Archive for the ‘religious buildings’ Category


Matthias Church, Budapest


The Mosque, Paris


St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), Vienna

Houses of Worship

As I wrote about before in my Eastern Europe blog, I am not a particularly religious person, but wherever we travel we make an effort to visit places of worship. We’re drawn to holy/religious/sacred buildings, regardless of which religion, not because of faith but because of the faith of those who built them—people who were so willing to give their time, efforts, and money to build these beautiful places, places that should be the most beautiful possible. What also draws us to them is their history and sense of sacredness, as well as their photographic charm. From a small white-steepled church in New Hampshire, to the grandeur of a Gothic cathedral in Europe, to a mosque in Bosnia, to a Buddhist temple in Korea these spiritual gathering places are wonderful sights to visit.


Church in Dublin, New Hampshire


Shinto Shrine, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan


Cathedral, Merida, Mexico


Buddhist Temple, Seoul,  Korea

Interiors often overflow with detail and color, and are rife with ornamentation, although some are dark and plain. Photography is usually permitted, but often with no flash, but it’s easy enough to steady the camera on the back of a pew or against a column.

Over the years, and in many cities around the world we’ve visited many of these spiritual places. In months to come I will spotlight some of them. For now, here is a small selection of some of the many beautiful or interesting that we’ve visited in various places.




Notre Dame, Paris (before the fire)


Inside Stephansdom, Vienna


One of the many mosques in Mostar, Bosnia



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Coming to the end of this 3-part series commemorating 650 years at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.

The tour starts in the gorgeous old library

The tour starts in the gorgeous old library

Our guide discusses some old instruments

Our guide discusses some old instruments

The Collegium Maius Museum: We watched the 11am clock show and at that time bought a ticket for the next English museum tour at 1pm. You have to go on a guided tour in a small group, which is offered a few times a day. Our tickets were 12 Polish Zloty (PLN) each (senior discount), about $3.75; normal adult price is 16 PLN (about $5) and children 6 PLN. See Part B next post for the tour.

It was a great tour, which took about an hour and a half, although the allotted time was one hour. Our guide was excellent, fluent in English and a really remarkable fount of knowledge and information about her topic, which is very broad—anything and everything to do with this university, all the contents of all the rooms, the people and artists involved etc. Our group asked many questions and she was able to answer pretty much all of them in detail. Security was tight getting in, and then a guard followed the group and closed doors behind the group as the people exited each room.

Universities in those days were closely linked to religion and this is still very Catholic in tradition. Religion dictated what they could do. Originally the professors were celibate and lived and ate together like monks, showing the importance of religion. Later, they could marry and live outside the university.

The communal dining room

The communal dining room

They started with three core areas: theology, philosophy and law. Then they added medicine and physical sciences.

It’s a really beautiful building with gorgeous rooms, mostly upstairs, such as the Library and the Green Room. This is an incredible collection of old university artefacts (furniture etc), plus many instruments. The Library houses a great collection of old books in neo-Baroque bookcases. The nobility of that time played a large role in donating money that allowed the university to be built and for it to buy all these things. On the tour, our guide named many of the benefactors over the years.

Many famous names are linked to the university but (for us) Copernicus is the greatest—with his link to astronomy and cartography 100 years before Galileo. He knew about the earth being round, and about planets travelling in ellipses even. He had 4 brothers who all studied here too. His Polish parents moved to Scandinavia, but the boys came back here to study because the university had the reputation in astronomy and the right equipment—the earliest is from the Moors in 1064. In the small Copernicus Room the guide pointed out discs, globes and other instruments that Copernicus would have used. Much of his original paperwork is now in Sweden at the Uppsala University Library.

The Green Room

The Green Room


Chopin's piano

Chopin’s piano

Many famous Poles studied here and achieved great things in the world of science, arts, and literature. For example, Marie Curie and Chopin. Chopin’s piano is there in the Green Room, the one on which he actually gave a concert.

We went on the tour to see the museum but actually much of the space is still used, which is amazing. The Senate meets monthly in the Library; they eat in the Stuba Communis (dining room), which is still used for ceremonial meetings (such as signing agreements with other institutions). Built in 1430, it still has 3 tables in a horseshoe shape; and they use the ornate Aula, or Jagellonian Hall, for university award ceremonies—it’s the oldest and one of the most beautiful lecture rooms of the university.



The ornate Aula Hall

The ornate Aula Hall

There are many things of note. The museum has the first globe, which shows North America, but in the wrong place, right at the South Pole! Globes were always done in pairs—celestial and terrestrial. One set had universities and intellectual centers marked. And one globe even had Madagascar marked.

