Building a Cathedral with Structure

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Recently, someone looked me straight in the eye and told me, regarding my marriage:

“You are building a cathedral.”

The depth of her statement stuck with me. I want to explore this idea that establishing a Christian marriage relationship is, in fact, quite like building a cathedral.

In the moment, we were specifically talking about Gothic cathedrals. Let’s roll with that.

A large majority of these cathedrals were built in the shape of a cross. In order to support such a structure, my husband and I first need to build our foundation with the right materials and in the right shape. For us, our upbringings, personalities, faith, and personal choices before we got married constituted the building material, which we found appropriate to use to build a foundation together. This foundation has been poured and set as we open lines of communication, as we figure out what makes the other tick, and as we live life together, with all its joy, adversity, and change. We are doing our best to make our foundation accommodate the rest of the cross-shaped cathedral, to fit ourselves into the pattern Christ has left for us.

Experts have discovered that cathedral architects used Biblical measurements; cathedrals were built according to calculations and proportions established by the divine Creator (see NOVA’s video, Building the Great Cathedrals, for more info). This reinforces the idea that as a couple, we need to build our marital cathedral according to God’s design. For us, this has meant, among other things, leaving our father and mother (albeit, the departure was more drastic for me than for him) and giving the other spouse the love and respect they need.

Ok, so we know what we are going to build. What architecture are we going to use?

Enter the Gothic pointed arch. This was different from the rounded Roman arch that preceded it. The point at the top actually changed the physics of the arch, allowing it to be taller. What a great image: pointing to God builds you up and allows you to reach greater heights. I like how that can apply to our marriage. The majestic height of a cathedral is the first things that hits me when I step inside.

One aspect of this different shape is that it modified the pressures within the arch, creating some weak points. And boy, does our marriage have those! Luckily, architects from back in the day knew how to solve the problem.

Enter the flying buttress. This external support system needed to be placed at just the right height. If they were attached to the cathedral too low or too high, the weakness in the arch wouldn’t be supported and would eventually spell disaster. With no support where we need it most, our cathedral’s demise would be imminent. But, because we have support (family, friends) holding us up in the right places, we believe our cathedral will resist the test of time.

Another architectural marvel of Gothic cathedrals is the ceiling, known as a ribbed vault. Two arches were combined to intersect at the point. This transferred the weight through the columns and into the ground. If we use God as our boss stone, our point of connection, our relationship will be solid, stable, and grounded.

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Every stone piece of every arch was meaningfully and precisely placed. In a physical cathedral, if one stone was out of place, everything could collapse. I don’t mean to say that we need to seek perfection in our marriage in order for it to work. It is true, however, that things are more stable for us when all our stones are in line. It helps our marriage, for example, to be on the same page re: how often to invite friends over, how often to read the Bible together, how often we will do activities together vs. how often we will do our own thing, etc. We have found harmony in our structure.

What benefit do these Gothic structural designs have?
Coming soon: Building a Cathedral with Light.


One thought on “Building a Cathedral with Structure

  1. It’s really great to read this lovely post dedicated to Christ-centered marriage. By His grace my husband and I will celebrate 22 years this summer, and my parents will have 60 years.

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