Dark Christianity
.::: .::..:.::.:.

May 2008
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Back July 17th, 2004 Forward
dogemperor [userpic]
My dark Christian adventure


I never thought it would happen to me!

For the start, I'm a very sceptical person, not easily swayed or influenced by stuff I don't care about. But this experience was very weird.

This happened on my Swiss vacation. I was in Sankt Gallen, visiting the famous library at the monastery there. The monastery dates from the 7th century, I believe, founded by Gallus, a wandering Irish missionary who fell over and found himself face to face with a bear. This he interpreted as a message from God to found a monastery in the wilderness. At least that's the legend.

The existing library at the monastery dates from the 17th century and is decorated in a high baroque style with fanastic paintings on the ceilings. It's visually beautiful. They make you wear felt slippers over your shoes so you don't dirty or dent their beautiful parquet floor. And they have one of the biggest and most impressive collections of original medieval, handcopied (by monks, of course) manuscripts, including one of the original medieval copies of the Nibelungenlied, and Boetius' Consolation of Philosophy (in the original Latin, of course). They had an Irish gospel with calligraphy, scrollwork, and painted illustrations, as beautiful as the Book of Kells.

Most of the books were locked in their cabinets, but the ones I mentioned and many others were displayed in glass cases.

So why was this a dark experience? I love books, love old libraries, and haven't had any previous bad experiences with monasteries. I used to teach in a Catholic girls school run by nuns.

But from the moment I walked up the stairs and into the library, I felt something weird catching hold of me, like a forcefield holding me in its fist. I shrugged it off, paid my entrance ticket, and went in. It was fine until one of the staff gave a talk to all the assembled tourists about the library's history. Instead of giving the usual sort of tourist information or talk about the most famous or rare volumes, he talked about the role of the monastaries as centers of education (about the only place you could get an education or find books in the Middle Ages) and as keepers of the Truth. The One Truth. Their role, he said, was to guard against false beliefs and heretics. Then he explained the paintings on the ceiling and I saw, for the first time, for all their beauty, how violent and gory they were. He pointed out the figure of a heretic being struck by lightening and killed. He spoke disparagingly of the Reformation. If the monastery possessed books by Zwingli and Luther (and further infidels such as Islamic and Jewish writers), it was only to know the enemy. He was so filled with self-righteousness and, I have to say it, hate, so convinced that his truth was the only truth.

And this fanaticism in a secular age, in a country which has been traditionally regarded as a haven for religious freedom and tolerance.

That's when I began to comprehend the "force field" that I perceived when I entered the place. This was a hostile place, a hateful place. Not a good place for me to be.

And think about it: monks like this were the ones who wrote down our surviving Germanic Heathen and Celtic Pagan texts: the Eddas and the Mabinogian, the Irish myths. The monks controlled all learning, all knowledge, all literature and its disemination in their era. How much of our lore did they convolute, twist, obscure, censor, and otherwise manipulate?

I felt quite sick at the end of his little lecture. My husband, who had an agnostic upbringing could laugh it off, but I was raised in a strict Catholic household and the hate sank into me like a hook. That night I had nightmares of being pursued by priests. Like I said before, this sort of thing rarely happens to me. I am a grown up skeptic.

But this makes me very very glad I live in a secular society. For me freedom FROM religion is as important as freedom of religion.

Back July 17th, 2004 Forward