When I was a child, I believed the angels lived in cathedrals and I planned to visit all of the great cathedrals that I read about in books. Since that time I have visited and photographed cathedrals of Rome, Venice, Milan, Spain, Estonia, London and the USA, and each time I am reminded of the angels from my childhood.
I recently visited Rome and was dazzled and inspired by the timeless beauty of that vibrant city's ancient monuments, art treasures and timeless architecture. Genius and inspired design was evident everywhere and I could not get enough of it. The Basilica of St Peter's draws pilgrims from all over the christian world and is the most famous of all catholic cathedrals.
On first walking into the interior of the immensely beautiful basilica, I was totally overwhelmed with emotion and had to consciously pause to take it all in and recompose myself. I remember looking down the long nave to the elaborate golden altar and bronze baldachin created by Bernini, and just at that moment, the sun's rays touched the gilded glass window behind the altar and shone down through the symbol of the dove, creating a pathway of light from the heavens. I was transfixed!
Michelangelo's masterpiece, 'Pieta', the graceful and sensitive marble sculpture of Mary and Jesus, is prominently displayed in the first chapel and is easily the most beautiful work of art I have ever gazed upon. Mary's beautiful face expresses her love for her son and her submission to destiny. This amazing work was created in 1499 when the artist was only 24 years old.
The interior of the magestic dome, designed and constructed by Michelangelo, is magnificently painted by Guiseppe Cesari and bears the inscription in latin, which reads: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and I will give you the keys to heaven."
There are so many extraordinary works of art and every bit of the immense space is filled with renaissance monuments and decorations, far too much for the eye to take in. Charles Dickens visited the Basilica of St Peter's in 1846 and described his first impressions. "The first burst of the interior, in all its expansive majesty and glory: and, most of all, the looking up into the dome; is a sensation never to be forgotton."
The Basilica of San Marco in the floating city of Venice is at once a remarkable place of worship for Venetians and a declaration of immense power. This dazzling cathedral, adorned with an amazing array of treasures plundered from places such as Constantinople during the Crusades, is a unique blend of architectural and decorative styles, from Byzantine and Gothic to Renaissance, and is an extremely popular tourist destination.
It is only at dawn, or late at night after all the restaurants have closed and the piazza is almost deserted, that you are really able to appreciate the structure in all its beauty, majesty and mystique.
The enormous gothic cathedral with its rose windows and flying buttresses, in the southern Spanish city of Seville, can only be described in superlatives. It was built on the site of a grand mosque, constructed to show off the city's wealth and power after the Reconquista and is truly a symbol of Spain's faith and identity after centuries of moorish domination.
At the end of a long day exploring Seville in the rain, we visited the magnificent stone cathedral, entering through the intricate Puerta de San Cristobel to the noisy clanging of the Giralda Tower bells. Stepping gratefully into the dimly illuminated sanctuary of the massive interior, we were met with soaring gothic ceilings, beautiful stained glass panels, ornate baroque decorations, and a very real sense of being in an immense space filled with incredible treasures.
When visiting Milan, you cannot miss the Duomo di Milano, one of the most famous cathedrals in Europe. This exceptionally large and elaborate gothic building, constructed in brick and elegantly faced in white candoglia marble, sits in the very heart of the city. Inside, the sunlight streams in through many extraordinary stained glass panels, casting a rainbow-like glow over the interior.
Mark Twain described its beauty best: "What a wonder it is! So good, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems ... a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath! ..."
New York City's St Patrick's cathedral is the largest and most beautiful gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the USA. Filled with all the mystery and power of the great medieval cathedrals, it represents a place of peace and tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.
It is an elegant and symmetrical creation of considerable beauty and grace, and its soaring spires still inspire, despite being crowded by modern skyscrapers.
Photographing the interiors of these great cathedrals always represents a challenge for me as the light within is low and atmospheric and I am very conscious of not being intrusive with my camera. I usually take my fastest, quietest lens, definitely no flash or tripod, and shoot just a few images. I know, from the observation of other, less considerate photographers, how the sound of a badly timed click of the shutter and firing of the flashgun can ruin the divine atmosphere of peace and meditation in these most tranquil of spaces. ...besides I would not want to frighten the resident angels!
St Paul's Cathedral, London
Angel of Venice
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallin, Estonia
Intricate architecture of the Seville Cathedral
Basilica of San Marco, Venice
Spires of Il Duomo, Milan