A Photo a Week: Signs at OHC

Nancy Merrill’s A Photo a Week challenge has the topic signs.

Here are some signs taken at Open House Chicago on Saturday. Open House Chicago is an annual event that takes place on a weekend in mid-October, in which over 300 buildings around the city open their doors to the public. Docents inside answer questions about the architecture, the place and its function, etc. This is the second year we have attended, visiting places we never could or even think about in the city of Chicago.

Sign listing prayers to be recited during a weekly service at the Muslim Community Center.


We visited Dank Haus, a German cultural center, which was celebrating Octoberfest.


Order of service at the Zen Buddhist Temple
This huge, U-shaped building used to be a grand hotel.


The Moody Church, an evangelical Christian church, is massive inside – there is seating for 3,700 people!

I hope to write more about these places in future posts!


Thursday Doors: Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral is the most noticeable building as you approach this city on the north Rhine River, with its Gothic spires soaring high above the landscape. At 157 meters (515 ft.) ir the third tallest twin-spired church in the world. The towers for its spires make its façade the tallest in the world.
From the river it is quite imposing, close as it is to the riverfront.  DSC00868
20190627_223155This Catholic cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany, with 20,000 visitors average per day.

It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Front main entrance

Details above front door:


The cathedral’s official name in English is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter (in German, Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus).

Inside the main transept:


Front doors from the inside

Construction of the cathedral was begun in 1248 but was halted, unfinished, in 1473. Work did not recommence until the 1840s (!) and was completed according to its Medieval plan in 1880.
20190627_154133When construction began in 1248, the site had been occupied by several previous structures; from the 4th century CE (AD) on, these were Christian buildings.

Legend has it that Kris Kringle (Germany’s Santa Claus) would take naughty kids to the cathedral, where he would punish them and if they resisted, he would drop them off the South Tower! That must have been a great incentive for children to be good! Visitors can go up the South Tower today – that is, when Kris Kringle is not around!!

Tower details:

Model of the finial o top of the Cathedral towers in original size: 9.5 m high, 4.6 m wide

DSC00911.JPGIn the 19th century, there was a resurgence of romantic interest in the Middle Ages, and with the original plan for the façade having been discovered, the Protestant Prussian Court gave its approval for the cathedral’s completion. The Court provided a 3rd of its cost to improve relations with its growing number of Catholic subjects.

Stained glass:

On August 14, 1880, the completion of the cathedral was celebrated as a national event, 632 years after it had been begun! It was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the Washington Monument four years later.

As in most large cathedrals, there are relics and burials. Many graves were discovered during the excavations in the 19th century.

Door to a crypt

Although the cathedral suffered 14 hits by Allied aerial bombings during World War II, and was badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in a city which was mostly destroyed.

Repairs of the war damage were completed in 1956. Repair and maintenance work is constant due to wind, rain and pollution which eat away at the stone, so there is almost always scaffolding on some part of the cathedral.*
As we were leaving, I saw this most unusual door on one side of the cathedral.DSC00910
Both inside and out, the Cologne Cathedral is the most impressive and magnificent cathedral I have ever seen!

Posted for Norm’s Thursday Doors, 8/29/19.

*Historical information was obtained from the Wikipedia article, Cologne Cathedral.


Caen’s Church of Saint-Pierre

(June 17, 2019)

While in Caen, after touring the Chateau, we had lunch, then went to see the cathedral. Or at least, we THOUGHT it was the cathedral, but this is a mistake by tourists due to its size and soaring Gothic elements. It is actually called the Church of St. Peter (St. Pierre) and known as Saint-Pierre of Darnetal, Saint-Pierre-sous-Caen, Saint-Pierre-du-Châtel, and Saint-Pierre-en-Rive.

Even though it isn’t the official cathedral, St. Pierre is an imposing structure.
It was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. During the Middle Ages, most public ceremonies took place in this church. The spire of the church was destroyed by a British navy shell in 1944, meant for the German forces, and it was rebuilt in the same style.  Remarkably, although 75% of Caen was in ruins at the end of WWII, the Church of Saint-Pierre remained mostly intact.

Front entrance:


Architecturally, the church represents the transition from Gothic to Renaissance style. It ceased to be a church building in 1793, to become the Temple of Reason. From 1795 to 1933, the building was used for Catholic worship services.

More of the church’s doors
Stained glass windows


Posted for Norm’s Thursday Doors 8/8/19.

Although I took most of the photos, I have included some of my son’s photos using his Samsung Galaxy 9 (the first time he has experimented with photography), most notably ceiling details.

Information on the Church of St.-Pierre’s history was obtained from a Wikipedia article, Church of Saint-Pierre, Caen.



