Friday, January 7, 2011

Thursday's Orientation and Night Excursion

Yesterday, we were given a briefing by the United States Mission in Geneva, and learned a lot about the US' goals in its international affairs under the Obama administration.  Humanitarian aid, intellectual rights, and nuclear disarmament are at the forefront of our policies.  Oddly enough, Non-Proliferation is not considered to be as important as disarmament, but that's another topic all together. 

Our Street at Night
We then made our way to a government building in order to get our extended stay permits, for the bargain price of $190 a person.  Afterwards we came back home and those of us that have internships sat down with the head of our program to discuss what is expected of us.  When that was done, we had a basic, 30-minute French lesson, and were released from orientation obligations for the night.

Geneva at Night
Pizza Restaurant in Old Town
I immediately threw on my insulated hoody and walked out into the Geneva night.  The temperature was 45 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a steady rain coming down, but I was perfectly comfortable.  I walked the three blocks to the bridge that would overlook the famous Jet d'Eau, or Water Jet.  During the day, this water jet sends water about 450 feet into the air, but I was disappointed to see that it was off at night.  I continued my way across the bridge and into the shopping district which, on Thursday nights, is hopping until about 9pm, which is the latest hour that retailers stay open all week.  It is also the way to get to the Old Town section of Geneva, part of which I had already explored with Ellen our first day here.  I decided to explore further this time, and found myself wandering through narrow streets of closing shops for about 20 minutes until, over the roof of one of the buildings, I caught glimpse of a massive church bell-tower. 

The construction of the St. Peter Cathedral in Geneva began in the late 1100's and the latest changes were made during the Reformation in the 1700's, so it contains elements of Romanesque, Gothic, and Neoclassical architecture.  Cathedrals built during this time represent the beginning of relative stability in Europe.  I say relative because Europe has always consisted of different tribes of people, separated by very little in the way of geographical borders and constantly warring over territory.  But around 1000 AD, the Vikings launched a two-hundred year campaign of carnage across Europe, devastating and pillaging every village they came across.  This period of uncertainty in Europe stunted its growth, and it was not until the mid to late 1100's that the Viking invasions became farther and fewer between, and Europe's tribes began to think about setting up permanent, agrarian settlements.  The cathedral was the center of town, it's public square was the place of commerce, and obviously, it was the center for religious worship.

Walking around the Cathedral and the narrow alleys around it, I found myself completely aware of everything in my surroundings and how different it was compared to anything else I've ever experienced.  The rain water running down the stone shingles and walls then dripping through the copper gutters provided a beautifully distinct soundtrack while my footing occasionally slipped on the centuries-old bricks.  The towering stone walls were rough and cold to the touch, but as I ran my fingers along them I found patches of thick moss growing in the cracks, another indication of the hundreds of years of weathering and aging.  Stepping out of the alley and into the square, I could picture the bustling marketplace.  All of the commerce, all of the governing, all of the socializing, all in the shadow of this monument to God.

That was when I experienced something of an epiphany.  What kind of Faith does it take to build something like this?  The Romanesque portions of the church took hundreds of years to complete, using new and dangerous building techniques.  Men died building Cathedrals.  Faith leads people to do extraordinary and exceptional acts.  So what do we build our monuments to now?  What do we put our faith in?  In the Western world, it is moving away from God.  Our churches are built as afterthoughts -- designed to blend into neighborhoods, not to lead or beautify them.  Their congregations are dying off, with huge drop-offs in attendance and contributions.   What are we as a people or as individuals putting our faith in?

To what do you build your monument?
Cathédrale St-Pierre


  1. Great question, wonderful writing. I feel now as if I've been down these streets, too. Thank you. I love it that you felt moved to take off on your own and to run your hand along these majestic and ancient wonders. xo

  2. I second that. Couldn't have said it better myself.