On our last day in Basel, gray rain misted down outside, pleasant and soft. We had no firm plans, but had wandered down to a square hosting part of the city’s fall festival. The ferris wheel and bumper cars were not yet moving this early, the food booths just beginning to open, so we headed into the cathedral bordering the square instead. We’d been there a few years ago, but after a couple weeks spent visiting other cathedrals–not to mention stone mountains–it seemed worth another visit.
The silence struck us at once, deep enough that neither the tour group who’d preceded us nor our own echoing footsteps could lessen it. We walked slowly through the cathedral, staring at stone tombs, at stories of dragons and heroes and sea-creatures engraved upon pillars. After a time, as one does in cathedrals, we sat down, staring up at the vaulted ceilings.
Someone walked quietly over to us, handed us a sheet of paper. The midday service–it was noon. Others took seats around us, and the church bell began to toll, signaling noon.
So we halted there, and stayed for the unexpected service, and as hymns were sung and prayers prayed, high German words I didn’t understand, we heard the stone space, already sacred, transformed into the place of prayer it was meant as, the echoes taking the place of microphones the builders didn’t have, words and songs moving clearly through the space.
From outside, we heard another sound, too–the drifting tinny notes of music from the ferris wheel and bumper cars starting up. Old hymms and new recordings, side by side. After, we lingered in the place for a time, staring at the outline of the ferris wheel through the old stone windows, new metal seen from within thousand year old stone.
And I thought about how that’s what Europe is, at least when seen through North American eyes.