While we were doing our sound check, my husband and 11-year-old son went for a walk around the grounds. My son was fascinated by the orderly and consistent rows of small stone crosses in the cemetery, by the statues of saints to be found near all the buildings, and by the glowing gold leaf that covered the top spires of the cathedral. They went inside, and he told me later about the stained glass, the high ceilings, the statue of Mary and baby Jesus, and the hanging candles. “But then,” he said, “I turned around, and you won’t believe what was hanging on the wall.”
Well, yes, I could very well imagine what was hanging on the wall. Something he’d never seen before.
“It was this big cross, with Jesus hanging on it! There was blood, and he was making this gruesome face like he was in pain.” (He demonstrated the face for me.) “I couldn’t believe it. It scared me to death!”
Ah, yes. The soothing iconography of the Catholic church. We all agreed that this wasn’t a pleasant thing to come upon in an otherwise beautiful space, particularly when it wasn’t expected. We went on to talk about the differences between Protestant and Catholic crucifixes, crosses used with and without a tortured-looking Jesus in place, why people are comforted by the Catholic faith, why some of the monks were wearing black and others white, and more.
It was an interesting conversation for a lovely autumn evening, as we walked through grounds kept by men whose beliefs and I cannot and will not ever share — beliefs that I’m nonetheless introducing to my children as part of their larger education in the necessity of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding in our fractured world.