A scarf is a necessary item to carry around on a daily basis while traveling in Europe. Especially if you visit as many churches as I did. I must have walked into hundreds upon hundreds of not only churches and cathedrals, but also abbeys and basilicas and temples and synagogues and mosques (collectively referred to as “churches” throughout the remainder of this blog) during my five months in Europe. From some of the world’s largest cathedrals in the cities to the small local churches of the towns. The scarf was so that if I was wearing a tank top on a warm summer day, I could easily take the scarf out of my handbag and throw it over my shoulders before I entered into a church. Covering the shoulders in churches is a sign of respect.
churches in Florence, Italy and Tallinn, Estonia (and many other European cities) dominate the skyline
In every single one of the churches I went into, I was in awe. Each one was beautiful, original, and full of art, history, and spirit. The architecture, the stained glass, the mosaics, the sculptures, the tapestries and rugs, and the paintings in each of the churches made me feel as if I was walking into a unique museum. The artistic people behind these “museums” became my new heroes. The age of the churches in Europe tells a story of the importance of religion in people’s lives throughout the centuries. I am not a very religious person myself, but the aura of the churches spoke to me of a deep sense of spirituality.
the awesomeness of the art and architecuture of several “museums”
I was so moved by the spirituality and emotion of the churches, that I began to develop my own ritual each time I walked into a church. First, of course, I would make sure that my shoulders were covered. A few feet after I entered the door, I would stop for a moment and observe all the sights, sounds and feelings around me. I would glance around the building, at all the art. I would notice the people in the churches. I would feel the spirituality.
I would take a survey of what the people were doing. Was there a service going on, or some other event, such as a wedding or a funeral? If so, would I be welcome to listen for a few moments – even though I may not understand the language? Were there people praying? There always were, and I would observe the various locations of prayer, from sitting on benches to special chapels.
the intricate details of domes with paintings
Were there people singing or chanting? Some of the most beautiful sounds I heard while I was in Europe were in the churches. Hearing the melodic voices of another language, joyfully singing at the top of their lungs, or chanting the repeating rhythmic pattern of prayers usually put me into a trance. Were the church bells ringing? Many times, I happened to be at the right place at the right time, when the souls of church bells were being heard.
Was there music being played on an organ? To hear songs coming through the pipes of organs in an acoustic place such as a church is very enriching. Were there tourists around, sometimes led by a tour guide explaining the history and religious aspects of the church?
After my observations, I would decide what to do next. If the opportunity allowed me to listen to a service or to singing, I would find a seat and enjoy the fulfilling experience. Sometimes I would sit for a long time, in my own silence, just listening.
If there was no group activity going on, what I found interesting for myself, keeping in mind that I am not a very religious person, I would find myself wanting to sit down and do my own type of prayer.
My own prayer was more like a soliloquy of thankfulness. I would be grateful for the travels I had been doing, and for all the fabulous experiences that I had been having. I would be appreciative for my health, and for my family and friends. I would wish for all people to be healthy, happy and safe. I would hope for world peace.
And then I would sit for a while. Just sit. In silence.
During this silence, I would start to feel this sense of, how shall I say it, inner peace, inner strength, fulfillment, gratitude, calmness. It was not only a spiritual feeling, but a physical one as well. Hard to explain in words really. “A religious moment” I would call them as I wrote in my journal later. But for me, probably more spiritual. I actually began to get addicted to these feelings, and stopped into as many churches as I could during my travels.
After my prayers, I would wander around the church looking more closely at the architecture, and at the religious images contained in the various forms of art. All of this awe at the beauty of what I was looking at further added to the spiritual feelings that I was already experiencing.
statues of religious images
It wasn’t until about the fourth month into my five months of visiting churches, that at the entrance to one of the little chapels in the Cathedral of Siena, Italy, I saw a sign. A sign that struck me as to what I was doing during my church visits…rispetto, silenzio, preghiera…respect, silence, prayer…
But the sign was not only about what I was doing, it was a reminder to everyone, written in five languages, of what to do as one enters this little chapel. And what to do as one enters all places of prayer and worship.
And perhaps, this simple sign is a reminder that in everyday life, we should practice what was written on this sign as well…admire, appreciate and value others; have some quiet inner time; and hope for world health, happiness, safety and peace…
…perhaps carrying a scarf around on a daily basis would be a good reminder to do that…
All photos by Debby