At last carrying out an errand I optimistically arranged months ago, we stayed near the Rhine-side German town of Kalkar, which I had never heard of before. As so often described in these posts, I arrived ignorant of my surroundings but ended up staggered by what I’d just seen. In this case, the town’s St Nicolai Kirche, fairly normal from the outside, but inside simply packed with early wood carvings on screens, pulpit, organ case and in particular, ten altarpieces by different makers. (There used to be eighteen, said the leaflet.) In fact, there was so much tiny, intricate visual material that we had to leave the church and read about it later. It reminded me of trying to view the Cappella degli Scrovegni all at once; except that here we were the only visitors, being urged, by helpful parishioners guarding the building, to stay as long as we wished.
St Nicolai’s extra amazing feature is a set of contemporary stained glass windows (Karl Martin Hartmann, 2000) featuring modern scientific discovery, including Comet Hale Bopp and a Feynman Diagram – albeit abstractly, and somewhat limiting the light available to view the tiny carvings. But exciting, and an expression of humanity which I would love to see in more churches, surely not incongruous with God’s Mysterious Way, for those that believe in it.