a structure like this would be extraordinary had it been built yesterday. But I feel that buildings like this also denote something quite sinister.

If we step back and view these structures through unsentimental eyes we can see them in a whole new light. They are monuments to human ignorance, constructed through fear of God by well-financed tyrannical rulers seeking to intimidate peasants while maintaining their place at the top of the social hierarchy. Imagine how the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Lincoln, witnessing this monolith rising above their huts would have felt as this stark reminder of their place at the bottom of the pecking order dominated their skyline.

Historically religious buildings were important – they brought communities together, employed local tradesman in their construction, and generated some of the most important works of art ever produced (hardly surprising, artists historically went where the finance was – Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel for free). However, I can’t help but view them in their historical totality, the generations of darkness, death, corruption and suffering that went into their creation.

We need to view them as a product of the time they were made, but when most look at a cathedral, they are blinded by the same garish proportions and showy details that were designed to impress the peasants. A cathedral is beautiful in the same way the finely embroidered clothes of ancient royalty are – incredible achievements in a technical sense, but ultimately nothing but vulgar displays of power and wealth.

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