I felt it as soon as I crossed the threshold. The stillness, the serenity, the sanctity. Among these more easily expressed feelings there was something else however, something hard to explain. One of those rare feelings to which language kneels down and admits its ineptitude. The kind of feeling that some spend their lives chasing, a siren just as sure to drive you mad as grant you fulfillment. Some seek feelings like these through drugs, some through drink. Some turn to religion, service, self-sacrifice, relationships. And some, like me, chase elusive moments and feelings such as this one through travel, adventure, and exploration.
I had to wait to get into the Marble Church in Copenhagen (officially named Frederik's Church). The cathedral had been closed to the public earlier in the day for a wedding, and I had almost considered not returning after I showed up in the morning and found I would have to wait 4 hours before I could get a view of the interior. Something about the building however, drew me to it, and I knew I had to get inside.
It was a particularly warm, sunny October day in Copenhagen, my first day exploring the magnificent city. My friend Hamilton and I were a month into our tour of Europe by bicycle, and today we were taking a day apart from each others company to get some space and explore the city on our own.
I had already toured the historic Rosenborg Castle, and the more modern Amalienborg Palace, which is still used by the Danish royal family. It was at the latter palace that I first spotted the alluring structure of Frederik's Church at the end of a street that radiated out from the palace. Romanesque pillars framed the entry way, and a cylindrical, copper-green dome presided over the magnificent building.
After realizing the building was inaccessible until the late afternoon due to the aforementioned wedding, I walked a couple of slow laps of the building, soaking in the beauty of the architecture, admiring the statement it made on the neighborhood, before wandering off to explore some more of the city, making sure to memorize the way back to the cathedral.
I wandered aimlessly for a couple of hours, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of this incredibly vibrant, historic city. I found Copenhagen to have an energy and pace that threatened to wash you away in it's flow if you weren't prepared to either hold on tight, or jump in and swim. I loved it.
Apart from the energy and enthusiasm of the city, it was great to be on my own, a rare break during this tour. A month into our travels, Hamilton and I had only spent a couple of days on our own so far, and despite our great friendship, that amount of time spent continually with anyone will eventually start to wear on you both, creating tension and disagreement over trivialities.
And so it was with a wave of relief, relaxation, and introspection that I wandered the foreign streets, taking my time where I pleased, reflecting on my new environment. After being locked into a daily routine, every decision requiring agreement by both parties for so many days, it was pure freedom to be able to spend even a single day responsible to no one but myself, indulging every whim and fancy.
Despite the novelty and the grandeur of the Danish capital, throughout the afternoon I felt as though I were somehow simply biding my time until I was able to return to Frederik's and discover what lay beyond it's marble walls.
The church made it into the tourist brochures, but almost as an afterthought it seemed. Indeed Copenhagen is so densely populated with castles, palaces, churches, parks, monuments and other historic landmarks that it would undoubtedly take a sizable tome to cover each of them in any more detail than a sentence or two long blurb.
As the sun inched lower in the sky, the light slanting between the buildings in the magical way that only autumn evenings can achieve, I made my way back to the cathedral. I was excited and anticipatory, despite my lack of information on the cathedral. I felt a calling to it, an affinity with it, before I ever stepped in the front doors. But as I stepped inside I realized why.
The cathedral was constructed entirely of marble, save the wooden pews that lined the aisle to the pulpit. The main hall was entirely circular, a huge cylinder with a dozen or so archways leading to hallways and the recesses of the structure, cloaked in shadow and begging to be explored. It was lit by little more than candle light, and the natural light that poured in from the dozen windows that lined the circular dome above my head. Floating particles of dust caught the light, creating brilliant light beams that streamed in and illuminated the pipe organ, and the inlaid gold text the encircled the lower walls. Visually, Frederik's was a marvel, in a moment both imposing and serene, but her magic did not end there.
The instant I set foot inside the cathedral walls and closed the door behind me, it was as though I had entered a tomb, so complete was the silence. Gone was the noise of the street, the chatter of the tourists and leftover wedding guests, enjoying the autumn sun on the churches front steps. Despite the two dozen or so people who were present, occupying pews or wandering the nave and surrounding corridor, none of us issued a sound as we absorbed the atmosphere. The place itself commanded silence in a way no decree or request could match. Every foot shuffle or hushed word echoed throughout the building, bouncing off the marble walls, decaying over an eternity. I only wish I had been able to hear the magnificent pipe organs reaction with the marble walls.
As I sat and breathed the place in, gazing at the light beams pouring in through the dome windows, my ears chasing every echo from wall to wall I felt a deep calm and sense of clarity come over me. The minutiae of daily life faded from my mind and I fell into a state of presence. Of truly being in a place and experiencing it with all my being, living in the moment. It's the kind of moment that sticks with you, that you remember for years after the fact, something that may never leave you.
Feelings like this were a large part of the reason I set out travelling in the first place. To escape the mundane, to push my boundaries, seeking insight and inspiration. I found moments like that in various places along my journey, but few can compare to my time spent entranced, a bit of dust catching the sunlight and transforming it into something more.
It's no wonder to me that people would come to Frederik's hoping to gain some insight, clarity, forgiveness, even a miracle. It's a powerful, almost magical place that quiets the soul and humbles the ego. In the end however, I left with only what I had brought with me, yet a little more complete, a little more inspired, and a little more wise.
What are some of the special places you've come across, either at home or in your travels? Is there somewhere that you keep going back to that always maintains it's magical quality? Has any one else been to The Marble Church in Copenhagen?
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