Cathedral-Cities-4


As I neared completion of my search for movies on Early Europe, which brought me to the halfway point in the building of this website, it occurred to me that I could move much closer to the present with a survey of the cathedral cities of modern Europe. After the collapse of Rome in the West, the cities built by the Empire began a long period of renovation in an attempt to erase the memory of legendary excess. Very little evidence of old Rome can be found in these places today, except in excavations or museum exhibits. Rome itself is the primary exception, with massive ruins around every corner. It would be difficult, however, to find a city in Europe whose skyline is not dominated by a cathedral of reasonable antiquity. Admittedly, this is not a subject to which I paid adequate attention when visiting these places. Looking up their histories has given me a new perspective on my experience of the four countries listed below. Please look elsewhere for serious academic research. I have assembled this montage through free association and searching my movie archive.

The four sets of cathedral dramas that I have been able to discover so far are set in four European countries.

♦ Rome boasts the oldest tradition of cathedrals in the West. It’s best-known dramas are set at Saint Peter’s on Vatican Hill, which is not in fact a cathedral but only a basilica. The major historical movies that have come down from the hill are The Agony and the Ecstasy and movies about the notorious Borgias (see Italy below).

♦ In France, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is set in 1482 at the time when the effects of the printing press were being felt as a threat to the Church. Over three centuries later, Napoleon used the backdrop of Notre Dame to defy Rome and crown himself Emperor (see France below).

♦ In 1517, Martin Luther made Germany the epicenter of Europe’s most widespread challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and set the mold for European politics in the centuries to come (see Germany below).

♦ England brackets this historical frame with the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 and the belligerent move of Henry VIII to reject the authority of Rome and start his own Church of England. This was in 1535 (see British Isles below). Also under British Isles is the TV miniseries based on Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, about the age of cathedral building in 12th century England.

Hagia Sophia,  Constantinople (today Istanbul)

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople (today Istanbul)

Elsewhere in MovieJourneys, there is the Hagia Sophia (say Aye-ah) , which began its life in the sixth century CE as the cathedral for the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, at the eastern-most edge of Europe. With the Ottoman Conquest in 1453, it was converted to a mosque. In the 20th century, it became a museum and must-see tourist attraction for visitors to Istanbul (see Byzantine Empire).

At the end of the first millennium of the Common Era, Prince Vladimir of Russia sent envoys to Constantinople in search of a religion that would unite the people of his new country. He chose to emulate the Eastern Orthodox Christian rites and to build cathedrals inspired by the Hagia Sophia, first in the Ukraine. This system served its purpose well into the Communist era of the mid-20th century when many of these houses of worship were leveled, deconsecrated, or turned into museums (see Russian Empire).

For more cathedrals of the world, without movies, see the Picture Gallery below.

Cathedral Cities Related Posts:

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Cathedral Cities Picture Gallery: