Be inspired … while visiting a church

“I call architecture frozen music.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I spend the last week in Trondheim (Norway). Mostly project work, but also three days of vacation (sometimes it’s great to work in academia 🙂 ). Among others, I visited the Nidarosdomen, “the biggest church of Northern Europe and the only major gothic cathedral in Norway” (according to WikiTravel).

I think that traveling can inspire you (some just bloody hate it), and personally, while visiting the church and looking at the magnificent windows, I found it very helpful to add music to the mix.

Many visitors of the church walked past the windows and did not use the time to — for example:

  • find out what the artist did do,
  • find out what the artist was aiming at,
  • zoom into the details and zoom out,
  • compare elements within a window,
  • compare the elements between windows (I found that the two sides of the cathedral had very different but also very consistent color schemes), and
  • take the time to really notice the details (you need minutes in front of a window before you notice the details like:
    • the color gradients,
    • the texture,
    • the work with black as a contrast and the grey background of the walls, and
    • the color schemes.

If you just walk through the church/cathedral you miss so much — not only regarding the windows. Masons drew the dirty end of the stick, their grey architecture pales in comparison to (and are reduced to the backdrop of) the windows that catch the light so beautifully and burn like emeralds. But their “grey” architecture is impressive on its own.

While photography can help you to learn how to see (you still have to do it yourself), music can really unlock the emotions you can feel in a place and help you to take the time to experience the building in another way. Let’s face it, most (Christian) churches are … oppressing. They are huge, awe-inspiring (of human architecture and design), but not exactly “happy” places. To quote Serendipity, a muse in “Dogma” (1999):

“I have issues with anyone who treats faith as a burden instead of a blessing. You people don’t celebrate your faith; you mourn it.”

But listening to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart (or any music that fits the time the church was build or the setting) — it suddenly fits. You can disconnect from the oppressing silence.

Standing in the middle the cathedral, looking at the windows and the pillars while listening to music, it becomes magical. With headphones you can put the music really loud (take care of your hearing) without disturbing anyone else who wants to “enjoy” the “the sacred silence of the ‘sacred’ place”. I mean, churches (and likewise museums) do not have to be these places of silence where everyone is afraid to make a sound or laugh. Some museums like one in BelĂ©m (Lisbon, Portugal) actually try to encourage visitors to enjoy the setting, encouraging them to …

Labels on a wall near the entrance of the “Berardo Collection Museum” in BelĂ©m, Lisbon, Portugal.

(“Talk”, “Flirt”, and “Ask questions” are relevant here). It’s unlikely that it ever happens in a Christian church (especially the “Ask questions” part), so music on headphones might be your only choice.

And it does not only work for churches or cathedrals — I found that Subway to Sally‘s “Grabrede” fits well to the crypt (of the cathedral), although you have to understand German to understand why, Queen‘s “We will rock you” did wonders when it came to the museum dealing with the bishop (who wanted power — the mint and the armory of the bishop were important parts of the museum), while Madonna‘s “Material Girl” worked well in the nearby Crown Jewel exhibition.

In short, I think that creating a playlist specific to the time period the place (museum, church, cathedral) or the intention of the people involved (power, freedom, etc.) can really help to experience it more intensively.

And if there are no audio guides doing it for you, use your own. Bring an music player and headphones.


Where the idea (probably) did come from: I know about audio guides providing time specific music in museums, and I somehow thought about Norman “Stan” Stansfield in “LĂ©on” (“who likens his killings to the works of Beethoven“) while standing in the cathedral, watched a Queen documentary the day before — hotels are the only places where I switch on the TV as I do not (want to) own one — and I didn’t have “Diamonds are a girls best friend” on my iPhone, so I settled for Madonna‘s “Material Girl”.

If visiting the church did get you down: If you have found the church to be too oppressing, then visit a shopping center/mall. They usually have places where you can look at the crowd (usually from above, as in the upper levels people are usually waiting their for friends or spouses to be done with their shopping). It’s a nice contrast to churches/cathedrals. I think with both you have pretty much covered what the human race is about.