July Blue Squares: Dome of the Rock

I’m pretty sure I have posted these photos before, but this time I am posting them for today’s Blue Square entry. Dome of the Rock is such a beautiful building, known mostly for its golden dome that stands out among the whitish buildings of Jerusalem’s skyline. However, close up, it is covered with Arabic mosaic tile designs.

Disappointing was the fact that we could not enter this building, which is a sacred site for the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Inside the building is a rock on which Abraham allegedly stood, ready to slay his son Isaac as a fulfillment of God’s test, but God stopped him. It is also allegedly where Adam, and later Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to God. We cannot enter because only Muslims are allowed inside. The building is actually owned by the King of Jordan, but Jerusalem’s Muslims maintain and care for it. It is part of a complex of buildings on Temple Mount, the other being the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
20190114_083031 Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock is the first monument we saw on our tour, in January 2019, of Old Jerusalem beginning at Temple Mount, the square where the First and Second Temples once stood. All that remains of the Second Temple (which was destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish revolt in 70 AD) is the Western Wall, known also as the “Wailing Wall.”

Blue predominates in the mosaics of Dome of the Rock’s façades. A stripe of Arabic writing, white on blue, runs around the entire exterior walls of the building. Underneath are a number of different designs, including more Arabic writing, as can be seen in this close-up photo of one section. Each of the arched sections has a different pattern.
20190114_083147 Jerusalem

More information about Dome of the Rock can be found at Dome of the Rock in New World Encyclopedia online.

More information about the Second Temple and its destruction can be found at The Destruction of the Second Holy Temple: A Historical Overview.

CFFC: Busy Hands

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week has the theme of HANDS. Looking through my photos, I found hands in various positions and engaging in various tasks – hands are seldom idle!

Some hands are meant to scare…
like on Halloween!
Sometimes hands are helpful, pointing out things of interest…
Hands demonstrate how to make things…
like this man showing us how to make papyrus. He owns a shop that sells paintings made on papyrus “paper.”
Some hands have painted fingernails.
Hands can be used as perspective to show how (in this case) deeply ancient Egyptians carved their images in rock.
Little hands are very busy! My grand-niece makes “buttered popcorn bagels”…
A 4-year old’s hands are always busy exploring! Here my grand-niece (the same one) tried on some big yellow gloves and held something in one of them.
Sometimes to get a photo of the inside of a flower, I have to hold it up…
Hands can spoil your photo when they reach up to take a photo and their shadow falls on your subject!
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Sometimes hands are used for sacred acts…
such as prayer;
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or when Mary Magdalene touched Jesus’ robe and felt the power of his spirit;
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or when a man’s hands protected the children of the Warsaw Ghetto, while their hands could do nothing in their sadness and fear but hang at their sides.
Hands are essential in the evolution of the human species: they grasp tools, they work, they perform intricate surgery, they play music, they embrace, they pet animals*, they are used to show emotion, or to use sign language – they are used in all kinds of expression and communication. Without the development of our hands, we would not have evolved into who we are today.

*I wanted to include photos of hands petting my cat, Hazel, but she jumped on my computer, which I took to mean that I will have to create a separate post on my cat-centered blog of hands petting her!

Worship in the Middle East

Frank Jansen at Dutch Goes the Photo has selected worship as his photo challenge theme for Holy Week. I share the sadness of the world for the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. But there are many holy places around the world that inspire awe where people worship.
Below are photos of worship from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and the ancient Egyptian religion.

Prayer at the symbolic tomb of King David (not his real tomb) – Jerusalem, Israel


The Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem is the only remaining vestige of the ancient temple of Jerusalem. Every day people come here to pray for loved ones, either those lost or those far away. It is customary to write the name of the person you are praying for on a scrap of paper and insert it into a crack in the wall. Every week these papers are collected by rabbis and kept in a sacred place – they are never thrown away. When a person is finished praying at the wall, they walk backwards, still facing the wall. Some maintain this all the way across the square; others after a short distance from the wall.
A Muslim man praying in the “mihrab” at Al-Azhar Mosque – this niche in the wall of a mosque indicates the direction of Mecca. Muslims must face Mecca when they pray.
Open courtyard at Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, with two of its minarets rising up behind. Five times a day, verses from the Koran are broadcast from these minarets, calling Muslims to prayer. 
Altar at the Church of the Virgin Mary (or the “Hanging Church”), a Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo. Those of Orthodox faith do not have statues in their churches, which are considered idolatry. Instead they have icons, or images, of the Holy Family, disciples and saints.
At the Garden Tomb site in Jerusalem (where it is believed that Jesus was buried), groups of Christian pilgrims gather for holy communion.  The “wine” (grape juice, actually) was served in tiny cups made of olive wood, which we were given to keep as a remembrance.

