Magnificent Milan! Amazing for our people to be where Constantine issued his Edict of Milan in AD 313 (freedom of religion "without let or hindrance"), and where Ambrose baptized Augustine, and where they sang the Te Deum together. I'm reminded of an episode in THE ACCIDENTAL VOYAGE with Mr Pipes and Annie and Drew... (see more pictures from Milan and read an excerpt below)
...Looking at the passing mob, and thinking about the hymn, Drew shifted his weight to his other foot. Suddenly the little door gave a groan and fell open with a bang. Drew vanished through the narrow opening.
“Drew?” called Annie and Mr. Pipes, poking their heads into the doorway.
Just inside the door, Drew sat in a heap, a winding staircase rising into the darkness above him.
“Are you hurt?” asked Mr. Pipes, reaching down to help Drew up.
“No, I’m fine,” said Drew, looking eagerly at the narrow staircase. “Hey, where do you think this goes? To the organ loft?”
“I do not have the slightest idea,” replied Mr. Pipes.
Annie looked back out the doorway at the noisy crowds clogging the aisles of the cathedral. She didn’t particularly like the looks of the dark stairway, but rejoining the mob of noisy tourists didn’t sound so good either.
“Let’s find out where it goes,” said Drew, jumping to his feet.
Mr. Pipes looked again at the door, stepped back into the cathedral and studied all around the door frame before answering.
“There is no posted prohibition against our exploring in this passageway,” he said, checking his watch. “However, we will most certainly need torches—with fresh batteries.”
Drew rustled in his knapsack and produced his flashlight. Annie and Mr. Pipes snapped theirs on at the same time as Drew.
“I put fresh batteries in last night,” said Drew, heading up the twisting stairs.
“Annie you go next,” said Mr. Pipes, leaving the door slightly ajar, “and I shall bring up the rear.”
After several rising turns around the circular shaft of the staircase, the noise of the cathedral faded, leaving only the sound of their feet pad-padding on the smooth stones.
Annie gripped the thick rope that hung down the middle of the shaft and served as a handrail to steady them on the steep ascent.
“We’ve b-been climbing quite a ways,” said Annie, after several minutes, her voice echoing softly.
“Do you see any change ahead, Drew?” called Mr. Pipes, pausing and puffing slightly as he spoke.
“No, not yet,” called Drew’s voice above them. “Wait! Here’s another door.”
Drew gripped the iron ring where a doorknob should have been. He pushed, then he pulled, but nothing happened.
“It’s just got this ring thing,” he called, “no doorknob, and it won’t budge.”
“Try twisting the ring as you would a doorknob,” Mr. Pipes said.
Annie held her breath.
With a creak and a metallic thunk the latch gave way and Drew pushed the door inwards. A rumble of noise from the crowds now far below them met their ears.
“It is the organ loft,” said Drew exsitedly. “And here’s our big chance to stop all that racket down there. Okay, now how do we turn this puppy on?”
Annie and Mr. Pipes joined Drew at the organ console. Mr. Pipes blinked rapidly several times, his white eyebrows bouncing up and down as he blinked, then staring fixedly at the three-manual keyboard he rubbed his hands together and flexed his fingers in anticipation.
Annie looked at their old friend. Should he do it? she wondered. It would be so wonderful to hear the cathedral fill with Mr. Pipes’s organ playing. But is it right?
“Give it to ‘em,” said Drew, smiling at Mr. Pipes. “Give ‘em, ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence!’ That’ll show ‘em.”
Mr. Pipes dropped his hands to his sides, and as if awakening from a dream, he took his glasses off and passed his hand across his forehead and over his eyes. With resolve, he fitted his glasses back on his nose.
“The Lord knows how delighted I would be to touch those keys and hear his sweet praises fill this place.” He took a deep breath and held it for a moment before continuing. “But, one never plays an organ without being invited to do so.”
Drew’s eyes grew wide.
“But think how much good it would do all those people down there to here ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence,’ and then maybe lots of other hymns. It would be like witnessing to them, Mr. Pipes,” urged Drew.
Mr. Pipes looked longingly at the organ, the rows of gilded pipes rising to the vaulting above. He shook his head.
Annie put her hand in Mr. Pipes’s and smiled up at him.
“But there’s no sign that says you can’t,” Drew urged on.
“Nor do automobiles have signs saying no one else can drive them except their owner,” replied Mr. Pipes. “Some things are manifestly obvious and need no signage.”
“But you played the organs in Strasbourg and Geneva,” said Drew, almost whining now.
“You will recall, I was specifically invited to do so,” replied Mr. Pipes. “And here I have been given no such invitation. Therefore, I must not play,” he gazed at the ivory keys, “and, furthermore, I will not play this lovely instrument.”
With that, he led them back into the narrow shaft of the winding stairway, and round and round with every step they rose higher in the old cathedral.
“Whew!” said Drew. “158 steps; that’s quite a hike.”
“You counted them?” asked Annie.
Annie gasped a moment later as they stepped out into the brilliant sunlight near the top of the cathedral.
