If you ever visit Assisi, where St Francis once lived and worshipped, you may be shocked to fall foul of the ‘silence’ police. Turning to a friend to share the beauty of the art or architecture, you’re likely to be reprimanded by the roving Franciscan militia. This raises the question: Are churches sites of sacred mystery, or are they meeting places for believers to share companionship?

The balance of history

When St Paul wrote to the Christian Church in Corinth, he was writing to a group of probably around 40-50 who met in one of the larger houses. For Paul, these groups were ‘the Church’, and each member a temple of the Holy Spirit. As congregations grew and Christians were more tolerated in the Roman empire, a significant change gradually took place.

The sacredness of place

When great scholars and saints have lived and died in a place, a sense of sacredness grows there. As worshippers came to grasp the mysterious presence of God in such places, they began to talk less and listen more. Sacred art and architecture strove to focus this awareness. In the great medieval cathedrals the statues and stained glass windows tried to embody this sense of presence.

The contemporary scene

Many of us have become so conditioned to incessant noise that we panic if a cell phone or TV set is not at hand. That’s why we need places of reverence and mystery, places where we can sit in silence in the presence of God. True, we also need places to talk and share with other believers – but without a sense of what we’re seeking such chitchat could be futile.


Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 4, ‘The Catholic Church’ referencing pages 4 – 5. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 4’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.