The Imperial Cathedral in Capitol

Stained glass in a cathedral not very similar to the one described
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by user Diliff

Today’s topic is a building that is likely to be the setting of at least a few scenes in some of the (planned) books in the Shine Cycle, the Capitol Cathedral, in the capital of the Shine and Wild Empire, the country with which the series is primarily concerned. While not explicitly apropos tomorrow’s holiday, in the post I do touch on how it changes over each year’s cycle of liturgical seasons. As for the rest—read on.

From the culture I’ve tried to describe in previous posts, you might guess that the cathedral is the central building of the city of Capitol. But because of the building’s history, that’s not the case. There is a mid-size church building in the precise center of the town where a thriving church meets, as in most neighborhoods of both Capitol and other cities of the Empire, but the cathedral wasn’t begun until the Empire was formed. As soon as the Imperial War was over, various church and civic leaders decided that it wasn’t “right” or “proper” that there were grand cathedrals in some of the capital cities of the other nations that had joined the Empire, but not in the Imperial capital itself, and so found a plot of land and began to build it—though the city’s bishop himself only admitted the need when pressed with the problem of gathering even a small percentage of the parishioners within his diocese into any of the parish churches, even the slightly larger one from which he preached.

While an enormous and expensive undertaking, because of the availability even then of somewhat more advanced technology and especially of “applied metaphysics”, it was not nearly so dangerous or time-consuming as the construction of the Gothic cathedrals in our world (which I learned about from David Macaulay‘s book Cathedral). The time required was also reduced by the climate of the kingdom, especially the Blessing that accompanied the Charter (more on that below). In all, it took about sixty years, much of the prosperity of the diocese, and substantial donations of labor, materials, and money from around the Empire to complete—though the bishop and the parish took great care that neither the upkeep of the parish churches, nor the services needed by the poor, nor (at the chapter council’s insistence) the bishop’s stipend suffered for the building project’s gain.

Like many cathedrals, the essential shape of the building itself is that of a cross, with a “choir” at the head where musicians can work and from which the Word is proclaimed, vaulted nave and transept where the worshipers gather and (at the crossing) participate in the sacraments, and aisles to make movement around the church easier. Outside this main “sanctuary”, various chapels and other rooms provide spaces for private devotion and for classes and other meetings.

Murals in each entryway depict the cycle of the liturgical year (as I explained in my post on calendars, a few seasons are longer and there is an additional “Patristide” to fill up the longer year there); the mural surrounding the main entrance is more subdued and stylized, so as to not distract entering worshipers from their purpose, while those in the transept doors are more elaborate.

The building is designed so that during the day every corner of the building is sunlit. This is at once made far easier and more complicated by the Blessing on the kingdom, which provides that as long as it is faithfully governed by the Charter the Blessing accompanied and it gives faithful service to God, the days will be long and invariably sunny, yet warm or cool as appropriate and without any reduction in the water received by the ground, rain and snow being replaced by dew and fog. So sunlight—intense sunlight—always smiles upon the cathedral, and just as the task of the architects was to direct that light across the entire building, it was the task of the engineers to if anything moderate the intensity of the light. Workings placed by mages involved in the project cause the pillars, and sconces along the walls, to absorb the light during the day and fluoresce at night.

The murals, stained glass, and architecture of the main sanctuary are carefully designed to suggest that it is but an antechamber of the great throne room of heaven. In the other rooms, the art, again both painted and in glass, depicts scenes from the Bible, church history, Imperial history, and (as is customary) the construction of the cathedral itself. The historical scenes chosen are largely those representing times when God greatly delivered his people.

In addition to that fixed artwork, the main sanctuary has space along every wall, and woodwork under many of the arches and vaults, from which banners of seasonally-appropriate colors are nearly always hung. The only regular exception is Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, when the utterly bare walls and beams provide a stark contrast.

In joyful seasons—including Epiphany, Ascensiontide, their additional season of Patristide, and in muted fashion Advent, but doubly Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—the sanctuary and many of the other rooms are also decked with fresh flowers (and, in harvest seasons, samples of the “first fruits” if the crop is especially pleasant to the nose or eye; these “first fruits” are distributed in greater abundance to the poor throughout the harvests). The parish has extensive gardens, and purchases additional flowers as needed, but it quickly became customary for parishioners to bring fresh flowers—from their own gardens, or purchased from their neighbors—with them to services periodically.

Are there any questions or comments about the Cathedral?

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