A celestial globe from 1480

A celestial globe from 1480

A collection of clocks, of measuring instruments—like weights and measures—and of old telescopes reminded us of the collections in Arts and Metiers in Paris. There are some priceless treasures and we can understand why security is tight.

They also have a wonderful collection of tapestries, art works, painted ceilings, portraits of people related to the university, some stained-glass windows that would have been lost if not saved here, and some wooden madonnas.

We also saw the original charters of the university. First, the Latin model where students elected the rector and then the French model where the professors elected the rector.

In fact, there is so much in there that’s it’s difficult to assimilate in one visit.

This tour got us thinking about the role of universities and teaching/knowledge in our modern world. It’s a great tradition for universities to follow intellectual pursuits and to try and preserve both knowledge and artefacts. Passing on knowledge and learning is so important and that’s one role of universities. We wonder about the future; with all the digital age stuff, will we lose track of what’s real and not, and of the actual truth. With all these online courses, universities are losing control of passing on the knowledge. Is it potentially the start of the end of the importance of universities? We sure hope not!

An old globe

An old globe

Old astrolabe

Old astrolabe



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While I’m on the theme of tea….Drinking tea, a favorite British pastime

Waterfront street in the village on Iona Island

Waterfront street in the village on Iona Island


On that street is the Argyll Hotel

On that street is the Argyll Hotel

The Island of Mull, in the Scottish Hebrides (west coast), can only be reached by ferry, so it’s less touristy than the Isle of Skye a bit further north. But, it has much to offer and is well worth spending a few days there, which we did.

Besides the picturesque port and capital of Tobermory, with its colorful buildings lining the quay, two of the main sights are the island of Iona and Duart Castle. We visited both this summer and had a typical British afternoon tea at both.

You reach the small island of Iona off the west coast of Mull by ferry as a foot passenger. It’s probably Scotland’s most iconic spiritual destination. Saint Columba founded a monastery on Iona in 563 AD and began his mission to convert Scotland to Christianity. For many centuries the kings of Scotland were buried at this monastery (including Macbeth, supposedly, although his grave is not distinguishable any more).

The focus on the island is the Abbey, Nunnery, churches and small museum (which I’ll post on later), but there is also a tiny village along the waterfront where the ferry comes in. Here we found the Argyll Hotel, a good place for lunch or afternoon tea—featuring HUGE scones.

We decide to share one scone

We decide to share one scone


Rod cuts into his half scone. I wait to pour the tea from the china pot

Rod cuts into his half scone. I wait to pour the tea from the china pot









The view from the hotel tearoom window---the Iona post office

The view from the hotel tearoom window—the Iona post office


Duart Castle on the isolated headland---the view from the castle tearoom

Duart Castle on the isolated headland—the view from the castle tearoom

Back on the island of Mull, on an isolated spit of land south of the ferry village of Craignure, is Duart Castle. This 13th century home of the Clan Maclean sits dramatically above the sea cliffs. It was in a very ruined state, but was renovated in 1911, and now offers interesting tours telling the turbulent story of the clan. In a separate newer building near the car park you can find a tearoom, gift shop and toilets. On a different day, sitting in the tearoom, we had an amazing view of the castle.

(rather back-lit unfortunately). What a lovely setting for another delicious tea

(rather back-lit unfortunately). What a lovely setting for another delicious tea

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The original Dolores Mission, right next to….

The original Dolores Mission, right next to….

…the lovely Basilica, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake

…the lovely Basilica, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake

Inside the old Mission Chapel. Note the ceiling , side altars and main altar

Inside the old Mission Chapel. Note the ceiling , side altars and main altar

On the edge of the mural district (see previous post), at 3321 Sixteenth Street, is the Dolores Mission, built in a very distinctive style (colonial, white-washed, tall towers, very ornate doorways). The local high school, 2 blocks away on 18th/Dolores, is done in the same style and it would be easy to think at first that you’d found the Mission Church!

The actual name is Mision San Francisco de Asis (after St Francis of Assisi) and was founded in June 1776 under the direction of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784). It soon came to be known as Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek called Arroyo do los Dolores, or Creek of Sorrows. It is the oldest original intact Mission in California (of the chain of 21 established by Father Serra) and the oldest building in San Francisco. It has always had a central place in the religious, civic and cultural life of the city. These Missions are an important part of Californian history and show the strong link to Mexico at that time.