The ancient Egyptians had a pantheon of gods that they worshipped, and many of their temples contain images of pharaohs and others worshipping the gods.

Altar and shrine in the sanctuary of the Temple of Horus in Edfu, Egypt. Horus was one of the most important gods for the Egyptians and is often depicted with the head of a falcon.


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A typical scene portraying a pharaoh making offerings to a god. The image on this pillar in Kom Ombo, Egypt shows the pharaoh (left) making an offering to Horus, the falcon god (right).
Akhenaten was considered the “heretic” king because he tried to introduce monotheism to the Egyptian religion. He banned the worship of many gods, claiming that Aten (the Sun, represented by a disk with rays flowing downward) was the one and only true god. In this relief at the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, Akhenaten (in front) is shown worshipping Aten, along with his wife, Nefertiti, and two of their daughters, by offering up lotus flowers (the sacred flower of ancient Egypt) to the sun god. After Akhenaten’s death, the Egyptians reverted back to worshipping their many beloved gods.

Thursday Doors: Church of All Nations, Jerusalem

On January 13, our Maranatha tour group visited the Church of All Nations, which is right next to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane has several olive trees that are thousands of years old – that is to say, they were already there when Jesus went there to pray before his crucifixion.
20190113_082455The church was built in 1919-1920, using funds from many nations, which is how it got its name. Officially, it is called Basilica of the Agony.

20190113_075027 Church of All Nations
The church has an interesting history. The current building stands on the foundations of two other churches – one a small chapel from the time of the Crusades, and the other a 4th century Byzantine church. While doing excavations for the current church, parts of this ancient church were found – a pillar and fragments of a beautiful mosaic. Upon discovery of the Byzantine church which had been destroyed in an earthquake in 746 CE, the architect immediately removed the foundations of the new church and began excavating the old one.

The main entry to the church:

When excavations were complete, work was resumed on the current church, using plans that were altered to encompass the ruins of the Byzantine church. In June of 1924, the Catholic basilica was consecrated.

The exit door encompasses a metal sculpture of an olive tree and beautiful metalwork around the door.
The main altar
Here is the exit door from the inside.
The coat of arms of many of the countries who funded the building of the church are incorporated on the ceiling, each in a separate dome, and also in the gorgeous mosaic floor designs.
Looking up toward the central dome
Mosaic floors

There were several lovely windows like this one.
When we exited onto a walkway that leads to the garden, we passed this side door.
In the garden, the word “peace” is spelled out in stones.
Detail from the front gate from outside, incorporating many symbols: a dove, a chalice, the sun and several Jerusalem crosses.
Of all the churches we visited in Israel, this one was my favorite.

Posted for Norm’s Thursday Doors, 3/21/19. Some information obtained from the Wikipedia article Church of All Nations.

CB&WPC: Murals

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week is Murals.

The word mural comes from the Latin word for wall.  It is defined by Bing as: a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall. Wikipedia goes into further detail: A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.

We usually think of murals as paintings on a wall, especially when it covers a large space. At our public library, I was surprised to encounter some new murals that had been painted in a hallway:
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I am posting it here in black & white because that’s what this challenge is all about, but the artist used very vivid colors. The wall across from this one has another mural; here are two close-ups of part of it:

Here is a mural advertising Coco-Cola in Lexington, Illinois.

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If mural art can be any type of artwork, certainly ancient Egyptian carvings on walls qualify. They built temples to kings and gods, creating friezes and carvings on a grandiose scale which exalted the king’s victory in battle, his offerings to the gods, or the gods’ protection of him. This is an especially beautiful example from Karnak, which after 3500 years is still clearly visible, of the gods Thoth (left – with the head of an ibis) and Horus (right – with a falcon’s head) pouring water over the king from two jars. The king stands in the middle, with several symbols above his head signifying protection and long life. 20181226_151651 (2)
In the ancient past, these carvings would have been painted but the color has been lost to millenia of exposure of exterior walls.

In Israel, which we toured after Egypt, I particularly liked this mural painted on a curved wall in Magdala, the home town of Mary Magdalene. In the Bible it describes how she felt Jesus’ spirit enter her when she touched his robe at their first meeting. The mural shows the bottom of Jesus’ robe and Mary Magdalene’s outstretched hand, with her finger reaching out to touch the hem of his robe.
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Journey to Egypt, Part 6: Coptic Churches & Ben Ezra Synagogue

December 25, 2018

We left the Egyptian Museum ready for lunch. We boarded our bus and headed to Old Cairo, where we would go to a restaurant for lunch and to the Christian Quarter of Old Cairo.

