In the Middle Ages, the building of cathedrals represented both a profound expression of faith and a channel for the creative energies of countless builders, stonecutters, and artisans of every kind.
Though some pious medieval Christians disapproved of the extravagant spending that a cathedral represented, they were in the minority. Most embraced these building projects with great enthusiasm, eager to take part in a grand project that they believed would bring glory to God.
Cathedrals took decades or even centuries to complete. Most people who worked on them knew that they would never see the building in its final, magnificent form. Taking part in the construction of a cathedral therefore required a willingness to participate in something greater than oneself.
We don’t often realize that cathedral-building was also advanced as an alternative to fighting in the crusades. In the eleventh century, the Church offered indulgences, forgiveness of sins, to those who took up arms in the Holy Land. Starting in the mid-twelfth century, the Church extended the same consideration to those who helped build a church of cathedral.
Our passage this week recounts the dimensions of the temple as well as the extravagance of its adornments. The temple is made of the finest materials: cypress wood, gold, precious stones, luxurious textiles, and elegant statuary in the form of the cherubim on the walls and in the most holy place. According to 1 Kings 6:38, the entire project took seven years to complete.
We may have been brought up to disdain such finery in a place of worship. There is definitely something to be said for simplicity in a church’s adornments. And yet, Solomon wanted the temple to give glory to God. That called for the best of everything.
Solomon’s temple stood for nearly 400 years until it was demolished by the Babylonians. After the Babylonian exile, when the Jews returned to their homeland, they built a second temple on the same site as the first. By the time of Jesus this temple had been greatly expanded, and later Christian authors sometimes argued it should be counted among the wonders of the ancient world.
Like those cathedral builders 2,100 years later, Solomon and his people imagined that they were participants in something greater than themselves. It was something to which they devoted not only their treasure but their lives.
“Cathedral Building in the Middle Ages,” Durham World Heritage Site <https://www.durhamworldheritagesite.com/learn/architecture/cathedral/construction>.
• When have you taken part of something bigger than yourself? Why did you choose to participate in such a project?
• When has your church undertaken a building or renovation campaign? What did you want to say—to each other or to your community—by providing an attractive place in which to live out your calling as God’s people?
• What does the time and expense invested in the temple say about Solomon’s relationship with God?
• What does the way we decorate our worship spaces say about our theology?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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