They started building Durham Cathedral in 1093. They were still finishing it, some 150 years later. But that was lightning-quick compared to Cologne Cathedral, which took over 600 years to build. And 133 years in, they’re still building Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona. He wasn’t worried about that, though – he said his client was in no hurry.
To the modern ear, this cavalier approach to time is shocking. Even last century’s Liverpool Cathedral took a lifetime to be built. Why not just crack on with things? But can we learn anything from cathedral time?
Perhaps their very timelessness is actually what teaches us the most. When we’re overwhelmed with life, they demonstrate that life survives. The evolutions and revolutions of history have been written into their very structure and stonework, which show us that life always adapts and carries on.
The rhythm of cathedral life is also salutary. Daily, services are said and sung, and prayers are offered. The liturgical year rolls on, with Christmas and Easter and everything in between, counting out the years and celebrating life’s big events. In our culture Patience as a virtue is one that’s been overtaken by a relentless enthusiasm for busy-ness and results. But cathedrals are very patient. Resting within them, the weary can draw down great strength from these walls, which have seen everything come and go.
God give us the wisdom of these great stones, hallowed by generations of prayer, that we might rest in the eternal, and draw strength from the great cloud of witnesses for the challenges of today.