UPLIFTING AND DOWNCASTING by Donal Kennedy


 Beautiful Cathedrals, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples and music uplift the human pirit, as their creators intended. Massive, unbeautiful edifices which inspire fear and despair often seem to have been built with those intentions. And three that I have visited I consider blasphemous. One in Paris, one in Lyons and one, a Basilica in the municipality of San Lorenzo del Escorial, in Spain.

Sacre Coeur Cathedral dominating Montmartre was built to “expiate the sins of the Commune” and whitewash the crimes of those who massacred the defeated and disarmed Communards in their thousands. There is nothing about the building to uplift the mind or gladden a heart, sacred or profane. It would probably be a good thing if it was to be deconsecrated and demolished.

In Lyons also, a 19th Century Cathedral towers above the city.Deliberately erected to be taller than a secular neighbour, it was built with money and spite. The Basilca in the Valley of the Fallen was dug out of a mountain by the slave labour of Republican prisoners on the orders of the mutinous murderer General Franco. It was ostensibly to honour God and those killed on both sides during his rebellion, who are buried there by the thousand. But many were killed there, dishonoured and thrown into  mass graves when  victory had long been secured. The Basilica is oppressive to behold. On top of the mountain stands the tallest Cross in the universe. Franco is buried, together with another prominent tyrant, in front of the High Altar.

When my wife and I were there, about 25 years ago, wreaths of fresh flowers, lay on each grave. Two civilian attendants men looked after them and the country was at long last under democratic rule. When he thought no one was looking, one of the attendants gave the wreath over Franco a contemptuous kick.

Now, THAT was an uplifting moment!

But the world’s most imposing Cross remains standingabove the grave of an Unrepentant Thief.

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