“…the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever…” (RSV Catholic edition, Revelation 4:10)
Among the great tourist attractions of England are its medieval cathedrals, and each year hundreds of thousands of visitors both from home and overseas look round them. But the last thought which entered the heads of the men who designed and built them was that they were constructing a tourist attraction. They did not even build them as the great places of pilgrimage which they quickly became.
For the cathedrals were built for the praise and glory of God by men who believed in God as other people believe in the Law of Gravity. It is no coincidence that the most magnificent examples were built in the Age of Faith in the 13th and following centuries; and they were served by monastic communities or secular canons whose whole lives were devoted to the offering of worship to God.
From first to last these great churches were planned, constructed and used for God’s honour and glory. That is why they were built on so vast and ambitious a scale – not because great numbers of people crowded in for the services, but so that they might be a worthy offering to the high and holy God. And for the same reason they were made splendid with a profusion of sculpture and carving, and crowned by great towers or soaring spires pointing significantly heavenwards.
Thus beauty and magnificence were alike given to God just because he is God. As King Solomon said of the Temple which he built in Jerusalem: “…the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical…” (1 Chronicles 22:5).
These masterpieces of the architect’s and craftsman’s skill were the outward expression of their own religious faith and aspirations, and had the power of turning the minds and hearts of succeeding generations to seek in their turn those things which are above. Thus these great places of worship had their origin in the love and devotion within those men’s hearts, for God dominated their lives, as the cathedrals dominated the cities in which they lived.