“Lord knows the way she feels —
Every day in his name she begins.”
– Aicha, Outlandish
One of the most incredible things I will surely leave Europe with in the near or far future is a deeper appreciation of churches and chapels. Cambridge, as perhaps you might know, is constituted of colleges that in the past operated like seminaries. Cantabrigian scholars of old specialized in theology and the religious sciences, and many trained here to prepare for a lifelong service in the religious cadre. Queens’, my own college, boasts to have had Erasmus, who was here in the early 16th century, as its most famous matriculant to this day. Our terms — Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter — were also named after religious cycles of worship.
With Christianity being the spiritual foundation of this institution, it is only natural that one would see churches and chapels present virtually everywhere throughout Cambridge. Even our most iconic building, the King’s Chapel, is a place of worship still in use for evensongs and Christmas services. Its ceiling, captured in the photo above, is a truly remarkable work of art. Nothing screams the compelling human need to capture something of the divine like an extraordinary place of worship built with all the aesthetics that could emerge from a mortal hand. I have come to this chapel so many times, and am still blown away every time I am greeted with this sight above.
In the past couple of years during this writing-up period, I have been deeply indebted to Queens’ Chapel for offering a tranquil space where I can stop and think and summon my muse in between writing and editing. Our kind chaplain has specially cleared out a space for us at the ante-chapel where we could pray unhurriedly in a sacred (but not consecrated) space. It doesn’t matter that we might be worshipping a different God under the same roof — the chapel clearly welcomes spirituality of all flavors, irregardless of faith.
The chapel is literally a one-minute walk across Walnut Court from the library, but this short walk — especially on beautiful days like today — is always invigorating after hours of sitting in the library. The library itself used to be the old chapel built way back in 1488, and was one of the first few buildings to be erected when the college was founded. I spend many delightful hours into the evening every day writing at a desk situated by the beautiful stained-glass windows overlooking the Old Court, through which I like to watch tourists and college members pass through.
Perhaps being a spiritually-charged place in its previous life, it is unsurprising that this space has been remarkably conducive to my writing and general productivity during my time here at Queens’ — so much so, that it seems to be the only place where any writing at all can happen. I’ve tried taking my thesis as far away as to Kazakhstan, and found that I could not commit even a single word on paper while there. The stubborn scholar in me refused to cooperate until I was back within the old gates of the college, and within the safe, tranquil walls of this 15th century refuge for scholars.
This sense of security is absolutely priceless to my scholarly pursuits here in Cambridge. But whether these pursuits may or may not end yet as I reach the final stages of this endeavor — I only wish I too knew.