I had visited the cathedral once before when I was 18 on an English A-level trip (which incidentally had nothing to do with English, I’ve never really understood why we all went away, I think it was jealousy on the part of the English department that the A-level Geographers used to get to go to Switzerland) and I remembered not being a fan at all. I had been completely taken away with the Anglican cathedral, further down the road, and this place was all modern and felt a little alien. What was the pulpit doing in the middle?! I wasn’t a fan at all.
However I think the 27 year old me can appreciate it a little bit more than the 18 year old me.
What looks like an extremely odd building from the outside – all stone and angles and spiky bits and quite frankly scary looking doors – is transformed into a rather breathtaking space inside. Rather than being cold and jarring, it actually feels kind of cosy inside and despite its enormous size, kind of intimate.
Scary looking front door
Most of this I’m convinced is down to the clever use of stained glass throughout. The light in the cathedral is stunning and even though there aren’t big massive windows inside, it doesn’t feel dark and dank and cold, something that more traditional churches suffer from I think. There’s also a more modern take on the use of stained glass, it doesn’t all have to be pictures of lambs to the slaughter or disciples falling on their knees, these are just simple pieces of plain coloured glass.
Apologies for crappy, shaky photos. Although you're allowed to take photos, I just felt a bit wrong doing it, know what I mean?!
At the very top of the cathedral, in the wigwam bit that you can see from the outside, the glass gently turns through the spectrum so that as you walk around the perimeter of the pews, you see a different colour and the light shines through in a different way.
It’s funny really, it wasn’t how I remember it at all. I remembered this strange, spacecraft type building, but actually it’s just like any other church, just round instead of square. There are chapels and places for contemplation all around the outside and it doesn’t feel odd once you’re in there. You feel like you would in any other church.
Which is where my problems arise.
I like churches. I like them a lot and it’s hard to explain why. I don’t know if it’s because they’re peaceful and quiet. I don’t know if it’s because they always feel a little bit special, I like to think of all that the people went through to build something like that just to go in and talk to God. And then I come a bit undone. I feel as if I shouldn’t really be there, appreciating it all. What right do I have to sit and marvel at the work someone’s put in to building a house of God when I don’t even know if there is a God? I feel like an interloper, intruding on a place which really should be marked Out of Bounds to the likes of me. I actually feel guilty sometimes, I hope that God doesn’t mind that I was in there when I’m not even sure if he exists and don’t have any sort of relationship with him.
And I always feel terribly guilty if I go and light a candle, which I nearly always do. I don’t know why I do it, is it just because I’m in a church and I remember doing it when I was small? Do I do it as an insurance policy – “Just in case you are there God I just want you to make sure these people are ok up there”. Do I do it just to remind myself that there are people I just need to take a minute to remember?
It’s a funny bunch of conflicted feelings I get from going into church, from initial “Oh this is lovely and peaceful” to then feeling sad and thinking “I wish I could get out of this what the people who really believe in God must get out of it” before moving on feeling guilty, “They know I don’t believe you know, I should stop stealing all the sacredness and leave some for real believers.”
Maybe it’s better that I just stay clear of churches.