Silence in Grace Cathedral

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco and while walking around I stopped at Grace Cathedral. It’s in an area called Nob Hill which is a nice little hike up from my hotel in Union Square. I was looking for a place to rest and the cathedral seemed like a good option.

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Inside the hushed atmosphere of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

Because of the hushed atmosphere, I didn’t feel comfortable just walking around taking photos, although it probably would have been okay. However, my camera has silent shutter mode that allows me to take photos without making a sound. Churches are one place I use that, I used it a lot while visiting cathedrals in Europe. But it’s also useful at weddings during the ceremony.

more cathedrals from the gallery

For an American city, San Francisco has some nice cathedrals. My other favorite in the city is Cathedral Of Saint Mary Of The Assumption which I saw on a subsequent trip. I think the best time to photograph cathedrals is on a weekday when no one is there and the sounds are hushed. I suppose we could say that both sights AND sounds played a role in the making of this image.

Two views of Cathedral of Barcelona

Here are a couple of shots inside the Cathedral of Barcelona. I took these on our first trip when we stayed right across the street. I walked over first thing in the morning, which was apparently a good idea because soon thereafter the crowds began grow. This cathedral is the centerpiece of the city’s gothic section and is a huge attraction.

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Cathedral of Barcelona 1        Cathedral of Barcelona 2

These were shot handheld because I didn’t bring a tripod. Actually, I didn’t think it would be allowed so I didn’t even try. But as I recall, someone else did have one. Nevertheless, I shot these with the help of stabilization on the Sony sensor and the images came out fine. I have two very expensive tripods, but I’m finding I use them less and less these days due to the advancements in the digital sensors.

more from Barcelona

After looking around I went back to the hotel for breakfast. Then returned about an hour or so later. By that time the crowds were enormous. I was glad to have made the early visit and take these pictures. And maybe if I ever do that again I’ll bring a tripod, or maybe not.

Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi

This is from the inside of the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in Barcelona. It’s a 14th century church that features elaborate stained-glass windows. I was walking around the gothic quarter and “found” the church in one of the squares. Many of the squares have churches and this is one of the larger ones. I think there are as many churches in Barcelona as Starbucks.

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Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in Barcelona

I came inside to take some photos and get a break from the summer heat. It might have been a little cooler inside but not by much. Nevertheless the real attraction was the light coming through the large multicolored windows.

On a side note, I just finished the latest novel by Dan Brown called Origin and most of plot takes place in Barcelona. Having been there several times in the last couple of years the book was especially fun to read. I haven’t been everywhere in Barcelona but the gothic quarter is one of my favorite places.

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If I’m not mistaken, I think there is something very special about this city. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I am willing to go back and give it another try.

Church of the Santissimo Redentore

This is the Church of the Santissimo Redentore. It’s on the island of Giudecca in the city of Venice. It was built in the 16th Century to commemorate the Black Death. At that time about a third of the population of Venice perished. Nevertheless, the architecture of this white marble cathedral is striking at night and this is a shot I took while passing by from a water taxi.

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Church of the Santissimo Redentore
Church of the Santissimo Redentore in Venice Italy

When I think of the plague I feel fortunate to live in an age with the advantages of medicine and hygiene. That’s not to say we are completely immune to pandemics, but the chances are much less.

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If I think about it I feel bad for the reasons this was built, but then that was the whole point. The builders were sending a message through the centuries so that we would remember. I mean no disrespect but that’s the same thing photos do, connect us to an event across time. This photo reminds me of an amazing night in Venice, which in turn reminds me of the plague. So now I have a set of breadcrumbs that lead from one thing to another, bringing to mind different things that are each important to remember.

Inside Le sette Chiese

I took this inside the 8th century Le sette Chiese at the center of Bologna. It’s a complex of buildings including a seminary, cathedral and museum. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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Inside Le sette Chiese
Inside Le sette Chiese in Bologna

I will say that Italy has a lot of is Catholic churches and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with so may. Before you know it they all start running together and you can’t remember one form the other. At least that happens with me, so I look for things to take pictures of to remind me of something unique. In this case there were monks walking around attending to duties and I thought that was interesting.

more images of cathedrals

I try to be as discrete as possible in situations like this by putting the camera into silent shutter mode. That’s a camera setting and a way to take photos without any shutter noise. More and more cameras have that these days because it’s useful in a lot of settings, not just churches. Think for a moment of a golf swing or a recital and you can imagine how any sound might ruin the moment. Anyway, I’ve even set a button the camera to turn on silent shutter mode so I can quickly and quietly capture moments like this.

Architecture and Frescos

I’m embarrassed to say I have no idea where in Rome this is, nor the name of it. I ran in here to escape the rain and was astonished by the architecture and frescos, not to mention the silence as compared to the busy street just outside.

