In the Beauty of God’s Holiness: Travel Photos from Portugal

On Friday, we went to Faro, which is the main city in the part of the Algarve of Portugal where we are. Because it has an airport, train station, a huge bus terminal, and a marina, the city is big, compared to the little city we are staying in. The diversity of people was greater, too, and I just enjoyed seeing all of the hundreds of people trying to find their way into the city or to other parts of Portugal and Spain. From youngsters who looked like my college students to seniors in our age group, there was lots of luggage. One enterprising young lady had a backpack on that made my back hurt just looking at her.

But, maybe what is most beautiful here is the Cathedral of Se. It is small compared to the mammoth building of the Cathedral of Seville, but it is no less opulent and beautiful. The carvings and paintings of the Apostles, Jesus, and Mary, mother of Jesus, were absolutely stunning to see, and I thought, “Wow, what a great place to worship God in the beauty of His holiness.”

The church is used still for worship, and as Douglas and I, along with fellow travelers, walked and took pictures, we could hear a choir rehearsing songs of amazing beauty. With their tenor voices uplifted and flawless sopranos, I could have stayed in one place for the rest of the day, listening to the sweet harmonies that have been sung for centuries. My heart was lifted upward just in the hearing. Combine that with the amazing images and objects we saw, and I can imagine that people enter that place with such thanksgiving and praise for Jesus and for God. I know I would!

I took pictures; yet, there is no way to capture all of the items in each section, mainly because there are so many pictures and icons, with angels, prophets, cherubim, and Jesus, from top to bottom. But, what I found wonderful was that whomever did the carvings and paintings, and most of them must have taken years and years to complete, the artisans displayed their reverence and love for the Savior of the world. The work had to be exhausting and tedious, and many hours were spent using the gifts and creativity that God gave to them.

I was reminded of the stories of the building of The Tabernacle during Moses time, and  of the appointing of Bezalel and Oholiab to do the artwork, found in Exodus: 30-35. Exodus 35:35 states, “He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers–all of them skilled workers and designers.” The craftsmanship was superb and it appears that the people who worship in that wondrous place must work to keep it looking new.

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There was an organ that just blew my mind in its size and beauty. I had not seen anything like it in other churches. What was so great was that just as I was taking a picture of the pipes and the art surrounding and above them, organ music started from somewhere in the church, maybe a recording of the organ we were examining, and my soul was rewarded, for of all the instruments used in worship today, the organ is my favorite.

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The deep tones and melodies of an organ send a bolt of joy through my heart and soul that caused me to just send us thanks to God for gifting humans with the ability to compose and play such divine music. Truly, it sounded as if the whole earth was giving honor and glory to God. I was mesmerized! The music added to the mystery of how God touches us in moments when we most need Him, as I did on yesterday, as I battle backaches, shoulder pain, and homesickness.

For me, there are few musical instruments more beautiful and grand for praising God than the organ. I simply love hearing them played. I could spend a whole worship service listening to the organ music, without a sermon, and still feel joyful and that my soul was satisfied. Many of the psalms remind us to use musical instruments and hymns in praising God, and that was what I felt on yesterday, thinking what moments of sweet peace and hope must be experienced in that sacred place.

One other aspect of the cathedral that touched me were artifacts of clothing that past priests had worn. They were stunning in the workmanship and needlework that went into producing them. In colors of green, purple, and white, the capes and the mitres were so beautiful, with such marvelous stitching and use of jewels. I could just imagine the sense of responsibility that the men must have felt when they donned the outfits. I know that when I wear one of my robes, especially for Communion Sunday, I feel compelled to not do anything that brings dishonor to God while I am in it. I don’t even seem like the same person, as though the Holy Spirit is reminding me that I am not representing myself, but the One who called me, and people treat me differently, having higher expectations of my behavior and attitude.

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Another  aspect that was interesting to me was the many statues and paintings of the mother of Jesus, Mary, referred to as “Our Lady.” In the Baptist tradition, Mary only seems to have relevance at Christmas when we celebrate Jesus’s birth and at Easter, when we celebrate His death and resurrection and her being present at the Cross. One of the Last Words of Jesus that I preached when we were in California was where He appoints John as her new son, as He becomes her Savior.

But, yesterday, there were so many portraits of her in the Cathedral and in the Museum there, and she took center stage in many of the depictions of the life of Jesus, which seemed to give her a bigger influence and relevance in the worshiping of Christ Jesus than I am accustomed to seeing. It made me think about how should we celebrate her life and sacrifices.

I realized that she is just very important in the Catholic tradition, much more than in Protestantism, and neither way is bad; it’s just different. Of course, her acceptance of God’s will for her life, also known as The Magnificat or Mary’s Hymn of Praise, found in Luke 1: 46-55 is some of the most beautiful prose in the Bible, and it teaches us how to accept the calling on our lives with poise, thanksgiving, and with a willingness to obey. The pictures and statues of her are just magnificent in their beauty and demonstrate a deep love and reverence for her that is not seen so much in Protestantism.

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Unlike Douglas, I do not know a lot of the history of the Church, but I know that the reverence which is evident in the artwork and music in the Cathedral of Se was so magnificent for me to behold. I stared in wide-eyed wonder at the beauty around me and at the amazing demonstrations of love and faith in Jesus Christ the Lord and in the Father who sent Him.

I left that place renewed in a commitment to worship God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the beauty of God’s holiness, always ensuring that my words, deeds, and actions demonstrate my reverence and love for God who created the Salvation Plan and to Jesus, who fulfilled it, giving His life as a ransom for many. There’s a song that says, “All to Him I owe! Sin had left a crimson stain, but He washed me white as snow!” In preserving these beautiful carvings and paintings, the people who worship in that amazing place do not let us forget the price of salvation.

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