When is a cathedral not a church?
When I hear the term cathedral, it draws my mind to the image of a large building, often with impressive spires, gothic arches, and windows letting in a spectral light. Upon entry, the presentation is designed to inspire awe; perhaps a spiritual feeling, perhaps a grandeur that suggests we are but a small part of a larger scheme of life. Icons fill the spaces, and a call for reverence is implied.
But is it necessary for such a structure to be a formal church?
A few weeks ago we had a rare break from our winter rains. We didn’t waste such a day; we filled the afternoon with a jaunt to a couple neighborhood parks. The first is named Cathedral Park.
Huge gothic arches are the dominating feature of the park, where the central archway feels like the nave of a basilica.
But these monolithic arches are not only for show; to awe, to inspire. They also offer a more prosaic use: they’re the footings for the St. Johns Bridge in North Portland.
The bridge spans the Willamette river and was built between 1929 and 1931. At the time of its construction it held the following claims:
- the highest clearance in the nation at 205 feet (62 m)
- the longest prefabricated steel cable rope strands
- the tallest steel frame piers of reinforced concrete
- the first application of aviation clearance lights to the towers
- longest suspension span west of Detroit, Michigan.
The bridge has two 408 feet (124 m) tall Gothic towers, a 1,207 feet (368 m) center span and a total length of 2,067 feet (630 m).
Sharp spires accent the crown of the two main towers, making the bridge the most distinctive in Portland.
The park is popular for walking the paths – taking in the various views of the bridge with its arches and its spires, picnicking, and the occasional concert. And for some, a whole different sort of religion.
Before we went to Cathedral Park, we made a stop at Columbia Park. I’d been driving past it for years but had never stopped to check it out – it was time.
The thing you notice about Columbia Park as you drive past is the tall trees. This seemed like a good place to start – one doesn’t simply emerge from a cavern of extended gray skies and rain into the breaking sunshine without taking precautions. The shade from all those trees gave us a chance to acclimate gradually.
Here comes the sun…
Lighting the moss on the roof of the shelter.
But leaving the monochrome tones to their usual moods.
A light pole shows the scale of the average tree.
And after we wandered among the sylvan paths we came upon nature’s own tower.
For some, a cathedral can only be a church, an impressive building that stands as the seat of a Christian organization. But it doesn’t take much imagination to look around and see the world is full of cathedrals, natural or otherwise; inspiring awe, perhaps a spiritual feeling, and perhaps showing a grandeur that suggests we are but a part of the larger scheme of the universe.