Sunday, September 4, 2011

DPA: Bucharest's new cathedral to outdo Ceaucescu's palace

Bucharest - The Romanian Orthodox Church is turning a long-cherished prestige project into reality in the shape of the 'Cathedral for the Salvation of the Romanian People' in the heart of Bucharest.

When it is finished, the new cathedral will at 125 metres rise above the neighbouring Palace of the People, built by 1965-89 dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Not everyone is happy with the project, though there have been no loud protests against it.

It can also be asked whether bombastic religious architecture really reflects religious feeling in Romania.

Romanian Orthodox churches are in general small, with the saints on their frescoes close enough to reach out and touch. The faithful rarely sit out an entire service, which is often long, and few are interested in the sermons.

Romanians would rather make a brief visit to gaze at their favourite icon, much like dropping in on the neighbours.

Work on the cathedral's foundations began a year ago, and it is scheduled for completion by 2015. It will be able to hold 5,000 people for its services, and will also house two multi-purpose halls, each accommodating 1,000 people.

There will be soup kitchens for the poor in the basement, and the building will be served by 14 lifts. There will also be two inns for pilgrims to stay in, a cultural centre and a social centre. Parking for 700 cars is provided.

'There is this dreadful disease that causes the internal organs to keep on growing until the patient dies,' Romanian cartoonist Dan Perjovschi wrote in the liberal weekly 22, taking an ironic look at the entire cathedral project.

Writer Mircea Dinescu suggested mockingly that the patriarchate could simply have put a cross on top of Ceausescu's palace - said to be the largest civilian building in the world - thus saving themselves the bother of building a new colossus.

The cost of the cathedral is estimated at 200 million euros (285 million dollars). The patriarchate intends to raise it through loans, donations from the faithful and state subsidies, as well as putting in some of its own resources. The previous pope, John Paul II, contributed 100,000 euros during his visit to Bucharest in 1999.

The Romanian Orthodox Church is by no means poor. After Ceausescu's communist regime fell in 1989, it recovered much of its property and is active in a range of businesses.

Countering allegations of hubris, the patriarchate has always argued that Bucharest's Metropolitan Cathedral, built in 1656, is too small. It sees the new church as a 'liturgical and public necessity.'

Religious life in Romania has experienced a rapid revival since the fall of communism. In the past 20 years, more than 4,000 churches have been built across the country.

They have largely been funded by donations from nouveau riche believers, apparently keen to allay their consciences thereby.

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