Today I’m in Salamanca, Spain. The churches here are 13th through 17th century and absolutely amazing. From the outside. Now, I’ve been in enough 500 year old churches to have some idea of what’s inside. Flying buttresses. Michelangelo-esque paintings on the ceiling. Spectacularly-sustained stained glass windows. But I find my attempt to take a peek at history blocked by the inevitable TURISMO NO signs that grace the 40-foot door entrances. And that has me perplexed.
Even though I’m not a church-going individual, when I think of churches I always think of safety and sanctity – unlocked doors at all hours of the night and a place to run, screaming “SANCTUARY” when being chased by an angry mob or the police. I think of the one remaining place in the world where all are welcomed, for any reason, at any time. It appears something has changed. And for some reason, this saddens me.
Sure, it’s probably a bit uncouth to be snapping pictures in the church sanctuary (an activity I myself am guilty of doing…see above). But I can’t help but feel that churches of this sort (the hundreds of years old sort) have an obligation to history as well as to God. And surely more sacrilegious things have been done in and to churches. I mean, if Maastrict, Netherlands can turn a centuries old cathedral into a bookstore, what’s the harm in allowing tourists to come flocking through with their cameras? I’ve seen these “evil tourist types” in churches before. Always quiet. Always respectful. Always in awe of the presence which surrounds them. It’s not like the black-eyelined, leather-boot wearing, pierced and tattooed type are likely to step foot in there. Myself excluded, of course. Being just that type. But even I, marked and jaded, carry a heavy dose of respect and gratitude when entering any sanctuary…500 years old or 1.
I suppose I can see their point. Churches are a place of worship for those who believe. They remain a sanctuary for their parishioners. But one must wonder if the cause of the current trent toward the death of churches isn’t perhaps due, in some part, to the Church’s modern-day exclusivity? When the Church begins closing its doors to the passersby, eventually passersby will stop coming in.