Today I have more beautiful pictures as well as some commentary on one specific aspect of the Turku Cathedral and in a broader sense – Christianity of the past and present.
When you walk through Turku Cathedral, or any major old European Cathedral for that matter, you can’t help but notice the apparent link between royalty and divinity. It’s everywhere – obvious places as well as in subtle places too.
Let’s start with the obvious references to royalty and divinity.
Here’s an obvious one.
It’s just off to the side of the main altar. I’m not going to give you the information about who these statues represent. I’m doing that on purpose – mostly because this topic is one that really touches a nerve for me.
One thing you’ll notice is that the closer to the altar you get, the more you’ll see royalty. The saints and any side altars they may have are further back.
Here’s another obvious link.
It’s a coat of arms for the family that helped finance the cathedral. Again, it’s up towards the front.
Two more obvious links. Let’s start with big obvious one.
Here lies the body of a deceased member of Swedish royalty. The only one not buried in Sweden in fact. And again, it sits not far from the main altar. The stained glass does a good job of linking royalty and divinity too, in case you missed the point.
Now for the fun subtle ways that royalty and divinity are portrayed.
Let’s start with this.
It’s the high altar. Now, you may be thinking, where’s the royalty in that depicted? I had to have this pointed out by a friend of mine (who happens to have a great blog too – you can read it here.) If you look at Jesus up close, you’ll notice that he looks a little different from he has typically been represented – maybe a bit more flowing red hair and his facial features are a bit different. It’s subtle, but you can see it when you are up close. This was done on purpose – to make the viewer remember the link between royalty and divinity. Jesus happens to look an awful lot like Gustav Vasa, one of the major Swedish kings in history and also the king at the time of the Reformation. He’s an interesting character all to himself. And his link to the church is a fascinating story – let’s just say that ushering in the Reformation turned out to be a good deal for him and leave it at that.
But wait, it gets better. Here’s another subtle picture.This painting is famous throughout Finland. It’s Bishop Mikael Agricola kneeling down and presenting his translation of the New Testament to the king. There’s a ton that could be said about this painting. I’ll stick to a few short comments – 1. It never happened this way. 2. The artist snuck in something the king didn’t like – the bishop’s mitre (which shows authority) 3. the bishop is kneeling to the king.
Or how about this.
Again, this is in the altar area – I believe it is Bishop Henry leading the way with the royalty in tow as they convert Finland to Christianity about 1000 years ago. The bishop is leading the way and is the center of attention, but you’ll notice that the royalty and power of the state are right behind with all of their power and might. I have a hard time believing that conversion happened through rational debate.
Conclusion – the link between royalty and divinity drives me nuts. In place after place across Europe you can see it. It’s presented all the time and you can’t avoid it. Christianity and the church have been used to advance royalty and the state for many centuries – going back to Constantine and the Roman empire – so it’s not new.
And it’s not confined to old cathedrals in Europe either. If you look around, you can still see this link in other places. It certainly happens in the US. Our own version of royalty – politicians that the people flock to and wait with bated breath to hear every utterance – use religion for their own purposes all the time. Now that the US presidential campaign has begun (uggg – really, it takes 18 months to figure out who to vote for? Really???? I’m already sick of it and I’m not even in the country!!!) we’ll see plenty of this. We’ll see candidates for the royal position, I mean president, invoke God’s name, pray in public, say “God Bless America!!!” be pictured coming out of church, pull out some random Scripture verse to back up their rhetoric or policy, and who knows what else.
And just like the church of old in Europe, we’ll have churches that are more than willing to participate in this link between royalty and divinity. They’ll invite politicians to the pulpit to preach law and gospel – the law of government and the gospel of (fill in the blank with the preferred candidate’s name). How many churches do you know that have a national flag flying in them? Or make the national holiday’s into holy days as part of the church?
I don’t point all this out to be completely critical. As I said, this is the way it has been since the 4th century in Christianity and well beyond that if you consider the Roman and Greek pantheon who were very much a part of Roman and Greek culture in their time. You could call it the norm of human history.
I think what drives me nuts is that we aren’t honest about it today. In the US, we claim a separation of Church and State. But it’s really just a separation of official state sanctioned church and state. Could we just be honest about the fact that the state and politicians use religion to push their own aims? Could we be honest in the fact that there are plenty of churches who happily participate in this earthy power struggle? Just come out and say it instead of playing make-believe and pretending that God is the focus. I wouldn’t like it, but at least we’d be honest about it. Then again, maybe that’s happening on its own. Maybe that’s a piece of the puzzle of why church memberships are in decline.
The relationship between church and state is once again in flux. There will be some who try to put the brakes on to keep it the way it is. And there will be some who push to this new relationship (in case you couldn’t tell, you can count me in this group), and there will be some who don’t know what’s going on.