As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
In everyday life, I am not overly demonstrative about my feelings on religion, though having been brought up in a Protestant family — and having attended a Catholic high school –, my confirmation at age 14 was one of my coming-of-age watershed moments; and the motto I chose on that day has been my guiding principle ever since (and come to think of it, arguably even had been before, although I might not consciously thought of it that way). It’s Psalm 23, verse 4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
But religion to me is a deeply personal thing, and I have formed friendships with too many people who either follow an entirely different creed or no religious creed at all to want to foist my own path to salvation on them: The world has already seen too many wars and too much destruction wrought on religious grounds anyway, attending a Catholic high school as a Protestant has taught me both the value and the limits of the ecumenical principle, and I strongly believe that we all, believers (of whichever creed) and non-believers alike, are owed, and owe one another, the respect not only to be able to freely profess our creed but also to listen to one another instead of trying to shout the other person down or drag them onto our personal path to (hoped-for) salvation against their own will. As Terry Pratchett — an atheist — said in the dialogue in Hogfather that, over the years, has emerged as my favorite excerpt from all of the Discworld novels (and which IMHO is also one of the best and most succinct refutals of an allegedly science-based, purely materialistic worldview): Humans need to believe — in concepts such as justice and mercy, if not in God — in order to be human; to be “the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” We all do believe in something that’s bigger than ourselves — atheists do, too, even if it may not in a higher power or a divine being.
That being said, and as religion to me is deeply personal (and what with being your textbook introvert, etc.), I don’t actually attend church services all that frequently; in fact, the only service I can’t ever imagine entirely going without is the one on Christmas Eve. But I love places of worship; conceivably I love them even better when I can be alone in them with my thoughts, impressions, feelings and, every so often, prayers. To me, they really do exude the feeling of being imbued with something sacred — and seeing a church converted into commercial residential property, or falling to bits as a result of a political power struggle, breaks my heart every single time. (Yes, yes, I know. Sinking church attendance, my own nonattendance included. Housing crisis — except more often than not, we’re actually talking luxury accommodation when it comes to converting churches into residential property. Henry VIII had sound political reasons for wanting to curb the Church’s influence while rewarding those loyal to them at the same time, and even reasons to strip the abandoned churches of their lead casings … if you consider the necessities of war a sound reason for anything to begin with, that is. And yes, organized religion has, over the course of history, held a vastly disproportionate position within the political power structure of almost every society; and strictly hierarchical structures such as those of the Catholic Church today are arguably deeply anachronistic, even above and beyond being a textbook example for the inherent limitations of the adage “physician, heal thyself”. — But we digress.)
When visiting places of worship of other religions than Christianity over the course of the years, I’ve come to find that to me they hold a very similar atmosphere of sanctity to that of Christian churches, which may have something to do with the fact that, though raised a Christian (and still decidedly most at home in Christianity), my views on religion are actually very close to those of Mahatma Gandhi. So it seems only natural to include some of those places in the image section of this post.
(Except as specifically noted otherwise below, photos in this section of the post mine.)
Sacred places I love, or which left a lasting impression on me when visiting them: Bonn Cathedral (Image source); Balthasar Neumann‘s Holy Stairs in Kreuzbergkirche on top of a hill above Bonn; the medieval church in the Bonn district of Schwarz-Rheindorf (not far from my home); Maria Laach Benedictine Monastery (about an hour south of Bonn, in the Eifel mountain range); Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong (Image Souce), Kun Iam Tong Temple (IIRC), Macau; Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, Guangzhou (China); Sainte Chapelle, Paris; Chartres Cathedral; the tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II of England, and Richard the Lionheart at Fontevraud Abbey (Loire Valley, France); Prague Jewish cemetery; Santa María la Blanca Synagogue, Toledo (Spain); Mezquita, Córdoba (Spain); Salamanca Cathedral (Spain); medieval manuscripts in El Escorial Monastery and Burgos Cathedral (Spain); Monreale Benedictine Monastery (cloister) and Cefalù Cathedral (Sicily); the three sacred Ancient Egyptian symbols of divinity and power (Ankh — (eternal) life, heaven, male and female, morning sun, and earth –, Djed — stability, fertility, resurrection –, and Was — dominion, power, care for the deceased), as displayed in Hatshepsut’s temple in Deir el-Bahari on the opposite bank of the Nile from Luxor; Ibn Tulum and Alabaster Mosques, Cairo; colorful illustrations in the village churches of Ermelund and Keldby (Møn, Denmark) and in the church of tiny marsh island (Hallig) Hooge (Northern Frisia, Germany — one of my personal favorite churches in additon to the one in Schwarz-Rheindorf, further above); and English cathedrals and abbeys: Salisbury, Winchester, York Minster (chapter house), Wells, Leicester, Christchurch College Chapel (Oxford), and Bath Abbey. Lastly, the remains of some of the sacred places razed and desanctified during the Dissolution under Henry VIII — Tintern, Melrose, Rievaulx, and Whitby Abbeys — and a church converted into a residential building in Rostock, Germany.
Remember my set-in-stone childhood “don’t ever even come near me with that stuff” list of dislikes? As mentioned before, seafood — fish and shellfish of any and all descriptions — used to be a major item on that list when I was little. And while I’ve since learned to eat most kinds of fish (albeit, except for salmon, without any enthusiasm and only if either social niceties require it or literally nothing else is on the menu), I still very much draw the line at shellfish; with very few and limited exceptions: calamari, provided they are liberally breaded, deep-fried, and sprinkled with lemon juice and served with a garlic or other strongly-flavored dip (so that what you end up tasting is actually anything but the calamari themselves), as well as crab cakes and clam chowder, both of which I learned to like during a one-month stay in Boston. Mussels, though? Squid? Oysters? Hell, no. Ditto lobster — which I actually might conceivably take to (up to a point) in terms of taste, but which, like escargots and frogs’ legs, I won’t eat as long as I have every reason to expect it to have been made to suffer needlessly just so I can consume it. (in the lobsters’ case, like in that of escargots, by being tossed into the boiling water alive).