“It’s wonderful,” she whispered, gazing at the flying buttresses so near overhead and the forest of lacy spires all carved in stone. “I’ve never seen anything so detailed and beautiful.”
“Guys actually carved all of this out of stone?” asked Drew, his eye following the flame-like cornice work on top of the buttresses, “and without power tools—a-and all the way up here?” He thought of the piles of rubble left in the back yard at home after he’d tried carving bricks with a hammer and chisel.
“And all the statues,” stammered Annie, “they’re all so perfect, except for those sort of ugly heads with their mouths open.”
“In all, over three thousand statues, and every one carved by hand,” said Mr. Pipes, clasping his hands behind his back as he admired the artwork on every side. “Oh, yes, and the ugly heads—gargoyles, ninety-seven of them; nasty looking chaps they are. Mostly used as down spouts to help shed water from the roof. Now follow me and we shall climb higher still to the roof above the nave.”
“Look at all the spires!” said Annie, moments later, her eyes wide as she took in the rows of stone tracery gables connecting more than a dozen spires, each rising fifty feet into the sky, all running along both edges of the roof like an enormously elaborate fence. “And we seem to have it all to ourselves.”
“It must have taken forever to build this place,” said Drew, following Mr. Pipes along the walkway at the crown of the roof. He felt a tightness in his stomach. His head began to spin. He tried to sound casual as he added, “Hope they did a g-good job,” but his voice cracked and his attempt to cover with a laugh sounded more like someone winding up for a good scream.
“Her foundations, you will remember,” said Mr. Pipes, pausing near the edge, “were laid in the 13th century—nearly 800 years ago. But they did not truly finish her until 1965. Perhaps one of the longest church building projects of all time.”
“H-how many tons of rock do you think it took?” asked Drew, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the stone edges of one of the open gables and looked down over the plaza and streets far below. He pressed his forehead against the warm stone to steady himself.
Annie joined him.
“What a view!” she said calmly. “I like being up here above all the racket and hurry of those streets. And if somebody was trying to follow us, like Dr. Dudley’s spy in Germany last summer,” she laughed, “we’d spot him from up here, that’s for sure.”
“Dr. Dudley, dear man, assured me he would send out no spies to keep us out of trouble this time,” said Mr. Pipes, laughing at the memory of all they went through to try and lose the spy. “No, simply nothing to fear from anyone shadowing us this summer.”
Drew’s parched mouth hung open as he looked at the ant-size people walking on the plaza far below. Frankly, he had thought the whole spy thing was a blast. But just now a fear, even greater than Annie’s fear of the spy had been, gripped him with icy fingers. He tried to swallow. Almost without realizing what he was doing, he wrapped his arms around the stony head of a gargoyle. He stared back at the gargoyle’s wide eyes, flaring nostrils and gaping mouth, its tongue wagging in rigid horror; it seemed caught in a centuries-long scream. Drew felt the same way about heights. But I am not going to scream, Drew told himself, I am not going to screa-eam! I am not going to--
“--Screa-eam!” said Drew, not realizing he said it out loud.
“What?” asked Annie.
“Ahem, ah, seem, not scream, ha, ha—I said seem--it seems a little high up here,” stammered Drew. “D-do you think they did a good enough job on the foundation all the way back in the 1200s, you know, hee, hee,” his attempt at laughter now sounding more like an advanced stage of hysteria, “to hold up all these millions of tons of stone?”
“You are correct to ask about the foundation of such a place as this,” replied Mr. Pipes, patting Drew comfortingly on the shoulder. “Without the most careful planning, the best materials, the finest craftsmen.”
“B-but did they have all that,” asked Drew. “If they didn’t, w-we could be done for.”
Annie looked at her brother and worried for the gargoyle. She detected fresh fingernail scratch marks crisscrossing its stone shoulders. Glancing back along the broad walkway at the peak of the roof, she spied a place to sit down well away from the edge.
“Mr. Pipes,” she said, “wouldn’t it be nice to go sit at the base of that tallest spire; it’s quiet there, and we can relax in the shade while you tell us more about how well they built this place?”
Drew looked gratefully at his sister.
“Lovely idea,” said Mr. Pipes, looking at Drew’s pale face.
After prying Drew’s fingers off the gargoyle, Annie and Mr. Pipes led Drew along the walkway to a low wall topped with Gothic arches. When they had all sat down in the shade, Annie pulled a bottle of mineral water and some chocolates out of her knapsack and offered them to her brother.
From where they sat Drew couldn’t see anything but sky above the many spires. He took a deep breath and looked at his sister. She was always doing nice things like this for him—he took a big bite of chocolate--and she never wanted credit for any of it. She could have made fun of him for being scared of heights; she never did.
“So tell us all about how well they built this church,” said Annie, winking at Mr. Pipes.
“Clearly, they were brilliant engineers, in those days,” said Mr. Pipes distractedly, “and I am certain they built her foundation to last.” He furrowed his brow in thought. With a frantic beating of wings, a flock of pigeons circled and landed nearby along a row of stone fleur de lis. At the far end of the cathedral appeared several tourists who must have ascended the main staircase to the roof. Frowning, Mr. Pipes stared at them for a moment.
