Rob St. Amant

Rob St. Amant
December 31
My roots are in San Francisco and later Baltimore, where I went to high school and college. I stayed on the move, living for a while in Texas, several years in a small town in Germany, and then several more in Massachusetts, working on a Ph.D. in computer science. I'm now a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. My book, Computing for Ordinary Mortals, will appear this fall from Oxford University Press.


JANUARY 13, 2012 11:27PM

Churches I have known

Rate: 21 Flag

My wife and I married young, in our early 20s. The sequence of our lives since then has been a bit out of order. Some Americans travel through Europe after they retire, but my job took us there just a year or so after college. The two-year stay we'd planned on stretched to three, then four, and finally five years. Lucky us. We have fond memories.

I'm not especially religious--quite the contrary. And yet of the places we visited, it's often the chapels, churches, and cathedrals that I remember. Here's a sampling, along with my reminiscences.

(I'm no photographer, by the way; these are just snapshots. Check out my friends Barry Doyle and Gary Justis for real photography, among others on OS.) 

One our first memorable trips, in 1988, was to a small town named Passau, just short of where Germany borders Austria in the east. This is my favorite photo of a zwiebelturm, an onion dome. These are best known in Russian eclesiastical architecture, but they're also found throughout southern Germany. 

Passau 1988


My wife's parents visited us in 1989, and we took them to Paris. I've always liked the fairy tale look of Sacre Coeur, from a short distance away.

Paris 1989


In 1990 we traveled farther afield, on a tour through Guatemala. Some of the church ruins in Antigua are shortcuts between neighborhoods. In the second photo, my wife is looking at the artistic offerings on display, propped up on the rubble. 

Antigua 1991 (a)

Antigua 1991 (b)


In 1991 I took a long trip back to the U.S. My wife met me at the train station in Munich on my return in the evening, the day before my birthday. After dinner, we didn't go directly home--she'd booked an overnight train to Florence. This was the sight that greeted us the next morning, through the slightly reflective glass of the train window. (Thanks to The Good Daughter for correcting my memory about where this photo was taken from.)

Florence 1991


We returned to the U.S. in 1991, with a few regrets. We've been fortunate enough to go back to various places in Europe over the years, though. In 2004 I visited Vienna on business. There's the oddest church next to the International Center, very modern both outside and inside. 

Vienna 2004 (a)

Vienna 2004 (b)


A trip in 2006 took us from Milan across the width of Italy to Trieste. As I said, I'm not a photographer, but I like this photo of the Milan cathedral; the front of the building was entirely covered for repair, but the lower roof was open for visitors to wander around, and the upper structure was still visible. It's a detailed microcosm of a city itself.

Milan 2006

 We couldn't resist stopping for a few days in Venice. This was early spring, and much of the time it was raining. The Piazza San Marco is magnificent under any conditions.

Venice 2006


A year later, in 2007, we visited Oxford and drove out to the western tip of England, in Cornwall. We took a brief side trip to Wales along the way. This is Tintern Abbey, and that's my wife embroidering on the grass--inside the abbey. The roof is gone and may never be restored.

Wales 2007


I have no particular thoughts of my own to leave you with. Emerson does, though:

Life is a journey, not a destination. 


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Some wonderful destinations on your journey. My wife and I also find churches to be worth a stop. Especially in Europe where so much of a small town was invested in the building and upkeep over the many years.
beautiful places! I love the one of your wife sitting on the grass, embroidering inside the abbey, that is really cool
Thanks for the comments, Stim and Julie. I love these places; I run such photos on my laptop's screen saver, which I use for relaxing once in a while.
Rob, you are very fortunate to have seen so many beautiful churches and that's a great point that many don't see sites like this until their later years so how great it was the opposite for you and your wife! When you see a structure like Tintern Abbey it is really fascinating to fill in the blanks of the missing parts such as the roof and stained glass windows. Thanks for a wonderful photo essay on this!
Religious or not, churches can be awe inspiring. You've seen some wonderful ones and captured some gorgeous images.
Thanks, jlsathre. I agree; it's amazing what people have done in the past, and I don't need to share their beliefs to be impressed. (Mayan ruins are very cool, too, now that I think about the year we're living in.)

Thanks, John. Tintern was especially interesting because it seems to be undergoing restoration and renovation. A lot of the pieces were carted away for other purposes when the roof caved in, but some of the parts that remain are being pieced together under tents. It's a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Thanks, harry. It sounds as though we appreciate travel photos for the same reasons. They're about the memories they evoke--what was I doing then? What was I like then? I guess that makes them about the future, too.
Churches have always been something more than just places to worship god...These images prove that.
That's true, Algis. Almost all the churches built in earlier times that have survived until today were designed, I think, to evoke specific feelings in their visitors. The sense of awe still works today, even in buildings that have fallen down.
Know what you mean about the allure of churchs and the like, Rob. Like you, I'm areligious, but there's something....

Spent some time once in St Mary's in Warwick, England, where blackened battle flags of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment hang, took photos of the Beauchamp Chapel with its catafalques and toured the Norman crypt, which was then being excavated. Fascinating to be amid eight centuries or more of history.
I miss tangible snapshots.
Rob these are wonderful photos. I am so glad to see another collection of images from your travels. You are so kind to mention us....Barry is the true photographer ...I'd love to have even a smidge of his talent.
Your posts always bring a feeling of peace. Thannks so much and it is great to see you again on OS!
This was incredible. Your life must be filled with the eye candy of travel and your soul bursting with the world's impressions. Sounds like a good book to me.
Great stuff -- churches tell so much about us and our history....I love the pictures.
I really love these images. r.
If a young, newly minted married couple can't forge a long term marriage by starting off in Europe for 5 years, then why even try, I say!

Rob, if you know what a zwiebelturm is, you need to be a Jeopardy contestant. Send that app in!

Boy howdy, that's some rubble - you didn't need to buy a picture, just enlarge your photo and frame that for your wall.

One of these days (yea, sure) I'm going to get around to digitalizing my 25 year old photos too. These are beautiful representations of some majorly incredible memories. bbd is proud, I'm sure.
These photographs are wonderful. Very evocative, the last one is my favorite. ~r
What an effective reminder for the rest of us to sort and review our photos! A good part of my trips to Europe have been spent in churches. The buildings and the art inside are indeed awe-inspiring. The photo from Florence--isn't that taken from inside the Uffizi gallery?
Lovely shots. Tintern is one of scores of monasteries throughout the British Isles dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536. I don't think the roof will ever be restored, there or at the other ruins throughout the land.
Visiting castles and cathedrals has always brought me a sense of timelessness. When we visited the Alamo many years ago, a few of us became ingraciated with its historical significance. Then again, I'm a weird chick. I get thrown back in time whenever I'm on an arrow head dig deep in the woodsy areas of Kisatchie/Calcaseau riverbeds and forests.
Thanks for the very kind comments! And especially to those of you who have added more information. (It's fun to talk with people who know more than I do.) Good Daughter, my memory must be failing me--it sounds right that the photo isn't from a train window. Sorry about that.

And the last pic is my favorite, too.
If you haven't already, visit Prague. Some friends tell me its filled with an endless array of steeples.
Lovely photos. In europe, churches are often the most interesting buildings, and usually publicly accessible, and sometimes house great art. In your pix, I really like that modern church.
Irony: All these lovely churches and the fact that graduates with a degree in architecture find it almost impossible to find work. Are we sure humans are progressing?
Beautiful tour! Thanks for taking me along. r