Tuesday, June 16, 2009

6/16/09--Köln/Cologne Germany

I have seen uncounted Roman ruins and collections of ancient artifacts--Roman, Chinese, and other--in the last 10 years, since I first had the privilege of leaving the United States and visiting a foreign country. (Back in 1999, Sarita's parents brought the entire extended family to Holland to visit their birthplaces and where they were married. It was their 50th Wedding Anniversary present to the family. While in Europe, then, the families of their two daughters--i.e., our family, and Sarita's sister's family--took a one-week side-trip into France. And there, for the first time, I saw some old Roman ruins. Since then, we have had the privilege of traveling around the Mediterranean and seeing numerous ruins and numerous ancient history museums.)

Today, however, "blew me away."

We visited Köln/Cologne's Roman-German Museum. Sarita and I were both astonished at the quality and variety of artifacts. Gorgeous--especially the glass pieces. Multi-colored. Whole. Unbroken. Unchipped. With fine details. Beautiful. Absolutely stunning.

But besides the glasswork, there is an amazing collection of oil lamps. And metal. And statuary. --Those are the things that most impressed me. Sadly, we had only about an hour to blast through the museum and then we had to get back on board our boat.

Something else blew me away today. I wasn't expecting it.

The cathedral.

Once more: I have visited uncounted European cathedrals over the last decade . . . all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Considering my response to what I saw today, I have to think back on what I have seen in the past and wonder why it took till today for me to be impacted in quite the way I was.

Today, for the first time, I saw the cathedral in Cologne as a symbol of how the church in the Middle Ages/pre-Reformation period had become an institution of and for the super-wealthy and super-powerful only. It was not for the common people. It was not a place of salvation or refuge.

Here, in this vast building, built on the labor and unbelievable sacrifices of the poor . . . what did we see? Oh, besides all the "standard" things one might see in a cathedral--the pulpit(s) and the altars (both major and side) and all the works of art, the crucifixes, the stations of the cross, the windows (things, I have to confess, this time, today, in Cologne, my mind did not notice!--honestly, I can't remember actually seeing any such things, though I have to believe they must have been there!)--all I noticed were the large sarcophagi (sarcophaguses) of the (supposedly) "great" and "holy" men that were placed in almost every alcove around the sanctuary--huge blocks of white marble with likenesses of these men lying in state on top, clothed in their vestments and robes and the symbols of their positions and power--their miters, their crosiers, and so on and so forth. And every one had his hands held, fingers splayed, in a position of eternal prayer.

And I looked at those sarcophagi and it hit me: "There is no room, here, for 'the little guy,' the common man (or woman!--since not a single sarcophagus was for a woman). No room for the family that is barely eking out a living--perhaps half-starving, despite working from sun up to sun down. . . ." It was a church for the rich and powerful, built on the labor and sacrifices of the poor.

Suddenly I thought I could understand a little of the motivation--the emotion--that may have gone into the Protestant movement of the 16th century.

I should note: This response on my part amazed me partially because, as I have noted, I have seen so many cathedrals before. I mean, Köln/Cologne is not particularly filled with sarcophagi. It has nowhere near the quantity, and it is by far nowhere near as jammed as, for example, that museum of British imperial glory otherwise known as the Westminster Abbey Cathedral in London. So I don't really understand why I responded as I did.

But that's what hit me today.

It feels as if I've had my eyes opened.

I sense I can "understand" some of the almost (? Was it only "almost"?) revolutionary fervor with which some of the Protestants must have pursued their agenda.

And, actually, now that I think of it, that--revolution--is what Berman calls it and what (I now realize) many Catholic historians have called the Protestant movement of that era. Not the "Protestant Reformation" (because, they say, the Church was never really reformed), but the "Protestant Revolution."

And why was it a revolution? Why did the underclasses pursue their agenda with such revolutionary fervor?

I imagine it had much to do with the sense of desperation that many must have felt as they labored, virtually without hope in this world, only to see their families die from disease or lack of food . . . but/and "their" church--which was supposed to offer hope, at least, for the next world---seemed to offer nothing there, either . . . except only for the rich and powerful.

--That was the thought that hit me today.

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