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Houses of Worship: Brick and Mortar

I have been in Mosques of the Islam faith, Temples of the Hindu faith, Churches of the Christian faith, Synagogues of the Jewish faith, Temples/Churches of the Buddhist faith, shrines of each of these faiths, and I have always been impressed by the feeling of worship – the acts of prayer and devotion and mediation, and therefore reconciliation, for each of these faiths. Perhaps the most surprising was the reverent feeling when inside a mosque, particularly the Blue Mosque, during prayer time.

However, whenever one sees these grand structures and begin to gain an understanding of the treasure, the sheer expense, that was necessary to build some of these monstrosities, it causes one to wonder if that treasure could have been better invested, better spent. For sure, the brick and mortar of these buildings does not make the difference as to whether or not the Buddhist achieves nirvana, or the Jew goes to heaven, or the Muslim goes to paradise, or the Christian goes to heaven, or the Hindu goes to a “higher state of being” in the reincarnation cycle to improve the Soul in order to achieve Oneness with Brahma. [All other religions, and their beliefs, spin-off of these majors.]

However, we recently returned from a trip to France, and I was taken by two of their churches in Paris — recall they, like all of Europe, have churches like we have McDonalds and Starbucks in major cities; meaning every corner or available space. (Although, to be fair, a piece of trivia: those two chains are only about 1/6 the size of the Christian church population of the U.S. @ 350,000.) And I begin to reflect on their background, their history, and what they represented at the time they were built. And what they continue to represent today. And I begin to re-visit how all this brick and mortar, in all religions, plays a part in the hope of humankind.

The short answer is that these faiths, these religions, are the glue that holds humankind together in their quest to be judged as women and men who “do the right thing,” who “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and therefore, in the end, have the hope of being reconciled to a higher being, God, in order to be a forgiven person in this life, and later face the greatest fear of humankind – death and eternal lostness.

The Sacre-Coeur of Montmartre is one of those churches. Say the word “Sacre-Coeur” to any taxi driver, and their passengers will be driven straight away to the Basilica. Upon arrival and touring, it is stunningly beautiful!

Visitors are always amazed to find within this church a community of people silently praying, and from time to time, their eyes being fixed on the monstrance (a vessel containing the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist) which is set above the high altar; thence, the huge dominating scene which is one of the world’s largest mosaics depicting Christ with outstretched arms.

Designed above all as a votive (meaning, done in fulfillment of a pledge/vow) monument since 1885, the Sacre-Coeur has become a sanctuary for day and night perpetual prayer. In addition to the Sunday Masses and Vespers, and the weekday daily services of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Vespers, and Complines, the Benedictines, a religious order, are present along with the faithful from all walks of life (they have overnight facilities for visitors) who come to pray in silence, in relays, day and night to intercede for The Church, and the salvation of humankind.

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, there was a general feeling of national guilt, a need for penitence. This was the defeat of Napoleon III on the battlefield, and later, the defeat of France. Further, they felt responsible for the indignities inflicted on the Pope because the French were protecting Rome, and they had to pull-out their garrison of troops to defend France. Rome was then attacked by Italian military, and the Pope was a virtual captive following the occupation of Rome. This humiliating military defeat by the Germans and the embarrassing indignities inflicted on the Pope enraged the French.

What resulted, however, was a tremendous religious upswing, and therefore, discovering a new veneration, that deep respect, for the Sacred Heart. So, a vow was made by one of their leaders that the French people would construct a church dedicated to The Sacred Heart, the heart of Jesus, on the hill named Montmartre. This was in reparation (in penitence for sins committed) simply because, for the French people, the misery of France stemmed more from spiritual than from political causes.

The vow was approved by the Archbishop of Paris, and the vow was embraced by the entire population. It took 45 years to raise all the needed funds (funds were raised by a collection of small contributions as excessively large offerings were rejected), and finally to finish the church. It was later changed to a basilica (a designation given for ceremonial privileges).

