In the cathedral I had an audio tour, meaning I held this big phone looking thing and listened to recordings about different pieces and parts of the building.
My first recording told me a little history about the architecture. Everything related to the cathedral is meant to help in the spiritual experience. You ideally enter from the back, so looking forward means looking to the east. This symbolizes the spiritual journey one takes. Your back is to the setting sun; you leave the past behind you. As you move forward, you are moving closer to God. Also symbolic is baptism. The immersion in water represents the purification of salvation and the Christian starting anew. The baptismal font’s location near the door signifies that it is one of the first steps in the Christian life. The cathedral’s shape is a cross, a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus in order to bridge the gap between sin and God, allowing people to have a relationship with Him.
At this point, the recording asked me how the cathedral was affecting me. Did I feel the presence of something holy here, etc. My immediate response was sadly that I was highly distracted by the clanking of metal chairs that were being set up for an event the next day. Still the beauty of the building did astound me.
One part I found interesting were the “pilgrim steps.” These steps were frequently visited by pilgrims travelling through the city. They would stop here and pray for renewal and endurance on their trip to Thomas à Becket’s shrine in Canterbury.
Interestingly enough the cathedral isn’t home to strictly Christian symbolism. For one, the Wheel of Fortune often appears in English churches. It shows the unpredictability of human life. On a positive note though, the circular nature reminds one that after a bad time in life, a good time is sure to follow. Of course, in the eyes of the Church, God is superior to Fortune. More pagan symbols appeared on the cathedral’s ceiling. These faces, called Green Men, were symbolic of fertility. When missionaries arrived in the 6th century, they added elements like the Green Men to make the transition to Christianity easier for pagans. Another belief was these Green Men (and also gargoyles outside the cathedral) helped keep evil spirits away. I found it odd though that the church found that necessary. Shouldn’t the house of God be automatically protected? I’ll have to look more into this later.