Friday, July 1, 2016

Postcard: Abbeys & Cathedrals

If you want to be awed, visit a cathedral. An old one. Full of marble and gold leaf and swirling fresco, created by artisans as devoted to their craft as they were to their faith.

If you want to be overwhelmed, visit a bunch of them. ;)

These are just a few of the 15 or so churches I visited on our recent river cruise.

Cologne, Germany

Fun Facts: The Cologne Dom (cathedral) is the second-tallest church in Germany and third-tallest in the world, at 157.4 m (516 ft.). Construction began in 1284, stopped in 1473, began again in 1842, and was completed in 1880.
Cologne Cathedral as seen from the river

Interior of the Cologne Cathedral

View from the cathedral out over the city of Cologne.
Angela and I climbed the 533 steps to the viewing platform of the south tower in about 12 minutes. Whew!

Melk Abbey, Austria

Fun Facts: The Melk Abbey is a Benedictine monastery that has been active since 1089. In addition to the monks, the abbey hosts a school, a museum, and an impressive library that includes a book from the 9th century.

An item on display in the abbey's
museum was this service coffin. Moving
the lever on the side dropped the bottom
open, so the body was released into the
grave and the coffin could be re-used.
Side view of the Melk Abbey

Interior view of the Melk Abbey chapel

Passau, Germany

Fun Facts: The Passau Cathedral (St. Stephen) contains the second largest church organ in the world, with 17,974 pipes.

Interior view of St. Stephen Cathedral
Front view of St. Stephen Cathedral

The main section of the Passau organ. We were able to attend an organ concert, which was truly sublime.

Weltenburg Abbey, Germany

Fun Facts: The Weltenburg Abbey was originally founded around 620. Since the first half of the 8th century, it has operated as a Benedictine monastery. The abbey is also home to the world's oldest monastic brewery--active since 1050!

External view of the Weltenburg abbey chapel.
Looks pretty unassuming, right?

The chapel's high altar features a larger-than-life statue of St. George with the dragon and the princess.
View up to the chapel ceiling. The three tiers of the chapel, from the ground up, represent
different states of being. The darkest is life here on earth, the middle tier is enlightenment,
and the brightest, most colorful tier at the ceiling represents heaven.
Panoramic view of the chapel interior gives you a small taste of how ornate it is.

Feelings: Toward the end of our cruise I had a conversation with one of my fellow travelers about the abbeys, chapels, and cathedrals we had seen. In summary, I was torn between admiring their displays of opulence and despairing the social opportunity that wealth represented.

Then our conversation led to a broader discussion about legacy and purpose. I thought about my writing and my desire to effect change through my words. It's that passion that inspires you to (hopefully) create something greater than yourself.

I'm not a particularly religious person, but with that thinking, I held a different appreciation for the churches we visited. Besides, there’s no denying the inherent beauty of what those artists brought to life.

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