For most travelers, any trip to Europe will include a fair number of visits to famous churches. Pick any travel guide for a European capital, and I promise that at least one (if not more) of the top 10 must-see sights will be a church.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. I enjoy the art and architecture of historic churches, and have visited my share. And on a recent day in Munich, I visited two very different churches. In fact, there couldn’t have been a more stark contrast between the two, their religious message, and the way it was presented.
Just off Marienplatz, the main square in Munich’s old town, is the the Heiliggeistkirche, which in English translates to The Holy Spirit Church. It was built in the 18th Century, and for churches of the time, its white exterior was plain. But just inside the door, a unique and incredible sight welcomes worshippers and tourists alike.
Hundreds of beautiful white paper doves are suspended in an elegant, sinuous curve, flying to (or from) the altar. I’ve visited churches all over the world, and I’ve never been quite as astounded or moved.
The nave was bright, airy, and the doves brought an instant smile. The white dove has religious significance in many faiths, but for Christianity, it most frequently symbolizes the Holy Spirit, purity, and innocence.
This sort of whimsical display in any church is rare, but particularly in an important, old-world church. For me, it sent a message of hope, lightness, and joy.
The second church for the day was The Asam Church, which according to travel guru Rick Steves is:
“The private church of the Asam brothers … a
gooey, drippy Baroque-concentrate masterpiece
by Bavaria’s two top Rococonuts.”
Originally, it was a private chapel where the brothers, both architects, could show off their work. If you wanted to build a church, the brothers could take you to their showroom. Now it’s a place of worship open to the public.
Just inside the front door of the Asam church is this golden ghoul – the Grim Reaper himself – who is literally cutting the thread of life for this young girl. Compare this message to the flock of doves, and it doesn’t take a theologian to appreciate the difference.
The interior of the church is incredibly ornate, and the sculpted figures, columns, and other decorations are almost stacked on top of each other. So much so, that it takes real concentration to appreciate all the detail. It was unique and interesting to see, but for me, it felt dark, ponderous, and heavy-handed.
I visited the Holy Spirt Church first, and about an hour later, the Asam Church; which probably helped to reinforce the contrast between the two. Religion is the ultimate personal choice, and there are lots of ways to convey the message. These churches reveal two of those ways.