Below the High Arches

I’ve always been fascinated by cathedral and mosque architecture. More than just creating a place of worship, it was a way for the leaders of respective religions to show off their power and wealth. I had always found this to be ironic, considering their holy texts spoke about giving alms to the poor and practicing humility. The glorious spires, the tall arches, the dramatic visual details, and the overwhelming proportion of space can make a devotee feel like they are outsiders looking in. These grand structures transform faith from the heart into a religious institution built in stone. Is this a symbolic way of emphasizing the great divide that separates us mere mortals from the divine?

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When I was in high school, I once saw a family of beggars–a gray-haired grandmother and her six young grandchildren–sitting outside a grand basilica built by the Spaniards during their occupation of the Philippines. Priest after priest, dressed in crisp, clean uniforms, walked past the beggars without giving them even a slight glance. It was at that moment that I learned the nature of any institutional hierarchy.

I love the architectural design of cathedrals and mosques, those concrete representations of ideological systems, because they say so much beyond their aesthetics. The beauty of our civilization’s artifacts has a way of diverting our attention from the film of dirt covering the surface.

1,000 years from now, if these churches are reduced to ruins, would they convey the teachings of Christ? Perhaps they’ll simply show the people of the future how the ego of men who built these inspired structures cannot stand the test of time, and that the principles of their religion–like love, peace, respect and altruism–will outlive them.

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