Take a Closer Look at Catholic Cathedrals

By Gilmour, Peter | U.S. Catholic, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Take a Closer Look at Catholic Cathedrals


Gilmour, Peter, U.S. Catholic


Cathedrals, like cars and clothes, dot the landscape in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and styles. As we Americans gear up for one of our favorite pastimes -- summer travel -- cathedrals will be popular destinations for the pilgrim's progress on the tourist trek.

Among my favorite cathedrals is Chartres, off the beaten track, a few hour's ride southwest of Paris. Many visitors to France satisfy their cathedral urges with the mighty Notre Dame in Paris. I recommend otherwise. What catches my eye and captures my imagination at Chartres, and there is a lot to gaze at and ponder in this most elaborately decorated cathedral, is the iconography around the Royal Portal -- the west entrance to the cathedral. The signs of the zodiac and several pagan personalities are among the sculpted figures there.

In today's world the signs of the zodiac reverberate with things New Age. What's so new about New Age? Why all this Christian fuss about New Age things? Here, in one of the most venerable cathedrals of Christendom, secular images stand in testimony to a wider, wonderful world. So, too, do the people also etched in stone there, among them Aristotle, Cicero, Euclid, Pythagoras, and Ptolemy. These are pagan peoples, not Christians, memorialized in the cathedral's stonework.

Maybe the division between who's Christian and who's not, who's in and who's out of the church is not so extreme after all. …

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