Visiting the Mission is a good way to spend a couple of hours and find out about some of the local history. Entrance is $5 per adult, $3 for seniors and kids. Open daily, 9-4, except Thanksgiving, Christmas New Year’s Day, Easter, and closes early on Good Friday. You go first into the chapel of the Old Mission, which survived many earthquakes, including that in 1906. It’s lovely, in a way that’s so different to the cathedrals in Europe. Note the painted wooden ceiling, gravestones set in the floor, and side altars that seem to have marble columns that are actually painted wood, as is the gorgeous front altar.

Gorgeous main altar in the old Chapel

Gorgeous main altar in the old Chapel

Stained-glass window depicting Father Junipero Serra

Stained-glass window depicting Father Junipero Serra

The Basilica next door was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and has pretty stained-glass windows of the saints associated with the various Missions in California and a wood carving of Mater Dolorosa. This is an important basilica because Pope John Paul 11 visited (see papal signs on sides of front altar), a fact of which they are very proud, as the walkway outside has many photos from his visit. One small room off the walkway has a tiny museum, telling the history of this Mission, including the story of Father Junipero Serra, the local Indians and their way of life then (note the soap plant, called soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), which can also be eaten) and a section of the original adobe wall.

Just outside the museum note the statue of Junipero Serra, plus one in the cemetery, which is a peaceful place, pretty with flowers and blooming bushes, replanted with traditional plants from the 1790s. It has the burial places of many notable early/first San Franciscans.



Peaceful garden and cemetery

Peaceful garden and cemetery

Statue of Father Junipero Serra in the garden

Statue of Father Junipero Serra in the garden

A great place nearby for lunch is Dolores Park Café (corner 18th/Dolores, opposite the high school). You can sit outside if it’s sunny, and the food is great. The soup of the day may be chicken tortilla and they offer very nice salads.




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We see the strange writing on the wall at the back of the cathedral

We see the strange writing on the wall at the back of the cathedral

Zagreb's imposing main cathedral

Zagreb’s imposing main cathedral

Zagreb’s Cathedral, Croatia

In Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav (wow, that’s quite a mouthful!), is usually just called “the Cathedral” or Katedrala.

Many Croatians are Catholic and this is the country’s main church. It’s a very large imposing Neo-Gothic building, what we see today built a little more than 100 years ago. But, it has a long history, as the first church went up here in 1094 when a diocese was established in Kaptol, one of the two towns that originally made up what is now Zagreb (the other is Gradec, up on the hill). Invading Tartars destroyed the original cathedral in the mid-13th century. The citizens rebuilt it, but an earthquake destroyed it in 1880.

The three main features inside the church are: the main altar with a lovely silver relief

Beautiful cathedral interior and ornate silver altar

Beautiful cathedral interior and ornate silver altar

of the Holy Family; the grave of Josip Jelacic, a Croatian statesman; and the modern tombstone of Alojzije Stepinac. Stepinac, the Archbishop of Zagreb in World War 11, supported the Ustase (puppet Nazi government in Croatia then), believing it would help gain independence from Serbia. For some Croatians he is a hero and inspiration, but for others he is a villain because of this.

However, for me, there is another feature in the cathedral that is even more interesting. As you face the exit to the church, on the left side is an arched wall between pillars. Most of the wall panel is inscribed with a very different script, some kind of writing that I have never seen before, very bold and very obvious in this setting. We photographed it and then I determined to learn more.

We step a little closer to this new (for us) alphabet...

We step a little closer to this new (for us) alphabet…

Apparently it is the Glagolitic alphabet (glagoljca). The popular story is that Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine missionaries in the 9th century, invented it as a way to translate the Bible and church doctrine into Slavic languages. They worked mainly in Moravia (in the eastern Czech Republic today) but it was here in Croatia that it caught on and was used in some places until the 19th century. The name Glagolitic also exists in Macedonian, Serbian, Belarusian, Czech, Slovak, and Ukrainian.

Other ideas are that Glagolitic was created in the 4th century by St. Jerome, and is then called Hieronymian, but this seems to be less substantiated. Later, it was adapted in Bulgaria and became part of the Cyrillic alphabet, which Russia and Serbia still use. When Croatia gained independence in 1991 there was some idea of making Glagolitic the official alphabet, but this didn’t happen. Nowadays, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovena use and speak basically the same language: the biggest difference is the writing, as Croatians and Bozniaks use our Roman alphabet, while the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet.

Linguists are having fun trying to figure out the history, development and use of this

…and then zoom in. I wonder what this says?

…and then zoom in. I wonder what this says?

strange script, how many letters it had and how the characters were modified and changed.

