Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Grand Day Out In Durham - 2: Moaning About The Cathedral

A quick post.  [edit: It's not quick!]

Two months ago I visited Durham and for part of the day I was a good tourist.  Well perhaps not a good tourist.  But I made the attempt and went to visit the cathedral.  It's famous.  The architecture is celebrated widely and it certainly is an impressive building.  I have to admit that.  But on that day I was not feeling much like celebrating buildings.  I also have to admit that I believe that these buildings were of their time but that time, if it has not yet passed, is passing quickly.  A building such as this, impressive though it is, is in the process of becoming an anachronism, a museum to the way that things used to be done - and that's not quite a way that I want to celebrate wholeheartedly.

Wow!  I'm a right grumpy creature aren't I!

Well I took a few photos of the main facade of the impressive building.  It's a good word isn't it?  Facade.  I'm not going to tell you which of the two meanings I'm most referring to either.

I couldn't take pictures of the inside of the building.  I can understand that it's a place of worship as well as being a tourist attraction and some people get annoyed with people treating places of worship as a tourist attraction.  Gotta have some respect.  Gotta honour God in that place by not taking pictures.  But it is a tourist attraction.  Most people there aren't there for the lunchtime communion service that takes place in the little chapel of St. Cuthbert.  They're there because it's an impressive building full of old things and some pretty things too.  I know my parents were very disappointed not to be able to take a picture.  Blob Thing was quite distraught about not being able to be photographed inside and we decided that five minutes walking round was more than enough for us.

And I can understand that such a building is expensive to maintain and that postcards and guidebooks earn more money than someone taking a photo.  Hey, here's an idea.  Charge a visitor a couple of quid and give them a photography permit.  That way the punters are happier and the cathedral gets some precious cash.  To be honest that is a problem I have with cathedrals.  They are expensive to maintain.  Much of the running of a cathedral has nothing to do with God and just with stonework.  I actually have a problem with religious organisations spending so much cash on maintaining property when there are homeless people begging on the streets below.  Wow, you've got a beautiful building there.  It swallows your resources, precious resources given by the people of God, lottery grants and profits from stocks and shares and investments.  I might be an extremist but I think that way of doing things needs to die.  If it's a museum, a lovely tourist attraction, then let it be one.  But I don't believe having such a building does anything to the glory of God that can't be done - and perhaps better - in another place.

Yep.  I am grumpy.

It's odd.  I actually like some cathedrals.  In fact I like the majority that I've been in.  The two in Newcastle are great.  They feel like good places to be in.  And I number one cathedral, Westminster Catholic Cathedral, among my favourite buildings.  It's one where the primary reason for its existence is still worship rather than tourism although of course it gets tourists as well as pilgrims.  I have been both a tourist and a pilgrim in that place and every visit has inspired and lifted me.  All those cathedrals feel good.  I don't share the faith anymore but they feel good.  Whatever or whoever we think of when the word "god" passes through our head, there is something special in those cathedrals.  I walk into them and can feel it and my body and soul tingle.  Visiting Wrexham Cathedral a couple of weeks ago just felt strange.  I used to visit as a faithful Catholic and it was there that I experienced the "Rite of Election" that takes place before adults are received into the Catholic Church.  Visiting again after more than five years brought memories to the surface.  Things I look back on with pleasure.  And things it is easy to regret.

In general I enjoy visiting churches.  If I'm somewhere and there's a church open then there's a likelihood that I'll go and look round.  If there's a church open I'll be disappointed that I couldn't go in.  St. George's Jesmond was great.  Visiting St. Andrew's churches - Catholic and Anglican ones - in Newcastle is a joy.  And Blob and I had a very good time indeed in Hexham Abbey.

But Durham Cathedral?

Nope.  I just don't feel that when I walk into Durham Cathedral.  I know a lot of people love the place.  But when I walk in I feel oppression.  I feel squashed.  I feel very uncomfortable indeed.

So once I'd done my tourist duty and walked once around the place, I left.  And I think Blob thing was very pleased to leave too.

I liked Durham.  I honestly did.  I liked it.  And my liking for it increased and increased in every moment after leaving the cathedral.  I enjoyed finding somewhere very different for lunch.  I enjoyed walking by the river.  I enjoyed exploring and the art gallery.  I enjoyed the church I entered later in the day. And I especially enjoyed the graves and graveyard I found.  I took a few cathedral pictures.  I took about a hundred graveyard pictures and felt immensely good there.

So here.  Some pictures of the facade of the cathedral.  Impressive, isn't it?!

I have to admit - three admissions in one post - that I really like the cross on the war memorial.

Sometimes my phone does very strange things when I take panorama pictures.

I assure you that the towers of the cathedral are not at this angle.  If they were the building would be even more famous, outranking Pisa in tourist destinations for people desiring to see a wonky building.

I cheated, I cheated.

This was taken withing the cloisters of the cathedral.  Yes, I broke the no photography rule.

Within the main building it would have been harder as if any of the many volunteers would pounce on you angrily if you dared to take out a camera and try to take a picture of your child.  Or your soft toy.

And this isn't the facade.  The camera has been weird again.  The building is not curved.  I like it though.  I think it's far funkier as a curved structure!

So that's Durham Cathedral.  Maybe one day I'll be there again and might suddenly fall in love with the place.  Maybe an enthusiast will take me there and try to show me why they're so enthusiastic.  Maybe God will appear to me and there will be some kind of major epiphany and I'll find myself transfigured by the work of the Supreme Being.  The first two possibilities are more likely than the last.

Tomorrow - or when I manage it - I'll continue to talk about Durham.  One thing I can promise you is that I won't be moaning about the rest of the day.  Yep.  Clare won't be such a miserable old grouch when it comes to discussing the river and the graves.  By the time she reaches those graves she'll be in celebratory mood and, although you can't see her as she types, she'll probably be happy flapping about it just as she was when she found the place.

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