We sallied forth to Faro to explore the Cidade Velha (old Town.) We entered through the old walls by means of Arco da Vila (The Town Arch.) In addition to a nice museum, and a small castle, we went to the Se, the cathedral. It was posh, truly elegant, gilded to the max, and ornate beyond belief. It was a very notable construction.
We entered the pleasant but modest inner courtyard, There were a couple of smaller chapels to view. The most notable was the bone chapel. One wall looked like it was just thigh bones stacked with mortar in between and the occasional skull inserted into niches. We were able to climb the much shorter bell tower than the one in Seville (My legs thank you), but still enjoyed a lovely view of the city, harbor, and the barrier island park.
It was only when we turned left to access the main church that the remarkable ostentation hit us full force. Along the side walls were insets, small side chapels with each one seeming more notable than the previous. Each of these side chapels probably contained ten times or more wealth than Jesus would have handled in total his whole lifetime. There was a carving of Jesus, Mary, or an Apostle on each of the three walls. The rest of the wall was filled with gilded ornate carvings. Frequently there was a painting of some Biblical event above the wall carvings.
Yet these were as nothing compared to the main section of the church. Oh how they magnified the Apostles, Mary, and Jesus. Gold glittered everywhere, as though someone, after finishing carving, just poured gold over the whole thing. They truly were showing their commitment. I wondered, though, “To Who?” To Jesus? To Mary? To a saint they believed had benefited them? Or were they really showing their commitment to the Church or even to the city community by giving them such a magnificent cathedral.
Though I marveled at such a notable Cathedral, I remembered that this edifice was built with Brazilian gold. This gold was obtained by massacring the native people and melting down their religious objects. In that way, it reminds me of the Rome’s Colosseum, which was built with the gold removed from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 AD. How many people who admire these structures spend time thinking about the pain that was caused before they would be able to build such wonders.
I am reminded of Jesus confronting the Pharisees and Lawyers in Luke 11:37-51. Jesus said, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.” Oh how the place was like a washed cup, with hidden, unmentioned robbery and wickedness. Then to the lawyers, He said, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of (or monuments to) the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. While building these ornate places, they led the inquisition against the Muslims, Jews, and Protestants. They showed that they had much more in common with those who killed the prophets than those who listened to the very same prophets. Was this a notable church, or a notable exception to what God wants the church to be?
What about us? Do we try to look clean while inside do things that make God weep? Do we build monuments to people like Martin Luther King while tearing down everything they stood for? Should I watch myself lest I feel superior to these people?