Europe has the most amazing churches! Years ago when my aunt visited Europe for the first time, she insisted that she would not be bringing home tons of pictures of churches like her friends had. “Seeing that many churches has to be boring,” she said. When she returned from her trip, however, she had filled rolls of film with the same pictures of the beautiful churches and cathedrals.
Cathedrals were often built by the most prominent architects of the time. In every city, town or even village, there is at least one church, and all are worth visiting. Many are open to the public, with the main sanctuaries free to visit. There is often a charge to ascend the bell towers or visit treasuries, but the climb can be inspiring and worth the fee.
Tourists visit the churches, often in droves. If you arrive during the middle of the day, expect a crowd. Coming early or late will make your visit more enjoyable.
The best time to visit a place of worship, though, is during a service. Attending church is a great thing to do on a Sunday morning or weekday evening. Even if you don’t speak the language, you will still receive a blessing from the service.
The first time I visited Europe I attended church with a family in the Netherlands. Although the Dutch language is totally foreign to me, the worship service was familiar. It was an interesting experience and one I have tried to repeat in other countries.
St. Sulpice Cathedral in Paris, France, is a Catholic church that has an exceptional Sunday morning service. Daniel Roth is the primary organist for the church and plays the massive instrument during and after the service.
By after, I mean that he performs a free 20-30 minute organ concert when the regular service has ended. Listen to a sample here:
Another of my Parisian favorites is Sacre Coeur, located on the highest peak of the city. At six o’clock every weekday evening, a mass is held in this beautiful white cathedral. The mass begins with selections sung by the nuns of the church. As their chords echo through the sanctuary, peace fills the air. Listen below:
If you are visiting London, England, I recommend participation in an evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. As the music echoes through the old buildings, you can’t help but imagine how many times throughout history, others have worshiped in this same way.
It’s easy to follow along at the services in London, since they are done in English, but what about the ones in other countries and languages? Understanding the services isn’t as hard as you might think. The churches usually have an order of worship or bulletin of some type that will help guide you. St. Sulpice provides an English version, which shows the Bible passages in French followed by their English translations. The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed can often be recognized by their cadence.
We hear in our churches that we are joining “Christians everywhere” when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. It is an amazing experience to join worshipers in their own communities and hear those words in their language. The next time you visit a new country, try out a worship service – either on Sunday morning, or a weekday evening. Worship can be a blessing even in a foreign language.