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In Celebration of the Human Spirit & Religious Freedom (Part I of II)

By Jane Ginn, MSIA, MRP

Since this is the week-end of renewal for so many people of religious faiths I thought it would be fitting to put some of my thoughts on paper. Over the past couple of decades I have had the great good fortune to be able to visit some of the most revered religious and sacred sites in the world. From Stonehenge in England, to the pyramids in Egypt, to the great golden Buddhist pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, I have traveled the world on a quest to document the patterns of the human mind and spirit.

Facade of a Reform Jewish Temple in Prague, Czech Republic Since this is the Passover and Easter holiday season I will use this post to document images of the monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity & Islam.

Facade of a Reform Jewish Temple in Prague, Czech Republic Since this is the Passover and Easter holiday season I will use this post to document images of the monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity & Islam.

This article provides a small collection of some of my photos from these excursions. For this first article in my two-part series I will focus on the main monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Pictured to the right is a beautifully intricate Spanish Synagogue in the historic area of Prague in the Czech Republic. It was built in the Moorish Revival style in 1868. It is also famous for the statue of Franz Kafka that stands right next to it. There is a very active Jewish community in Prague, and several Synagogues, including the Jubilee Synagogue, named in honor of the silver Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

In addition, there is an iconic Jewish cemetery that is the 2nd oldest in Europe.

Inside the Hagia Sophia - Now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey

Inside the Hagia Sophia – Now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey

Pictured to the left is the historic Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.

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An intricate gold-embossed Christian painting inside the Hagia Sophia.

The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

During the Ottoman Empire Christian religious images were covered over. However, when the Hagia Sophia was converted to a museum the artifacts of previous uses of the building were restored as shown to the right.

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One of many large stained-glass windows from inside Vitrus Cathedral.

Another delightful image from the Christian tradition is a shot I took of the sunlight shining through the window of the beautiful Gothic St. Vitrus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic, pictured to the left. The cathedral is the third church consecrated to the same saint on the identical site. About the year 925 Prince Vaclav I founded a Romanesque rotunda here which after 1060 was converted into a basilica with three naves and two steeples. The importance of the cathedral grew especially after the establishment of the Prague bishopric in 973 and the founding of the body of canons – the St. Vitus chapter, which later became an important cultural and administrative institution.

In 1344 Charles IV began the construction of a Gothic cathedral. Its first builders, Matthias of Arras and later Peter Parler, built the chancel with a ring of chapels, St. Wenceslas Chapel, the Golden Portal and the lower part of the main steeple.

Equally magnificent, although much younger in historical age is the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Interior mosaics from the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia

Interior mosaics from the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia

This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. After assuming power in 1855 in the wake of Russia’s disastrous defeat in the Crimean war against Britain, France and Turkey, Alexander II initiated a number of reforms. In 1861 he freed the Russian serfs (peasants, who were almost enslaved to their owners) from their ties to their masters and undertook a rigorous program of military, judicial and urban reforms, never before attempted in Russia.

Exterior view of the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood

Exterior view of the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood

However, during the second half of his reign Alexander II grew wary of the dangers of his system of reforms, having only barely survived a series of attempts on his life, including an explosion in the Winter Palace and the derailment of a train. Alexander II was finally assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.

The decision was taken to build a church on the spot where the Emperor was mortally wounded. The church was built between 1883 and 1907 and was officially called the Resurrection of Christ Church (a.k.a. The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood ). The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. It remained closed and under restoration for over 30 years and was finally re-opened in 1997 in all its dazzling former glory.

Equally important to the orthodox practitioners in Russia is the Kazan Cathedral built to house an important icon that is believed to have miraculous powers: Our Lady of Kazan.

Cathedral housing an important icon that believes to imbue miracles to the devout who pray to her - Our Lady of Kazan

Cathedral housing an important icon that believes to imbue miracles to the devout who pray to her

The construction was started in 1801 and continued for ten years. Upon its completion the new temple replaced the Church of Nativity of the Theotokos, which was disassembled when the Kazan Cathedral was consecrated.

Our Lady of Kazan - Be Careful What You Wish For

Our Lady of Kazan – Be Careful What You Wish For

She is so important that there is always a long line of people waiting to light a candle and ask her to grant their wishes. An image of the icon is posted to the left.

Moving now to UK, I will share a photo from inside the beautiful chapel just out side of Edinburgh, Scotland. Rosslyn Chapel, formally known as the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew, is a 15th-century chapel located at the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. It was founded on a small hill above Roslin Glen as a Catholic collegiate church in the mid-15th century.

Intricate archways from the interior of the Roslyn Chapel.

Intricate archways from the interior of the Roslyn Chapel.

The chapel was founded by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness of the Scoto-Norman Sinclair family. The purpose of the college was to celebrate the Divine Office throughout the day and night and also to celebrate Holy Mass for all the faithful departed, including the deceased members of the Sinclair family. During this period the rich heritage of plainsong (a single melodic line) or polyphony (vocal harmony) would be used to enrich the singing of the liturgy.

After the Scottish Reformation (1560), Roman Catholic worship in the chapel was brought to an end, although the Sinclair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the early 18th century. From that time the chapel was closed to public worship until 1861, when it was opened again as a place of worship according to the rites of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Since the late 1980s, the chapel has also featured in speculative theories concerning a connection of Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, and the Holy Grail.

A centuries-old private chapel on the Greek island of Mykonos

A centuries-old private chapel on the Greek island of Mykonos

Moving to the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean I will take you now to a small chapel on the Greek island of Mykonos. These family chapels have been maintained for hundreds of years and are still used today for mass and weddings and special services celebrating rites of passage.

Although this is just a small sampling of my collection on photos from the monotheistic religions of the world, this gives you a taste of my sojourn. And so, in closing, as you are celebrating this time of renewal, consider the millions of others around the world who are also considering the same human emotions of love, hope, and the search for purpose as is portrayed in the architecture of the sacred.

My next post will take you to some of the beautiful places in Asia and beyond.

[Disclaimer: Some sections of this article have been sourced from Wikipedia.]