Sanctuary, on a personal level,
is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.”
Christopher Forrest McDowell
(interior of the Cathedral of Notre Dame / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)
The first time I was made aware of the concept of sanctuary…
as in the meaning of the word as a verb of action verses a noun of place,
was when, as a little girl, I watched the 1939 movie the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It didn’t matter that it was an old black and white movie made 20 years before I was born…
it was and still remains, just as the original story itself, a classic.
This 1939 classic starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, left a powerful and lasting impression on my youthful mind.
a church, The Church, can protect anyone asking it to…
Maureen O’Hara played the role of Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy girl, falsely accused of practicing witchcraft as well as murder.
Charles Laughton played the deformed bell keeper, Quasimodo, who had fallen in love with the beautiful Esmeralda.
One of the pivotal and overtly theatrical moments in the film is when Esmeralda, whose hands are bound as a rope hangs around her neck, is being led to the gallows on a horse drawn cart as she is about to be publicly hung for the crimes of witchcraft and murder.
A huge procession marches forth from the church as choirs sing and bells toll…for the people of Paris have gathered to witness the public hanging of this poor young girl.
Quasimodo, who is perched high aloft along the ledge of the bell tower, looks down at the proceedings and grabs hold of a rope…
Miraculously to the astonished crowd, Quasimodo swings down, just in the nick of time, grabbing Esmeralda from the clutches of the gallows master. He then swings back up to the safety of both bell tower and Church where, holding a now limp Esmeralda who has fainted…he lifts her high over his head for all the crowd to see while crying out “Sanctuary, Sanctuary…”
Letting all those gathered below know that the girl in now safe within the arms of the church because those who enter a church, seeking sanctuary, are protected from the masses and the authorities outside the walls of her building’s structure.
The concept of a church, the physical structure, offering safety to those at risk… resonated deeply in my thoughts….
As it seems that for centuries the collective body of The Church has been a place of protection and safety to not only our spiritual beings, but to our physical being as well.
Yesterday, when reading a recent news article about the growing security worries now facing our churches and places of worship, I imagined that moment long ago of Quasimodo yelling “Sanctuary”
Back in April, it seems that during a daily worship service at an Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, several young mothers had excused themselves from the service as they carried their crying infants outside as not to disturb the remainder of the service.
As the women stood outside the church chatting, while holding their babies, a car appears out of the blue pulling up close to the sidewalk where the women stood.
The windows of the car are rolled down as several men with bullhorns hang out from the windows and are heard to shout Allauh Akbar…
The startled women stare in disbelief while holding their children tightly to their chests…
all the while as a feeling of dread washes over them.
And yet just as quickly as the car appeared, it drives off leaving the women shaken.
Since this incident in April, numerous houses of worship, churches and synagogues around the globe have had similar unsettling incidents to occur—
Most notably being the recent attack on Father Jaques Hamel.
The attack took place in a quiet catholic church on the outskirts of Rouen, when two young men interrupted the service grabbing Fr Hamel and slashing his throat in front of horrified parishioners.
There have also been reported acts of vandalism, break-ins and incidents where churches have received anonymous written threats of violence.
But attacks on Churches and Synagogues is sadly nothing new.
Our houses of worship, although representing something much larger and greater than mere man himself, can fall victim to acts of evil intent just as easily as the average person.
In times past, just as in this present time, there have been fire bombings on buildings, desecrations of buildings, attacks and sadly murders on both clergy and parishioners…
As it is becoming much more alarming and worrisome that these sorts of incidents are on the rise…
No longer seemingly the random act of evil and madness, but now more and more the deliberate growing act of hatred.
Whereas there was a time when the Church as a whole was revered and respected, a place in which the lost, the sorrowful and the frightened could find refuge….
that simply is no longer the expected given.
Yet whereas the building and the bodies of believers themselves may come under attack—we are not without hope—for the blood of the Lamb remains our refuge and sanctuary no matter what may befall a physical building or our physical body…
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’