Secular Glory

I watched a TV program called, “The Queen’s Palaces,” and it reminded me of a trip I took to England. On that trip, I toured Windsor Castle and attended a magnificent worship service in Westminster Cathedral. I found the opulence I experienced to be breathtaking. I write this blog in celebration of magnificence. The kind of magnificence that Windsor Castle, Westminster Cathedral and other human creations exemplify. I think that there is a place for expressions of the very best that humans are capable of.

In thinking about magnificence, I had to temporarily suspend matters political, sociological, moral, and economic. That part of me tends to object to the social conditions that gave rise to monuments of magnificence. That some parts of society should enjoy immense privilege while other parts of society barely eke by is morally wrong. But I suspended these considerations in reflecting on magnificence.

There is something to be said for humanity expressing itself in the superlative. I recall one room in Windsor Castle. It was a chamber in which all the coats-of-arms of the Order of the Garter were displayed. It was an ornate hall, hard-wood ceiling, with gold trim along the ceiling and walls. I asked the guide who stood in the hall about the trim. She explained that the trim was gold leaf, and in a firm, British tone said, “NOT GOLD PAINT.” The Royal Family had the resources to make the best that is possible by human hands. In this blog, I am affirming that. The magnificent Castle itself, with its awe-inspiring architecture and expansive size is a wonder.

Westminster Abbey is a wonder of architecture. An instantiating of the beautiful. I think the columns and walls were marble. Lofty, cavernous, beautiful. I happened to attend a service commemorating the founding of the Cathedral and a magnificent worship service was held. There was a brass ensemble, a boys’ and adult choir, the priests marched in wearing colorful robes, swinging incense censers, carrying flags on staves, and we followed the Anglican order of service, which in itself is a magnificent testament to the human spirit.

Let these two examples suffice to make my point. I could add the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon, even Stonehenge. Our world and our soul needs expressions of the very best that humans are capable of. And while on one hand, I decry the social injustices that birthed these monuments, on the other hand, a part of me is glad that sufficient wealth and means were extant that allowed the magnificent to manifest.

Analogously, but on a much, much smaller scale, I think about a bridge in the city in which I live. At night, it is illuminated with colored lights. It carries a somber beauty with it’s purple, red, and yellow colors deep in the night. Of course, objections could be raised about the electric power consumed, the cost of illuminating the bridge, ecological considerations about a waste of energy. But in this blog, tonight, I’m putting all that aside and arguing for a small instance of beauty for beauty’s sake in this world. And for the magnificence that show what humanity at its best is capable of. Of the wonder and beauty that can manifest in this world. Of examples like Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, the pyramids, and the High Level Bridge in the city in which I live.

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