Places Of Hope

How do you feel on entering a cathedral? You might feel awe, wonder, discovery or excitement. It might feel familiar or unfamiliar, welcoming or daunting. Some people going into a cathedral will have faith, some will have little or no faith, others will be wondering or seeking.

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Thinking how cathedrals might be places of wellbeing, I think about them as multi-sensory. Evidence is growing that multi-sensory stimuli are the most beneficial, drawing different senses into play. Exploring a cathedral can do just that. There’s the sight of stained glass, screens, fabric, stone, brass and wood. There are the sounds of the cathedral organ, or of a choir singing, or of someone praying or talking as they lead worship. There’s the feel of the many materials in the cathedral. From stone walls to wooden choirstalls. Experiencing a cathedral on many levels like this deepens its impact: there’s so much to focus your mind.

A cathedral might feel like somewhere enriching, set apart, a place to think and be. A place that lifts mood. With most cathedrals in city centres, they can feel like islands of calm, a refuge from the crowded streets outside as heat and noise recede. But they can themselves be busy and full of life, as people gather to worship or as a tour group streams through. Some people respond to a cathedral’s vast scale, which feels uplifting in itself – although to others this may feel overwhelming.

Wellbeing is central to the good news cathedrals exist to share: hope, life, forgiveness, trust, good. And more churches and cathedrals have become active in specific mental health and wellbeing work as well, in their local communities, sometimes using the arts – such as a photography initiative in which Gloucester Cathedral took part.

Stained glass has to be the artform that most lifts my mood when I go into a cathedral. Glowing, rich, deep colours cast reflections on the walls and floor. The use of black lead to divide the windowpanes enhances the colours so they stand out boldly. Some stained glass is abstract, whether rose windows designed centuries ago or contemporary glass. But most tells a story, records events, recreates a scene, sometimes portraying a sequence of events as a story unfolds. Cathedrals also come to life when music plays (maybe quiet and reflective, or raising the roof with great acoustics) or bells ring the hour.

A different kind of cathedral is the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire. This is an outdoor site with trees planted to form a leafy “cathedral” nave and chancel.

Have you found a cathedral to be a place of wellbeing? It would be great if you have thoughts to share. Just go to Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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