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Sketches of France: Strasbourg Cathedral

I took a deep breath and my lungs filled with a clean ancient air. It was cool, much cooler than the air outdoors, having never touched the sun, and had been sanded smooth from brushing up next to course sandstone for 500 centuries. There’s something unique about the air inside of grand gothic cathedrals. The vast space generates its own current. It’s never still. It’s aged but not stale.

Soaring from behind the deep carmel-colored facade of the most intricately carved building in Strasbourg rose the Strasbourg cathedral. It soared to the heavens like a dark monolithic relic extracted from some gothic novel. It’s just quirky enough, with its obvious missing spire, to lend it a matching menacing personality. In many ways Strasbourg Cathedral is similar to most flamboyant gothic cathedrals all across Europe. But as a whole it feels very different. The black Voges sandstone with a pink hue from which it’s constructed gives it a dark and brooding quality when compared to the bright glow of earlier examples like Notre Dame Paris. It forms a dark void, like a tear in the fabric of space it occupies. The intricate stone ornamentation contributes to the illusion and resembles a cave that has been turned inside out on itself. As sinister as these qualities appear they are greater than the sum of their parts and produce a strikingly-beautiful building, inside and out.

As we entered the cavernous space the dark mass of heavy stone was magically lifted of its burden, and the emptiness soared high overhead. The ancient air gently passed my lips. As weighty as the cathedral is on the outside it’s equally as light and airy on the inside. I closely monitored the children for their reaction when we first passed through the doors. Though distracted by the buzzing city activity they were quite aware that this was no ordinary church nor like anything they’d seen before. As soon as their eyes adjusted to the light their necks arched back and amazement befell their faces. Very little was said, and the silence of any child speaks more than words. But it didn’t last long, and soon they scurried off to look for hidden treasures and secret passages.

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