The expression “heart” is borrowed from both the Old and New Testament to express humankind’s inner life with all of their intelligence, willingness, and sensitivity, and the depth of their inner being when men and women are in contact with God. Jesus in his teachings on reconciling with God, the Father, was, above all, totally driven by love: “He gave us his Heart freely, so that we could find refuge in it. He asked for our hearts, so that He could live within us.”

The top of the hill Montmartre, being some 330 feet above the river Seine, is seen from all directions – add another 280 feet, the height of the Basilica, and it is the highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. It had been a place where people came to worship in the past during different times throughout history. The name signifies “mount of martyrs” because by tradition it is the place of the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, and his companions in the 3rd century. Upon entering Paris (air, rail, or car), it is the first hallmark to be seen. , or search Sacre-Coeur of Montmartre

But the granddaddy of them all is Notre-Dame de Paris. Construction began in 1163, some eight and a half (8 ½) centuries ago. As we see it today, the major phases were completed by 1270. It is huge, particularly when considering the engineering knowledge of that day and the construction materials available (no steel, by way of example). The towers at the front are 226 feet in height. The inside height under roof is 141 feet. Amazing construction for that day and time.

Paul Claudel, a famous diplomat (made the cover of Time Magazine 3/21/1927), marvelously described this place: “Notre-Dame is not just a building, but a living person. Looking at it is not enough, we must live with it every day for a long time.” (On this website, hold curser over each picture; thence, left click to enlarge.)

Notre-Dame was conceived and built to be a leading place of prayer around the Bishop. From the first Solemn High Mass celebrated on January 17, 1185 by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, prayers offered throughout these 825 years create the heart of Notre-Dame. Beginning with seven Sunday masses, then these prayers continues to rise unceasingly every day during weekday masses, daily (morning, noon, evening) prayers, and vespers. “The upward yearning of its arches and its spires expresses the movement of prayer in which the soul lifts itself to God who is love.” (Cardinal Feltin, 1949-1966)

The organ is one of the biggest in the world with 113 stops (a component of a pipe organ that admits pressurized air, known as wind, to a set of organ pipes), and 7,800 pipes. Every Sunday after Vespers, one of the cathedral organists gives a free recital, “in the spirit of God’s calling, in this place which would like to give, even to those not of Christian faith, a little peace, beauty, …and some light.”

Through its art, outside and inside, which includes small and large paintings, series of story paintings, bronze statues, stone statues, stained glass colorful windows story art, carvings and carved story panels, and sculptures of all kinds, the stories of the Bible, and particularly of Jesus, are told. Over the centuries, this is the way that The Church has always taught those that could neither read nor write. Aside from its educational purposes, it is a beautiful collection.

Some yards up a road from the Cathedral, there is the Cathedral School that is a continuation of the tradition of Notre-Dame that began in the 4th century. Every week, over 2,000 people follow various courses: Bible Study, theology, history, music, and preparing couples the responsibility of becoming parents. Their mission is no different from that of the Cathedral as a whole: “To people of today as to people of yesterday, the Church wants to say what it believes about God, what He does for us, and what He expects of us.”

More than 10 million visitors pass through the doors of Notre-Dame de Paris every year.


I have learned over the years that each church has its own unique story, but of all the churches that I visited in France and their wonderful stories, these two, this Basilica and this Cathedral, got my attention. They represent the glue.

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Blog Contents
      What is Lent?
      Holy Week
      This is Christmas
Other Religions:
      Religion in Southeast Asia
      The Concept of God in the Hindu World
      Why Jews Don't Believe in Jesus
      Religious Allegiance vs Belief & Faith
      This is Yom Kippur
      This is Rosh Hashanah
Islam, Shiite:
     This is Ashura
     This is Ramadan
      Religions are Forms of Superstition
      How America Sees God
      Hearing with Different Ears
Text of Religions:
      This is the Bible, on One Page
      The Da Vinci Code versus the Bible
Houses of Worship:
      Brick and Mortar

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