Thursday, June 2, 2016

What do a wrestler and a 300 year old church have in common?

          St. Paul's Cathedral was the most overwhelming cinetrek thus far, every detail in this church is one of extreme thoughtfulness and precision. As we approached the church, I thought about Barthes' mythology of a wrestler. He argues that the audience at a wrestling match knows what is going to happen before the action takes place because of the signs and signals the wrestler gives. St. Paul's has these signals as well. Walking out of the tube around 11, I could already hear the church bells. Like Barthes' wrestler, these bells are a signifier for the congregation. Once these bells sound, everyone knows services are about to start and to make your way to church. Although the bell signals are not necessary anymore, (we all have reliable ways to tell time) the bells still ring before services begin because that's what is expected of the church.
          Signs like this were rampant before, during, and after the mass. It is precisely because of these signs and signifiers that make worshippers from around the world--who have never stepped foot in St. Paul's--be able to assimilate, participate, and successfully worship at this particular service. It was what helped me recite the Nicene Creed, make peace with my neighbors, and properly display my hands (right over left, of course!) when receiving communion even though it's been years since I've been to church. All of these ceremonial displays are signals for us, the spectators. While religion is way more nuanced than this, and I am not belittling the tradition and active participation needed, it is interesting to look at religious services through this lens. I enjoyed doing just that at St. Paul's.

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