24 September 2008

L’Eglise parisienne

I’m not a religious person. I never really have been. I have my only particular breed of beliefs that border between atheism and agnosticism. I quietly decline to believe in God and I’m OK with that. But lately, the magnifique [magnificent, in a visually stunning way] churches that I’ve been seeing are making me wonder if I am missing out. To think that someone – some people – possessed a faith so strong that they constructed these physically massive and overwhelming beautiful structures in honor of their God astounds me. There’s something very moving about a faith that strong, and it is reflected, permanently and stunningly in the columns, the buttresses, the stained glass and the rafters of so many Parisian churches.

Here, the vestiges of this insurmountably strong faith are everywhere. Everyone knows la Cathédrale Notre-Dame, and even most tourists discover la Basilique du Sacré-Cœur and Sainte-Chapelle. All three are marvels, wonders of architecture, art and sheer human ability. But what some don’t realize is that awe-inspiring churches loom around nearly every corner of this historically and symbolically Catholic city.

As part of last weekend’s Journées du Patrimoine [Heritage Days], after visiting the Panthéon, a laïque [non-religious, secular] version of the awe-inspiring French church, I decided to enter for the first time a number of these churches, found scattered about my quartier [neighborhood].

Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice and Notre-Dame-des-Champs are all within reasonable walking distance of my house and each one is as breathtaking as the next. I’m not only moved by the sheer size and magnitude of these human creations, but I also find moving the act of entering each church. Passing through those heavy, imposing doors, I shut out the hustle and bruit [noise] of Boulevard du Montparnasse, or whichever bustling Paris street, in favor of a perfect calm and reflective quiet. I almost feel guilty intruding upon this serenity as I thrust my head sky-ward in awe of the intricate ceiling or beautifully colored glass.

It’s overwhelming.

Il fait parfois me demander si jamais je peux avoir autant de foi…en n’importe quoi. [Sometimes it makes me wonder if I could ever have that much faith…in anything.]

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