I think I’ve grown into enjoying visiting cathedrals. Although I’ve visited many in the past I don’t recall them well, except for those in the last few years. Perhaps having kids makes you more inclined to appreciate the long-term view, despite a lack of religious belief.
During a short stay with some friends in Devon we visited Exeter Cathedral this week and I really enjoyed exploring this ancient building. The guides are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic — think ‘Young Mr Grace’ and you won’t be far wrong. It struck me that perhaps this ‘job’ gives them a reason to get up each day and move naturally like the people described in Dan Buettner’s excellent talk on How to live to be 100+. As an aside, if you haven’t watched that talk you must.
I think that the people who built and decorated these buildings were far more comfortable with death than we are now. At that time there were few old people around and death was a far more familiar occurrence than now. Like the poor chap above, Exeter Cathedral has plenty of reminders of mortality. It’s also interesting to look at how the architecture of the building has changed from the original Norman features that are still visible. The clock in the North Transept dates from 1376 and it wasn’t until 1760 that the minutes hand was added — life up till then didn’t need that sort of resolution.
Like Desert Island Discs, if I could only choose one cathedral it would be a tough choice between the two below.
- Hereford Cathedral feels like a working church which is unusual for a tourist attraction. It also houses the magnificent Mappa Mundi and that is easily worth a visit in its own right. In addition it also has a chained library.
- Orvieto Cathedral is located in a position where it dominates the town of Orvieto and the nearby countryside. This cathedral is essentially a huge symbol of power but still has the human touch in the detailed work of the artists who decorated it. Luca Signorelli painted a local woman who spurned his advances as the Whore of Babylon!