Someday the Sistine
In the chapel, we feel the cold and harsh gold lines of Jesus, and the saints sit in their shrines, ready to be touched and prayed to. The crucifix has a grey patina of fingerprints. He is defined by man-made detail—someone once told me Jesus would never have long hair. A woman at the altar lights a candle, illuminating the Mother Mary. What a miracle, Mother Mary.
The rosaries hang from the gift shop window of St. Patrick’s like a Tiffany’s display, memories of confirmations, real or imagined. My aunt purchases a patron saint, my favorite saint, of lost causes—her guide through the uncertainty.
The cathedral is gold, gold, and why have I never seen one in silver? When did inquisition become beautiful, and when did I start to find you marvelous?
White. Gold. Black. Light.
The Church of Lost Causes, I leave you relics of me. In gold boxes you keep me—a necklace, a lock of hair, makeup in a copper-gold that the Mother Mary would never wear on her eyelids. These things I do not miss, for these things hold no value. Why do you need parts of me? What makes them sacred?
You sell ducats of Jude, rose quartz Hail Marys, and t-shirts of your structure. I purchase a mug and fill it with your holy water, hoping to take more than I left behind in these gold boxes. I want to be here—to be present—but it is difficult when you are so daunting. Judas was no saint, but he was human. I don’t know how much longer I can mold my life after martyrs.
I read that the blind know better what a cathedral means, what beauty lies beneath the golds and the gusto of glamor because the blind see the spirit. Raymond Carver finds beauty in seeing without seeing. Exiting the gift shop, I close my eyes and feel the outside walls of this building—the mossy stucco sticks to every fine line in my hand, but the building does not make the church. Most of this original mission, this beautiful cathedral, has collapsed, only the bells remaining to be rung once an hour. Sunday mornings, the congregation waits for the inevitable ring and for the birds to sing along. Hundreds of people gather for a name, for a deity, but two gathered would suffice. Why involve more than two? Why is it all so loud? A fountain trickles nearby the entrance and the rose garden, and that is what is peaceful—chants drown out the very water that Jesus is fond of walking on, blotting out miracle.
I will always love these buildings for their feats of architecture. Flying buttresses, they tell me. Flying buttresses, which is funny to hear as a thirteen year old. These supports hold up the church in all its worship, keep it from its collapse. I will love the birds that make this one a miracle. I will love the urban sprawl that makes that one a miracle. The cathedral on red rocks we visit once a year make it closer to Heaven, but the setting does not make the church. Tower of Babel, congregation of building, as you crumble while you climb toward the pearl-finished gates, we are watching you.
Mostly, I will love the dimness and the gold that reflects off of saints. One cathedral molds into another and another, and my fascination does not fade. It is hard to believe Michelangelo when he said that this church was painted in spite. It is too beautiful to have no heart. Someday, I will visit you, like I visit others, but I will not buy fry bread from a stand outside.
You are just there.
You are there for the believers.
You are there for admiration.
The building does not make the church, because you are a spectacle.
Madison "Mad" Howard is a junior English major attending Northern Arizona University. She
enjoys her literary studies along with singing, playing guitar, and writing songs. You can find
more of her writing at imreallynervouswriting.tumblr.com. You can find her music at