Then, slapping his knee as if an idea had just occurred to him, he said, “I know a hymn—an ancient hymn—about the foundation of the church. Shall I teach it to you?”
“Oh, do,” said Annie.
“About the foundation of this church?” asked Drew, looking puzzled. “They sing about stuff like that?”
“Remember, Drew, Mr. Pipes taught us about figurative language,” said Annie, looking up from her sketchbook open on her lap. “I’m sure it’s not a hymn about rocks and gravel.”
“No indeed,” said Mr. Pipes, laughing. “It is a hymn that finds its inspiration in the biblical metaphor of Christ the cornerstone or foundation upon which the church—the elect throughout the ages, not a mere building—is forever securely founded.”
“‘The churches one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,’” quoted Annie. “You taught us that hymn that first summer in Olney.”
“Stone,” said Drew, his mouth full of chocolate.
“What?” said Annie.
“Stone, Mr. Samuel Stone wrote that one,” he explained. “You know, the guy with the big muscles who punched the lights out of that bully--” Drew was feeling more himself, and smashed his fist into his palm with a crack that echoed down the row of spires.
“Yes, yes, Drew,” laughed Mr. Pipes. “The things you remember about these hymn writers! I do wonder.”
“Hey, you know that Bible reading schedule you gave us,” Drew went on, “I just read in Zechariah the other day about the cornerstone.”
“So did I,” said Annie.
“Ah, as did I,” said Mr. Pipes. “Now there is a source of inspiration for your poetry, Drew,” continued Mr. Pipes, “return to your passage in Zechariah, and rise to the heights—er, ah, rather fill your poetry with gems from those pages of Holy Scripture.”
“Gems?” said Drew. “You know, there’s something about gems, or is it jewels, in that Zechariah passage, I’m sure of it.”
“I liked that part,” said Annie, closing her eyes as she tried to remember. “It said something about his flock sparkling in the land like jewels in a crown.”
“That was it,” said Drew.
“Well, the metaphor of Christ the cornerstone of the church,” Mr. Pipes opened his hymnal, “appears frequently throughout Scripture. But this hymn likely found its source in Isaiah 28:16, ‘See I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation.’”
“Who turned it into poetry?” asked Annie.
“No one knows,” said Mr. Pipes.
“Too bad,” said Annie. “When did she write it?”
“Wait a sec—“ said Drew. “We don’t know if a she wrote it.”
“We don’t know that a she didn’t write it, either,” said Annie.
“More likely a man,” said Drew.
“Well, whoever wrote it, the text appeared in the AD 600s,” said Mr. Pipes. “Ironically, it was written in a time, alas, when many were attempting to throw their shoulder against Christ the foundation of the church and replace him with the crumbling stones of a sacramental religion—a religion where man in vain attempts all kinds of rituals to try and please God. You build a cathedral like this on that kind of rubbish of a foundation--” Mr. Pipes’s eyebrows bristled and a glint of indignation snapped in his eyes, “and down she comes in a heap of rubble.” He brought one hand down on the other with a loud slap.
Drew swallowed hard, remembering how far below the plaza had looked.
“H-how’s the hymn go?” he asked, hoping to steer Mr. Pipes back.
Annie and Drew looked over Mr. Pipes’ss shoulder as he read aloud:
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever,
And her confidence alone.
“Notice here, once again, my dears,” said Mr. Pipes, his long index finger pointing to the words of the second verse, “the importance of singing hymns forever. Do read the next lines for us, Drew.”
All that dedicated city,
Dearly loved of God on high,
In exultant jubilation
Pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring
In glad hymns eternally.
“There’s the trinity,” said Annie.
“Yes, an essential priority of early Christian hymnody,” said Mr. Pipes.
“What does ‘perpetual’ mean?” asked Drew.
“Without end,” said Mr. Pipes.
“From age to age,” said Annie.
Mr. Pipes read the next two verses, prayers for God to come and hear his people who one day will reign with him forever.
“It concludes in lines filled with the most grand and enduring praise,” said Mr. Pipes. “Listen—forgive me, but I simply must sing them.”
His voice rose above the highest pinnacle of the ancient cathedral, and an anthem of praise filled Annie and Drew’s ears and souls as they listened.
Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever One,
One in might, and One in glory,
While unending ages run.
Mr. Pipes’s singing caught the attention of the tourists who stared from the other end of the cathedral roof.
“Oh, Mr. Pipes,” said Annie, “you sang that melody so beautifully!”
“You are too kind, my dear,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling. “Credit, however, must go to the beautiful melody itself.”
“I’d sure like to hear it on an organ,” said Drew. “Who wrote it?”
“Henry Purcell, the fine English composer whose life overlaps the more famous J.S. Bach,” replied Mr. Pipes. “‘Tis a grand tune called ‘Westminster Abbey,’ and suits this text to near heavenly perfection.”
“Can we sing the whole hymn with you?” asked Annie.
“We shall,” said Mr. Pipes.
To the accompaniment of cooing pigeons, and helped by the many spires pointing to the sky from the roof of the cathedral, they lifted their voices to heaven, and felt their hearts united with saints who sang this same ancient hymn long ago.