At Felfela Restaurant we were greeted by this hookah-smoking dwarf.
The restaurant had interesting décor.

Our tummies satisfied, we boarded our bus again and headed to the Christian Quarter. Here are some scenes taken from the bus.
Near the Marriott Hotel:

Seen on the street near the restaurant – we would see many more stray cats.
Street scenes:

From our vantage point, we could see the crowded commercial areas.


Mosque minarets


More crowds


St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church, is one of the oldest Christian churches in Egypt; its history dates to the 3rd century CE (AD), when there was first built a church on the site.

The name “Hanging Church” comes from its location above a gatehouse of the Roman fortress, Babylon Fortress – its nave is suspended above a passageway.

Approaching the church – the fortress is behind the wall on the left.

The ruins of Babylon fortress20181225_140308d

The tower of the fortress is now below ground because the builders of the church used palm logs and stones to create the foundation on which it was built.
Entrance gate


This sign is written in Greek and Arabic.

This doorway leads into the courtyard shown in the next picture.


There are 29 steps leading up to the church entrance.

Mosaics on the walls of the courtyard

The church was built in Basilican style (rectangular buildings with a central nave and aisles, and a raised platform for the altar in front)  and is meant to resemble the shape of Noah’s Ark. The church was mostly rebuilt in the 10th century and many restorations have occurred since then, major repairs and restoration most recently made in 2011.
In 1047 Cairo became the official and fixed residence of the Coptic pope at the Hanging Church.

Mohamed points out our approximate location on a map of the Holy Journey in Egypt.

Entering the church proper
Church interior, influenced by Arabic design and patterns
Orthodox churches do not have statues (which they consider to be idolatry), so Christian symbols and pictures are represented by icons. The Hanging Church has 110 icons, most of them dating to the 18th century.

The main altar design is made of ebony with inlaid ivory.
Over the altar is a row of seven icons, with Christ seated on a throne in the center.

Icons above altar
The icons are from Left to Right: St. Peter, Archangel Gabriel, Virgin Mary, Christ on throne, St. John the Baptist, Archangel Michael, St. Paul. This photo was downloaded from Wikipedia article The Hanging Church.


In this photo and the photo above, above the icons on red velvet curtains are representations of several Coptic crosses, made with ebony and ivory.


View from inside one of the side chapels

Chapels: note the designs of Coptic crosses above and along the sides of the central icons.


Priestly relics

View of Babylon Fortress from inside the church

Ceiling design


From the Hanging Church, we went next door to the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, known as Abu Serga. It is also referred to as the Cavern Church, and is believed to be where the Holy Family rested at the end of their voyage into Egypt.
Sergius and Bacchus were soldier-saints martyred in the 4th century in Syria by the Roman emperor Maximium.
Church altar
This church is where many of the early Patriarchs of the Coptic Church were elected, the first being Patriarch Isaac (681-692).
The church was built in the 4th century and finished in the 5th century. It was burned in the 8th century and restored in the 9th century. It has been continuously restored since that time.

The most interesting part of the church is the crypt in which Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus were to have lived for three months, possibly when Joseph worked at the fortress (he was a carpenter).

This is the room where the Holy family spent three months. It is 10 meters deep and when the Nile River rises, it often floods.
I was very moved by this place, picturing Mary and Joseph with their small child trying to keep warm in this space. Below is the well used by the family.
It is always significant to stand in the place where one’s ancestors or in this case, where Jesus, lived, sharing that space with the spirit of those from long ago.

After that, we visited another place of Biblical significance: Ben Ezra Synagogue.

We were not allowed to take any photographs inside the synagogue, so my photos are only from the outside. It is famous for the fact that it is believed to be the spot where baby Moses was found, and later where Moses prayed.

There are very few Jews left in Egypt; tens of thousands left at the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Now there are less than a dozen Jews left, yet a few dedicated individuals preserve this holy place.

Exterior wall of Ben Ezra Synagogue

The synagogue is not used as a place of worship or study today; it is instead primarily a museum.
It is believed the synagogue predates 882 CE, based on documents found in a store room (see below), and probably was built prior to Islamic rule. However, little is known about the original building. In about 1012 Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all Jewish and Christian places of worship.
In this synagogue, a store room was found in the 19th century that contained a treasure trove of ancient secular and religious manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic.  The collection is known as the Cairo Geniza and is now divided among several academic libraries.

This is the location of a well on the spot where Moses was said to be found floating in a basket on the Nile River.

For more about Egypt’s Jewish community, go to Egypt’s last Jews aim to keep heritage alive in Times of Israel, March 26, 2017.