Reading the Cathedral, Part 3: The Facade of the Church
Just like people, every church has a different face, or facade. This helps us to tell one person from another, and one church from another. And just as with people, the facade of a church can tell us a great deal about what lies within.
Looking at the facade of Sacred Heart Cathedral, you will notice three main things. The first is something we have mentioned before: it is vertical. It leads upward and does not keep us on a worldly, horizontal plane.
Second, there are doors or portals (coming from the Latin phrase porta caeli, “gateway of heaven.”) The first thing of note here is that the portal, even if a simple wooden door, is a barrier between one place and another. It is a place of change and difference. When entering this door, we “leave” the world if you will by going through a portal to another realm, namely, heaven. Our particular church has three such doors or portals. To a Christian, the number three is extremely important, for it always represents the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and, Holy Spirit. The three portals at the front of the church therefore signify that by entering into this building, we enter into the very life of the Trinity—of God Himself.
Third, the portals are in a particular shape. Not only square like most doors, these are in the shape of an arch. The “triumphal arch” is a shape and symbol dating back to Greco-Roman times, when emperors would build archways to commemorate important military victories. It is fitting, then, that on a building dedicated to Christ, we pass through an archway that commemorates His victory over sin and death. By entering through the portal-archway at this Cathedral, then, we are reminded that we enter into the life of the Trinity by participating in the Cross of Christ, whereby He triumphed over the great Enemy.
Think of these things next time you walk into the church. For “[i]t is the doors that admit us to this mysterious place. Lay aside, they say, all that cramps and narrows, all that sinks the mind. Open your heart, lift up your eyes. Let your soul be free, for this is God’s temple” (Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs, “Doors”).
This week’s FORMED.org recommendation: Bakhita: From Slave to Saint