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Christendom Was Glorious, but It’s Almost Gone

Today on Twitter, I saw a diamond in the rough. A fellow Catholic by the name of Jacob Bauer posted the following image, with the caption:

I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”

Mbzt, F0502 Paris Ier eglise St-Eustache chapelle Crucifixion rwk, CC BY-SA 4.0

As I looked at the image, I found it nearly perfect. By gazing at such an architectural marvel, painstakingly crafted to give glory to God, one cannot help but feel that he is praying, without ever so much as forming a thought.

Truly sacred architecture lifts the mind and heart to Heaven.

With a bit of reverse-image searching, I discovered that it comes from a chapel inside the church of Saint-Eustache, in Paris. This is what the outside looks like:

Pavel Krok, St.-Eustache, CC BY-SA 2.5

You can find some information about it in English on Wikipedia, but the top image itself, along with many more interior photos, are only on the French-language entry.

As an American, I can’t fathom what it would be like to have churches like this in every major city. Even the little country parishes that dot the European landscape are breathtaking compared to many of the whitewashed, protestantized parishes so common in the United States. I’ve often thought, on my many drives across this country, seeing all the little Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist and “First Church of Christ” and (insert Christian sub-denomination here) churches in the heartland, how amazing it would be if every little one-horse town off the interstate had a rustic but beautifully appointed Catholic parish instead.

When I traveled Europe in college, I could never get over the fact that this is exactly what they had. And all the roadside shrines besides!

Another thing I just don’t understand is how Europeans can have these breathtaking homages to God in their midst, built without the benefit of modern technology, standing for so many centuries as a testament to the timelessness of the faith, and just totally apostatize.

I long to spend time in prayer in a place like this, but when I talk to people in Europe, I hear that virtually nobody really cares anymore. Sure, there are a few. If you’re reading this from Europe, chances are you’re one of the exceptions. But if you’re reading this from Europe, I’m sure you could also tell us how Catholicism is barely even a vestigial presence as we prepare to enter the third decade of the 21st century.

This is why they are tearing down these gorgeous churches to make way for things like parking lots.

Have you ever seen videos like this and found yourself unable to hold back the tears? I can’t do it even now:

Here’s one from Germany:

I can’t even force myself to watch.

Christendom was glorious, but it’s almost gone.

The destruction came in layers. Interior, then exterior, and now interior again. How many times has this cycle been repeated?

What relics will be left of Christendom when it is done collapsing?

Will any chapels like the one at Saint-Eustache remain?

Will the embers of Christendom have to burn in the hearts of people like you and me, as we turn photographs of long demolished jewels in the Church’s crown into posters and photo albums and computer wallpapers, just so we can remember what we had, and then lost?

I hope not. I hope some of the treasures will yet remain. I hope that sooner, rather than later, Christendom will, against all odds, find fertile soil, and a Christian renaissance will make it possible to build soaring monuments to the Blessed Trinity again.

Until then, all we can do is cling tight to what remains. Beauty is a salve for weary souls.

“I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth…”

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