Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Psalm 29: 2.
It is Sunday evening and so I think the quote from Psalms is quite appropriate. It also takes me back a few weeks when we were driving along a road in Southern Germany. We were following our route on the road atlas and we noticed a “place of touristic interest” in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. The specific symbol on the map indicated this “place of touristic interest” to be a church. It had the name “Wieskirche”.
Being in no great hurry, we decided to investigate. This is one of the advantages of individual travel. You do not have to be at a specific place at a specific time. But then I can remember times on a planned tour when we weren't where we were supposed to be. There was this one time when.... But I'm getting off the track. Back to Southern Germany! We came over a rise and Wow!! Here was this huge church. Yes, in the middle of nowhere, but surrounded by hundreds of cars, buses, trinket shops, restaurants, and beer stalls. This was the Wieskirche, or to give it its official name, 'Wallfahrtskirche zum Geißelten Heiland auf der Wiese' (Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour at Wies).
We had unknowingly stumbled on one of the most beautiful rococo churches of Southern Germany – a cultural site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. So much for a planned, well-researched holiday!
Going into the church was a double Wow! It is easy to see why hundreds of pilgrim groups and over a million tourists visit this church every year. Who said church attendances were falling in Europe? That day – admittedly it was a Sunday – things were really buzzing in the surrounding establishments as well as in the church. What on earth is going on here? What is this church all about? My inadequate descriptions would be superfluous. There are a lot of interesting facts about this church at www.wieskirche.de (in English also) as well as many other sites. Especially intriguing is the history surrounding its establishment as a pilgrimage church and the reason for the name 'Scourged Saviour'.
All of which raises a question – Why are churches so high on the list of tourist sites? Not only this one which has such obvious appeal, but most places like to promote their local church as a place worthy of a visit. Or is this a subtle form of proselytising?
Perhaps the verse from Psalm 29 gives some clue. There have always been devout people who spared no expense in building worship centres, (Christian and other) where a specific deity is worshipped. The Abbot and monks of the nearby town of Steingaden spared no expense in having this church built. Nor did those who recently restored it to its present (or should I say past?) glory. Today people still come to churches to worship. Others just to see the beauty. But I agree with you. There is much more to it than this. Must think more about these things.