I marveled at the opulence and grandeur of the place, the awe inspiring visage it presented … for the glory of God, as it is proclaimed.
Oh, I am speaking of St Peter’s Cathedral which I visited recently in Rome.
The direction to the Treasury of the cathedral took me into a dimly lit room, with illuminated cabinets. The effect is quite stunning and suggested the treasures to be found in those cabinets, such as holy water, rosary beads and the like. Indeed, the cabinets were filled with souvenirs for sale. One must pass through here to get to the Treasury room.
A little dis-ease filled me, a little perplexity, a little anger, and disappointment at how commerce has invaded the church. But then it’s been so for centuries. Privilege afforded by money allowed sons of nobility to rise in the church in Italy from a long time ago – if the stories of the Medici and the Borgias are anything to go by. Yes, I am generalizing though it can’t be denied that wealth and power define the Roman Catholic church even to now.
So this is me, walking into that room and just like that, the story of Jesus driving out sellers and traders from the temple popped from memory from long ago when I was a child in Sunday School. Jesus telling them not to turn his Father’s house into a market.
This post is not intended to malign anyone or anything. I have nothing against this or any other faiths, and I am all for spirituality. Rather this post helps me work through the dis-ease I felt in the cathedral, even as I was amazed.
I see spirituality as a contemplative state, as connection with people and environment; as seeing, acknowledging and preserving beauty of beings, of connections, of actions. It is not about material or physical things. It is therefore beyond the realm of human day-to-day living, where finance and commerce feature.
Perhaps briefly let those who enter this space find peace, a little sanctuary from their usual life. This is even so for the tourists who merely come to see. Regardless the spirit of the place ought to prevail, right? Perhaps this is why so many choose nature to commune with that which is greater than them, instead of religious buildings?
How is this different from selling entry into the cathedral? I am a realist and understand the need to have funds to maintain the historical structure due to the wear and tear visitors such as myself wrought upon it. That seems fair, to me. And it occurs outside of the church. Couldn’t the souvenir and gift shop be placed beyond the church walls… as it is say, for Westminster Abbey?
I have found peace within church buildings, great and small. The little chapel which few venture into, or the cloisters many pass by but few linger. Even as I walked through St Peter’s Cathedral that Sunday, the sound of mass – incantations, prayer and song – ringing out was incredible.
And no, I did not buy a single souvenir 🙂 .
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