One of the most interesting parts of this trip has been to witness the role that religion has played in Europe. From the Begijnhof to the Cathedral, the reminders of hundreds of years of religious devotion are still blatantly evident. But unlike the Begijnhof, some of testaments tell a story of greed, wealth, and power rather than faith and love.
In Amsterdam and Brugge, we saw a section of the city set aside to care for those who needed protection from the outside world, widows and orphans. They were secluded safe havens to care for the neglected. This was perhaps the single most purely Christian example that we saw. In just about every city that we stopped in, towering steeples stood out as testaments to an age gone when the Church was revered. For the most part I loved these buildings. While they may often have been grander than was necessary, their size and ornateness could be read as a tribute to God. Over the course of the trip though, I began to wonder how much was really meant for God’s glory. In Heidelberg we visited a castle that was once the property of a protestant king. It was besieged and burned down by the invading catholic army. I had read about the prosecution of Protestants as an impetus in the founding of America, but I never read that to mean war. I must have learned about the wars at some point, but things get far more real when you stand in the ruins. In Wittenberg we toured the Luther’s house; a reminder of indulgences and the enormous wealth that the Catholic Church reaped over that. In Prague, we saw the 1100 kg pure silver casket of a sanctified priest. He had disagreed with the pope and after heeding the pope’s summons was weighed down with stones and thrown in the river. After hearing these stories, the gilded cathedrals felt far darker. I am not trying to assault Catholicism or the Vatican, it is just sad to reflect on a history. Christianity was supposed to bring light, but our legacy is intertwined with war, greed, murder, and cruelty. Even though the gold in the cathedrals may have been our fault, the stones still stand as proof of hundreds of generation’s walks with God. That is where I found their beauty.