This web site gives a chart of the alphabet if you are interested,


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Follow the Owl

Follow the Owl

Good-Luck Owl

In Dijon, France, there is a self-guided walk called Parcours de la Chouette (Owl Walk or Trail) shown by owl arrows and numbered owl plates in the pavement (sidewalk). There are 22 stops at notable sights in the city. An owl is “l’hibou” in French, but a tufted owl is “la chouette”. These stylized owls are definitely tufted.

We start out at the train station and are curious as to why the city uses an owl symbol. Turns out that the owl is the icon of Dijon. This is based on a small stone owl, sculpted into the wall on the north side of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the 15th century.

The facade of Dijon's Notre Dame Cathedral with the three rows of false gargoyles

The facade of Dijon’s Notre Dame Cathedral with the three rows of false gargoyles








The little owl statue has been stroked so much that we can hardly distinguish its features

The little owl statue has been stroked so much that we can hardly distinguish its features

This amazing cathedral has a façade unlike any I’ve seen before, with three rows of false gargoyles across the front. But this little owl is not one of those. It is around the corner and about 6 feet off the ground.  No-one seems to know why an owl was carved here, but legend says that if one strokes the owl with one’s left hand while wishing, then the wish will come true. People have been doing this for hundreds of years, so now the owl is very smooth and shiny and has lost many of its features. We wait for a quiet moment and do as thousands before us.

I too become a believer for a few moments while stroking the smooth stone. Who knows?


Rod makes a wish

Rod makes a wish




Viv reaches up to make a wish too

Viv reaches up to make a wish too

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Paris: Piano Recital in Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Church of St. Julian-the-Poor)

Entrance to St-Julien le Pauvre

Pointing to the ad for our concert that day

First, visualize the location. The oldest church in Paris, a small Romanesque building from the 12th century, tucked away next to the small pretty Square Viviano. The square that has the amazing robinet tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), the oldest in Paris, planted in 1601 by the gardener of Henri 1V. The square that overlooks Notre Dame on the other side of the River Seine. On this sunny, summery spring Sunday afternoon the crowds at Notre Dame are overwhelming and almost unmanageable, and just hundreds of meters away, here we are in a cool, quiet place.

Next, imagine the setting in the small dimly-lit church. Rows of wooden chairs on stone floors face the wooden altar screen, adorned only with a series of Byzantine-style paintings, candles and vases of gorgeous white arum lilies and roses. In the front is a Steinway piano, open, ready.

It’s a Sunday afternoon, so the audience is small but all eager and attentive.

Inside the church, with piano ready

Our soloist walks in, down the aisle, an attractive Japanese woman, with long hair, wearing a long, floating green floral dress. Her name is Miho Nitta.

Now, try to imagine and hear the sounds she extracted from that piano, as she played Chopin and Liszt. Soft, tender, romantic sounds, and loud, wild, tumultuous sounds as her hands literally flew over the keyboard, for piece after piece. The acoustics in the church are very good (one reason they have these concerts here) but she is amazingly talented too, with very strong and supple wrists and fingers that seem able to produce more sound from a piano than I think we’ve ever heard before. We could imagine that it was Liszt playing Liszt, as the story goes that in Liszt’s time only Liszt could play Liszt because his music was so difficult. Here, in this setting, it’s easy to see and hear why, and we realize that Miho Nitta must practise endless hours daily to achieve this level.

Her fingers fly over the keyboard

It was the sort of perfect performance in the sort of perfect setting that gets one thinking of beauty in life, and how some things do live on, even if the executor is different. Bravo!

All the comments we heard from the patrons afterwards were the same: excellent, feeling refreshed, refreshing, stimulating, inspiring.

I was lucky enough to chat to her afterwards when I bought a CD—an added bonus. She is originally from Hiroshima in Japan, but has lived in Paris for about 20 years. She said I could use the photos of her here too.

These concerts are offered a couple of times a week and usually feature mainly piano music of Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Bach. However, you can also catch solo singers and sometimes a chorus group.

Address: 1 rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre (off Quai de Montebello)

Metro and RER: closest is St Michel

Ticket information: Concerts are advertised on billboards outside the church and around the city. You can also check online at www.concertinparis.com

The audience loved the concert!

Buy tickets online or at the church an hour before the performance, or at various stores (FNAC, Virgin, Galeries Lafayette, Bon Marche).

Prices: Adults 18 or 23 euros, students 13 euros

Here’s a YouTube video I found, from an October 2009 recital, made by Jean-Pierre Marie. It gives a really good idea of the beautiful playing of this talented musician.


A few days later: I’ve added another YouTube video, that shows her playing a different composer (Verdi):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkhfVcWKMDI

Perfect setting

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