Di­vine de­signs

Find­ing God will be eas­ier than you ever imag­ined

BBC Earth (Asia) - - History -

The Chris­tian faith has cer­tainly made its pres­ence felt in Europe’s me­dieval me­trop­o­lises – and not just in their holi­est shrines and vault­ing cathe­drals. Take a walk around any num­ber of city cen­tres and you’ll find that their lay­outs are heav­ily in­flu­enced by their de­sign­ers’ piety.

Take Ch­ester, for ex­am­ple. Ac­cord­ing to the monk Lu­cian, its two main roads meet in the mid­dle of the city to form a cross. At the ends of both roads you will find a city gate, each pro­tected by a pa­tron saint: St John, St Peter, St Wer­burgh and St Michael.

At Bam­berg, on the ad­vice of a Ger­man im­pe­rial of­fi­cial, you can trace the po­si­tion of the four churches lo­cated around the main cathe­dral and see how they cre­ate a cru­ci­form shape at the heart of the city.

Per­haps, though, you would sim­ply pre­fer to marvel at the mag­nif­i­cent new cathe­drals and shrines that are be­ing built in many of

Europe’s cities. In Mi­lan, one 13th-cen­tury writer tells us, there are 200 saints’ shrines and around 480 al­tars.

Wil­liam FitzStephen rec­om­mends Lon­don, not only to see the won­der­ful cathe­dral of St Paul but also to soak up the piety of its in­hab­i­tants. FitzStephen claims you will see ex­cel­lent holy plays, and cit­i­zens joy­ously cel­e­brat­ing saints’ days and char­i­ta­bly of­fer­ing alms to the poor.

If you don’t want to bump into any heretics, your best bet is Venice, a city free from such trou­ble­mak­ers – or so a Vene­tian chron­i­cler boasts.

In some Euro­pean cities – such as Ch­ester, shown above in a map – the two main roads meet in the cen­tre to form a cross

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