364. Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore

IMG_6381 (640x480)Of the 26 Churches dedicated to Mary in Rome, apparently the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest. Makes you wonder how many churches there are for everyone else if there are already 26 for Mary! I guess they don’t call it Roman Catholic for nothing.

The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is apparently so special it enjoys extraterritorial status (like an embassy) and is patrolled by guards of the Vatican. It was fairly majestic and marvelous, as far as churches go, with loads of excellent frescoes. And a good thing I came prepared with my modesty scarf. The Crypt of the Nativity was quite a site also, (practically all covered in gold). It is a huge tourist draw card as it is said to contain wood from Jesus Christ’s Crib. I’d be well imressed to find out exactly how they verified that one, given Jesus didn’t become Jesus Christ Superstar until he just about carked it. Nonetheless, I was right up in there getting my touristy photos too!

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Jesus’ Crib has been on Extreme Makeover: Religion Edition

329. Barcelona, Round 1

Barcelona1Luckily I got a second crack at it, a whirlwind tour not proving quite enough. Until then, here’s my photos from the first time around.

323. Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia

IMG_4514 (480x640) IMG_4527 (480x640) IMG_4576 (640x480) IMG_4585 (480x640)When you say “Cathedral” and “Barcelona”, most people automatically think of the Sagrada Familia. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, however, was almost as magnificent (I only say almost, because the Sagrada Familia really is quite mind blowing). It is a gothic masterpiece, shining in all its Catholic glory, both on the gargoyle laden exterior and the gold covered, stained glass window filled interior. Whilst going up to the roof and looking out over Barcelona was fairly magical, the best bit by far was the courtyard in the middle with a pond full of swans. It seems no extravagance is spared in this building! It was only a shame they had electric offeratoy candles and coin-stampy vending machines cheapening the entire affair. Gaudi’s workshop immediately outside was handy, though!

287. Église Saint-Éloi

IMG_3166 (640x480)Right in the centre of Dunirk (or Dunkirque, in French) is the Église Saint-Éloi. It is over the road from the information centre/war memorial, so pretty hard to miss. I thought it was a really lovely church, particularly as all around the centre alter were a bunch of smaller, very nicely set up alters for different saints etc, and at the time of my visit the sun was beaming through the stained glass windows quite brilliantly.

269. Westerkerk – X-rated church?

It is pretty hard to miss the tower of Westerkerk in Amsterdam, and what better place to see some wonderful art, sculpture and my favourite bit – beautiful, ornate and unique organs, than in a church? A refreshing change comapared to packed museums with hefty entrance fees.

Whilst looking around the interior of Westerkerk, I noticed yet another example of the cities ‘XXX’ branding. Amsterdam is home to a number of world famous advertising and creative agencies, so I had assumed that the very well branded public services of the city were a by-product of that. The ‘XXX’ symbol is absolutely everywhere, and it looks like a relatively modern, simple yet effective logo. I had wondered a few times what it came from, the obvious initial link being to the red light district. When I spotted it built in to the chandeliers in this incredibly old church I thought there definitely HAD to be more to the story.

A little research revealed it is actually the Cross of St Andrew (as he was supposedly martyred on such a diagonal cross), and the Coat of Arms of Amsterdam contains three silver St Andrew’s crosses in the middle. In line with my original suspicions, however, the imagery now synonymous with three x’s does hail from Amsterdam – it used to be the only place you could legally buy pornography, which would arrive packaged with a ‘XXX’ to represent the city.

223. Týn Church

While I didn’t go inside it, this church piqued my interest not because it is an amazing gothic building, but for its hilarious tale of architectural sexism. Looking closely, you may notice that one spire is smaller than the other. The reason for this, was definitely NOT an architectural error, oh no. The official explanation is clearly that it is meant to represent male and female, and obviously the male one is the bigger one. I guess the stakes were pretty high in 1511, as admitting error put you at risk of execution by way of defenestration – being thrown out of a window.

220. Church of St James, AKA the grossest church I’ve ever seen…

The Church of St James in Prague is famous for the legend of a theif who tried to steal the jewels of the Madonna inside. As the story tells it, the statue came alive and clamped down on his arm, and he was stuck there until the morning, and the only way to free him was to cut off his arm.

The story, however, doesn’t seem to be enough to warn off prospective theives. Hanging just near the door is, supposedly, the 400 year old mummified arm of the thief. So you look up and see this manky, leathery twig like thing that no longer even looks like an arm. It’s pretty sick. But the rest of the church is quite pretty once you get past that!

81. Church-A-Palooza

In just 2 short days in Helsinki I managed to visit three different churches – a bit of a break from all my museums! They were all very different, and very beautiful in their own ways. From a church carved out of a rock, to the magnificient despite being so simply decorated Helsinki Cathedral, to the Uspenski Cathedral that had a very cool exterior, and the interior was as though someone had eaten all the artwork of the renaissance and vomitted it up inside the church. I’m not saying it was an interior decorater’s nightmare or anything, but it could have been a little less cluttered…

Helsingin tuomiokirkko, Suurkirkko – Helsinki Cathedral

Temppeliaukio Church – The Rock Church

Uspenski Cathedral