Last summer was about a lot of things, but one thing I made sure to do was take lots of photos of the dozen or so European churches I was able to visit. And now that it’s once again the Season of Lent, I am so happy I get to share those photos with you.
For today, the First Sunday of Lent, here is a photo of the Noorderkerk. (Noorderkerk is Dutch for “northern church”). This church was built in the early 1620s in the Jordaan neighbourhood, right on the Prinsengracht, the outermost canal of Amsterdam’s Canal Belt. The Jordaan was growing fast at the time, and its residents were in need of another place of worship.
The Noorderkerk was purpose-built as a Protestant church (unlike older church buildings throughout the Netherlands that were originally Catholic, but were transformed into Protestant churches after the Reformation.) As such, its shape looks quite different from the traditional long nave of a Catholic church. It was instead built in the shape of the Greek cross, with four naves of equal length, and a small tower at the centre. The idea was that the building was centred around the pulpit, a type of church design that eventually become quite common throughout Calvinist Holland.
I have a lot of affection for the Noorderkerk as it was only a ten-minute walk from where I was living, and I passed it regularly, often daily, on my walks around Amsterdam. To my regret, I didn’t have a chance to see it on the inside — the church is still in use as a congregation and the hours it is open to the public are limited. But though it might look like a quiet, sleepy church, there was always a lot going on outside. On the square surrounding the church are the twice-weekly markets: a flea market on Mondays and a food market on Saturdays. There is nothing like a weekly market to give a church square a sense of being the heart of the neighbourhood.
Which to my mind is kinda cool.
So I learned something the last time I was in Berlin. My dad and I were trying to take the train to Wittenberg, but almost ended up in Wittenburg.
Who knew one vowel could make such a difference? (And yes, this is why God made editors.) Wittenberg with an “e” is about 100 km southwest of Berlin. Wittenburg with a “u” is about 200 km northwest of Berlin.
In other words, we were headed in pretty much the opposite direction of where we wanted to be going.
After a quick chat with the train conductor, my dad and I disembarked at the next station, took a train to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and waited there for yet another train that would take us south. We eventually did reach Wittenberg (with an “e”).
Why Wittenberg? Because we wanted to see this door.
That would be the door to the Schlosskirche or Castle Church to which Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses 500 years ago today, on October 31, 1517. You can see the tower of the Schlosskirche in the photo below.
Luther’s theses went viral, you could say, and caused a bit of an uproar in the Christian church. Wars ensued — lots of wars — and, well, a lot of general mayhem. The world has never been the same since.
Some might say a little reformation, now and then, is a healthy thing, but I doubt that Luther had any idea of what he was starting when he picked up that hammer.
For Palm Sunday, I’m posting a photo of a wall of windows from Fountains Abbey. These windows are located on the bottom level of the abbey’s tower, which was built not long before the abbey was surrendered to the Crown. As I explained last Sunday, after the surrender, the lead and glass were removed from all of the abbey’s windows, allowing in the elements and causing the abbey to quickly fall into ruin.
The Crown sold Fountains Abbey to a merchant from London. Eventually, it was purchased by Sir Stephen Proctor, who used stone from the abbey to build a home for his family. It took from 1598 until 1611 to build that house, which he named Fountains Hall.
What was left of the abbey became the estate’s “folly” — essentially a giant lawn ornament. Such features were common in formal English gardens.
Since 1983, Fountains Abbey has been owned by the National Trust. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
Here is a photo of the narthex of Fountains Abbey, which I am posting for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. A narthex is the entrance to a church. Nowadays, we usually call it a foyer.
You get an idea of the size of the church at Fountains Abbey from this photo. It wasn’t until I visited this abbey that I began to understand why so many of England’s abbeys lie in ruins. Which is ironic, considering that Fountains Abbey is one of the best-preserved abbeys in all of England.
It’s because once you take away the roof, the building doesn’t stand a chance against the unpredictable English weather.
Why is there no roof? That’s easy. When the deed of surrender was signed at Fountains Abbey in 1539, the abbey had to be made unfit for worship. The roof was torn off, and the windows were stripped of their lead and glass. Some of the stone was carted off to be used for building projects elsewhere; the rest was worn down by the elements. During the Dissolution, many of the abbeys were also burned to ensure that the monks would leave.
The Dissolution came about because of Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. More than 900 religious houses — home to some 12,000 people — were destroyed between 1536 and 1541. Initially, the proceeds from the monasteries was intended to provide an income for the Crown, but eventually many of them were sold off to fund Henry’s wars.
Our road trip up the Dempster led us, eventually, to Inuvik. Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, Inuvik was built in the 1950s in its present location in the Mackenzie River delta to function as the region’s administrative centre.
Inuvik is the northernmost point of Canada that I’ve ever been to. Until this year, it was also the northernmost point in Canada that you could drive to in the summer. In the winter, the Dempster Highway continues north to Tuktoyaktuk for another 194 km along an ice road formed on the channels of the Mackenzie River delta and the Arctic Ocean. This ice road was only open during the winters, but is being replaced by a new all-season road scheduled to be finished by the end of next summer.
Our Lady of Victory Parish, or the Igloo Church as it is often called, is the community’s Catholic church. It was designed by Brother Maurice Larocque, a missionary from Quebec who spent his entire ministry working in the North. Before he became a priest, he was a carpenter, and he used his skills to design a church that reflected the people who would worship in it. The church was built in the shape of an igloo to be able to deal with the shifting permafrost it stands on.
The Igloo Church is the most photographed building in Inuvik. Naturally, I had to take a photo, too.
Without the lay brothers who built the abbey and did all the daily chores necessary to keep body and soul together, Fountains Abbey would never have become as wealthy as it did. At the time of Dissolution, the abbey’s land holdings had increased to 500 acres, making it one of the richest religious houses in England.
Which also made Fountains Abbey awfully attractive to Henry VIII, who used the proceeds from dismantling England’s abbeys to fund his military campaigns. (More on that next week.)
For today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the nave of Fountains Abbey. Imagine, if you will, that the roof is still in place and the monks are singing and chanting as they process down this nave towards the Great East Window.
For the Third Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the cellarium at Fountains Abbey. Cellarium is a fancy monasterial word for “storeroom,” and this one was located beneath the dormitory where the lay brothers slept. It was used mainly to store food.
Fountains Abbey had two orders of monks: choir brothers and lay brothers. The choir brothers did all the praying and singing, while the lay brothers did all the manual labour required to run the abbey, including stonework and metalwork, tanning hides and making shoes, brewing and baking, and herding sheep.
Fountains Abbey was founded by 13 rebel Benedictine monks from St. Mary’s Abbey in York. They were sent packing because they wanted to live by a stricter rule than the Rule of St. Benedict that the monks in York followed.
The rebel monks were given 70 acres of land in a valley near Ripon in North Yorkshire. They decided to establish a Cistercian order, which is a French monastic order. Cistercian monks supported themselves by farming. The land near Ripon had everything the rebel monks needed: a valley setting to shelter them from the North Yorkshire weather, stone and timber for building, and plenty of water. The name of the abbey, St. Mary of Fountains, is thought to have originated from some nearby springs.
Not long after founding their abbey, the monks built a church out of stone. The Great East Window above the Chapel of Nine Altars behind the High Altar is featured in this photo, which I am posting for the Second Sunday of Lent.