When I was in my second year of college, a hostel wing mate handed me his heavily earmarked copy of The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. I sat reading that book late into the night, and on many others that followed. It told the story of Tom, the master builder, whose only dream was to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.
At that time, I didn’t know exactly what a cathedral was, and how it was different from a church. Years flowed, events happened, and myriad experiences layered over one another, burying my awe of Tom’s passion for cathedral-building deep into my memory.
Till last week, that is, when dusting off my old books while searching for something to read, I found the book again.
They say what you search for is at times beneath the very earth where you stand. Thirty kilometres from the Swedish city of Malmo where I live, in the small university town of Lund, is Scandinavia’s most famous cathedral—the Lund cathedral.
I walked down the cobbled streets from Lund Central Station towards the cathedral, pulled towards it by its gothic dark towers that loomed against the blue skyline. The cathedral, called Domkyrkan, emerged rather abruptly. Its dark-stoned exterior and formidable towers that reached for the skies made one stop in one’s tracks and stare in wonder. This 12th-century cathedral was constructed under the rule of the Danes, before it passed hands to Sweden in one of the most gruesome battles ever.
I was just in time to see a newly-wed couple walk out of the cathedral. Once inside, the feeling of space, of standing beneath open skies, remained with me. The impressive columns on both sides arched on the top to support the dome, on which was etched a fresco of Jesus overlooking us all. I walked down to the crypt, beneath the cathedral’s eastern end. This was the oldest part of the building, and enclosed several stone altars and a famed granite statue of Finn, the giant, wrapped around one of the columns.
Upstairs on the altar, preparations were ongoing for a christening. This was a private affair, so I retired to the seating area. I settled in one of the empty chairs and closed my eyes. My senses began to merge: the smell of the wax fused with the rhythmic chimes from the organ, punctuated with the sound of muffled steps.
This cathedral had weathered snow and rain, winter and summer, wars and peacetime alike, untouched by all the event. My thoughts went to the thousands of Tom Builders who must have spent their blood and sweat to construct this cathedral. Many might not have lived to witness the outcome of their work. But here we were, almost a thousand years later, still deriving tranquility from their craftsmanship.