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Architecture and Frescos
Architecture and Frescos from a church in Rome

A vertorama is like a panorama, only vertical. I took three images, the first at eye level and the third straight up. When they are stitched together they create a perspective that shows more than you normally see at a glance. It’s a little disorienting but fun to look at just the same.

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There were no signs warning against photography so I felt free to take my time and compose the image. Some churches will charge a small photo fee that I’m more than happy to pay. These churches are studies in architecture and art, it seems to me the more they are shared the better. I’d like to think I’m doing my small part to share this amazing cathedral with the rest of the world, completely free of charge.

Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

This is a panorama I took of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. The abbey is high up on a mountain known as Montserrat, which is the highest point in this section of Catalonia. Here I took five photos side-by-side that are stitched together, this is just the central section.

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Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

The first thing you notice when you approach the area is the unusual shape of these rock columns on the mountain. Some people in Barcelona told us that there are faces in the rocks and I’ll admit I started to see them also when I stared for a while.

It is a working monastery with over a hundred monks in residence. We saw several in full robes as we walked around and explored. The abbey has been in operating for over a thousand years so the monks are maintaining a long tradition.

One of the most spectacular things to see is the inside of the basilica, however they don’t allow photography; notwithstanding that it’s still a must see with it’s ornate adornments and frescos.

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We drove a car up here but only later did I realize there is also a train and gondola from the bottom. In my opinion those are better options than the narrow hairpin road. There are also hiking trails up so if you prefer to walk up you’ll have no guilt consuming extra calories in the restaurants and cafeterias. No matter how you get here, you’ll not be disappointed.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

This is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, Italy. I took this from a cruise ship as we pulled out of Venice in the evening. One advantage of coming and leaving on a large ship is it provides an aerial perspective of the city. The ship I was on is about twelve to fifteen stories high so it easily rises above the buildings of the city. The only other way to get such a perspective would be to use a drone but they are illegal here.

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Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice Italy

There is a lot about this sixteenth century church that I should probably know but my short stay prevented me from exploring it. However I do know that it was built after the plague when nearly a third of the population died. When I hear things like that it makes me feel fortunate to live in an age of medicine, technology and science.

It boggles my mind that such buildings were even constructed. What would it cost to build something like this today? The closest example we have is the Sagrada Familia in Spain and construction for that has been ongoing for decades. We are now a quickly evolving society that is constantly in a race with obsolescence. The commitment to build a structure like this is counter to our planetary pace.

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So maybe that’s why we find these old architectures so fascinating. They are monuments of a time when progress was measured in decades and the order of things did not change much from one century to another. I am happy I live in the present time but the artifacts of our evolution as a society also fascinate me.

Chandelier in the Cathedral

This is a large chandelier in the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. Without a doubt it is the first think you notice when you walk in. It’s positioned above the alter and reflects the light from the windows of four corners. When I walked in it was all I could do to stand there and look up. I imagine that’s the intended effect; to give pause and a feeling that this is an extraordinary space.

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Chandelier in the Cathedral
Chandelier in the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco

My Sony A7rII camera has a silent shooting mode. I turn that on whenever I enter a house of worship or any place where the sound of a shutter might break the mood. I try to respect places like this even though I want to take photos. My desire to get a good photo does not trump my manners or sense of reverence. As much as I love to get a good photo, I’ll walk away if I feel I’b be crossing some line.

That’s not to say that happens a lot. In the vast majority of cases its cool. Even if I have to take a few chances, sometimes it’s better to get forgiveness than permission. But invading someone’s space when taking photos is not cool. If I find someone in contemplation when I walk up with my camera, I’ll walk away if I cannot capture the scene without disrupting it.

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For me it’s as much about the presence of mind as it is about the picture. That sometimes involves being respectful of other people’s space.

Cathedral Of Saint Mary Of The Assumption

When I was a child I saw this cathedral from the outside because my aunt had an apartment directly across the street. The architecture made an impression on me that has remained to this day and the area around the cathedral occasionally appears in my dreams. With this in mind I was driving by a few weeks ago and thought to stop and look inside. I’m glad I did.

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Cathedral Of Saint Mary Of The Assumption
Cathedral Of Saint Mary Of The Assumption in San Francisco

On a Monday afternoon it was empty save for an attendant. It’s a cavernous space infused with refracted light from the stained glass ribs of the spier. However what struck me most was the silence of the enormous space.

There is much to take in, but as for my camera I look for rectangles that convey one aspect. As I could not help but look up at the light coming through the windows I chose this perspective. It was late in the day and so the west facing windows conveyed the greatest light.

architecture gallery

Just happening in on this the way I did was a complete surprise. Whatever I expected was surpassed by the combination of ambience, light and architecture. This is without question a place of inspiration.