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Photo courtesy of hidden europe magazine
Cheapos clearly like to get under the skin of a city, probing well beyond the regular sights to get a feel for what makes a community tick. Faith is often still part of the fabric of European life, but getting a feel for it as a foreigner isn’t always easy – unless you happen to be a churchgoer.
Churches of all denominations (and mosques and synagogues, too) usually welcome casual visitors to their services, provided that the stranger dresses appropriately, adopts a reverent demeanour, and does not attempt to take photographs during services.
Get thee to Church
York Minster for Evensong is a very different place from the echo-filled space around which tourists wander during the day. The Minster is transformed into something altogether more meaningful. Similarly Vespers in St Mark’s in Venice will leave you in awe of the space for which Monteverdi wrote such evocative music in a way that you’ll simply miss if you shuffle round with the tourist crowds. The interior of the newly restored Frauenkirche in Dresden seems, with its strange mix of pastel shades, like a tribute to poor taste during the day when tourists traipse through the place; attend a service and the space assumes a different meaning and is altogether more pleasing.
Whether it be at a grand cathedral like Chartres or Milan, or in a humble parish church in a small village in the Alps, Mass on a Sunday morning will only take an hour out of your day. This sedentary hour may give some quiet insights into local life. Take in a service at a Methodist chapel in Wales for a good glimpse into Welsh life. What is modern Poland without Catholicism? And in hundreds of communities across Russia, devotional zeal knows no bounds. A visit to an Orthodox service for the Divine Liturgy on a Sunday is a chance to witness some fine liturgical theatre that offers rich insights into life in Russia.
Take in a service and you’ll save on a few admission fees into the bargain. No church has yet had the temerity to charge those who come to pray!