Look Through

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Modernism in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa

It stands like a beacon, quiet and still as the traffic of Lusaka whizzes past from day to night. Made from sand coloured stone in the modernist tradition, built on a large grassy hill a stone’s throw away from the courts and local government building, it is the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross. 

The simplicity of the design is perhaps unusual for an Anglican cathedral, there is no spire, no scroll work and the stained glass windows are without depictions or patterns. But it is perhaps the simplicity that is part of its beauty, it could never be called gaudy.

 I have been past the cathedral many times and inside once for a concert years ago.  Yesterday I finally went inside during the day and was arrested by the sweeping height and bright prisms from the windows that met me. It was close to midday and the Zambian sun shone proudly through blue, green, red glass.  The effect was spectacular. After a brief look around I was approached by the verger who welcomed me and gave me some background on the church, he has been the verger there for 41 years, how’s that for dedication.

 Construction of the cathedral began in 1957 and the time obviously influenced the architecture greatly.  Modernist architecture is not a favourite of many and for good reason, I would argue though that the Anglican Cathedral is a perfect example of when modernism works.  The building sings and does not shout, its clean lines and warm colour exude a gentleness that perhaps much modernism lacks.  It is a structure of dignity and little austerity.  The interior is pale and has minimal decoration or visible artefacts, making it perfect for quiet contemplation and worship.

 When I say Christianity is the majority religion in Zambia, that by no means explains what an important role it plays in people’s lives.  Church is of course a source of spiritual comfort in hard times, however, it serves other social functions as well.  In rural areas church is a happy occasion to meet other members of your community and the services often last all day with lunch included.  Many international church groups have been responsible for major charitable works, funding hospitals, orphanages and Aids programmes.  Considering the poverty and problems Zambia has, to have such a building of superior quality that is also a landmark of religious beliefs in the country is a precious gift.

 The cathedral has a large congregation and hosts musical concerts regularly.  The distinguished beauty of this place of worship has made an impression on many and the administrator told me of how foreign visitors come back time and again.  I am not religious but I could not help but be moved by the greeting I got from those who work at the cathedral and, dare I say, the cathedral itself.

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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Copyright: Elizabeth Watkin

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