One of the things I love most about France – indeed one of the things I miss most about France – is the churches. They appear all over the picturesque country from the ostentatious belle dame Paris and her famous Gothic cathedral Notre-Dame to the quaint and quiet towns like Autun and her Romanesque Saint-Lazare.
I was morphed back to France recently when Norm and I took a trip to Indianapolis. Our hotel was being renovated and the parking lot entrance was next-to-impossible to find. As we circled the perimeter looking for the ingress, we chanced upon a beauty of a church, one I was determined to find again as soon as I had the time.
She was named for St. John the Evangelist, and though the concierge at the hotel called her a cathedral, she is not such. That means, in case you were wondering, that she is not the central church of the diocese, under the aegis of the bishop. Before catechism as a child growing up in New Orleans, I thought that our Saint Louis Cathedral held that title because she was a big fancy church. Well, big and fancy does not necessarily a cathedral make, and St. John’s is an example of this.
When I entered the nave, I was captured by the ribbed vaulted ceiling that stretched all the way to the altar. This is the most telling sign of the medieval greats, and the one that inspires, at least to me. The puniness of mankind seems insignificant when in the presence of the heavens.
Statues of various saints graced each apse, where patrons can light a candle in memory of a loved one or in offering for a prayer. My favorite was the Pieta – it is always my favorite piece of artwork, the most poignant. A mother cradles her deceased child. The Mother cradles The Child. This is the one that causes me to reflect on the sacrifice that she made for this world. I love her.
Hanging on the wall just outside her apse, a painting depicts one of the stations of the Cross – where Jesus was consoling the despairing women. He was saddled with a wooden rood, struggling to carry the instrument of his own torture. Yet his humanity extended beyond his own suffering. He was more concerned about theirs. Who among us can rise to this level of enlightenment? It’s possible, I suppose. That’s what he wanted us to see in ourselves.
Taking my tour around the interior, various and sundry pieces caught my attention. The alms box evoked a sadness in me, so I reached into my purse to fish out something to deposit in the box. It’s never enough, but one must do what she can. Then the stained glass windows captured the day’s light and sowed it upon the interior, touching even the hidden corners. Of the church. Of my mind. Of my dampened spirit. There is something about a Catholic Church that envelops all of me, like a blanket for the soul.
Merry Christmas, my friends. May you stay warm and happy.