This week I’m privileged to be speaking to a group of believers in Interlaken. Europe is in the grip of a heat wave, and almost nothing here is air conditioned because it’s never this hot. We’re sleeping (or trying to), preaching, eating, sightseeing, and fellowshipping in sweltering heat. As I spoke last night people were fanning themselves with every available piece of Christian literature. It nearly stirred up the winds of the Spirit. I thought afterward that few preachers have so many fans before them when they preach. It was one of the hottest sermons I’ve ever given.
Anyway, en route we flew into Milan (it was hot there too!) and took a detour to visit the Milan Cathedral, called the Duomo di Milano. It’s one of the largest church buildings in the world (the fifth largest, to be exact), and it took 600 years to build. Construction began in 1386 on the site of an earlier church edifice, and it was designed according to the French Gothic style of the day. The brick exterior was paneled with marble and is stunning. But it was a slow project. Work started and stopped from century to century depending on funds. At one point, Napoleon chipped in and, in return, was crowned King of Italy at the Duomo. The finishing touches were added and project was completed on January 6, 1965 — within my lifetime.
Everything now needs renovation, so officials are letting people “adopt” the 135 gargoyles that serve as hideous waterspouts along the roof.
I enjoy visiting cathedrals, and I especially appreciate stained glass windows. The windows in Milan are breathtaking. When one considers the statutes and the stained glass windows and the images molded into the giant doors, a gifted teacher could cover the major stories of the Bible and Christian history without cracking open a book. The Duomo is almost like a seminary in solid form.
…except that I’m not sure it truly represents the simplicity of the New Testament church. I often think of what Vance Havner said — that Christianity begins in a cave and ends in a cathredral. By the time it gets to the cathedral, it’s dead and needs to start again in the cave. Someone else said that if we aren’t careful ministries become museums that become mausoleums. How important to stay relevant!
Here in Milan, few worshippers attend for free, but the government can get $15 a head from tourists like me. There’s a sermon in there somewhere. I do believe in church buildings as needed, for even Jesus went regularly to His local synagogue. And I love beauty and loftiness. But by and large, my philosophy has been that church buildings should be utilitarian in nature; beautiful when possible, but within reason.
At any rate, here are some pictures I snapped with my phone with the help of my traveling companion, Michael Aulisio.
PS – The last photo is obviously of a model of the Duomo that we ran across at a miniature muesum. More about that later…