I am standing in the Fulda Cathedral, just northeast of Frankfurt in Germany. Mass is about to begin but I have to be on my way out of town. Where I am standing, the structure I have found myself today is strangely and distantly familiar. I would not find out until I returned home that my great great grandmother or great great great grandmother was baptized in the Fulda Cathedral. Regardless, I’m sure she really was great. Now I understand why it felt familiar.
Fulda is not packed with tourists. In fact, when I told people where I was going, they had no idea where the town could be. Often times these little German towns are overlooked. I guess I shouldn’t call Fulda little. It is a big town, but its old town center is surprisingly compact, filled with Italian pizza places and baroque architecture. I’m not sure why but it seems to make sense.
I drive into Fulda in search of relatives. I know I won’t find them for they have since moved on, but it is just one of the cities on my list of where my relatives used to live. I am looking for my hotel. The picture online shows a palace for the hotel’s facade. Those hotel pictures are never what they seem. I’m not sure how they can all get away with it but they do. I guess I can’t ask for my money back when I booked the place based on a picture. Turns out the picture the hotel shows as their main building is the Orangery of Fulda. What is used for social events and conferences today faces out on beautiful and orderly Palace Gardens. Not a single blade of grass seems to be out of place. The lawns are as rich in color as a putting green. Too bad I don’t know how to play golf. The one time I tried golf camp, it looked more like I was playing croquet.
To the garden’s left, the City Palace rests. Originally prince abbots’ residences, visitors can peruse the structure hailing from the 1700s. My focus however is the Cathedral to the garden’s right. I am strangely drawn to it. Part of it could be due to the fact that it is massive. The other aspect maybe that it is beautiful to me, even in the cold damp German rain.
I begin to hear the bells on the Cathedral ring out, alarming the people of Fulda that Mass is about to begin. Little old ladies run towards the Cathedral, almost like they have roller-skates on or those shoes that come with wheels. They have such determination in their faces. I only have time for a peek inside this Sunday. The interior is quite simplistic. The tomb of Saint Boniface rests within the walls of this baroque church, maintaining a birth date in the 1700s.
I stand in the back of the church, observing the people of Fulda as they shuffle into their benches for Mass. Without knowing my connection to the building, there is something recognizable here. Maybe all these European churches are starting to blend, but it does feel like I have been here before. However, the realization quickly squashes the dream notion. I depart through the other entrance for I don’t want those ushers holding the door I entered to see me leave so quickly. I appear to be the only heathen tourist in the town today.
As I walk away from the Fulda Cathedral, I do look back. Whoever said don’t look back, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I know I will not return to this space for awhile. I need all the time with this church I can get.
I returned home to Colorado a few weeks later, discussing my trip with my aunt. She tells me the Fulda Cathedral was where a distant grandmother of mine was baptized. Suddenly, I realize why I had to take that second look back. I was looking back, but rather with a puzzled expression. Why was I so drawn to this Cathedral? A small piece of my ancestry took the Catholic’s ultimate sacrament here. I guess in a way I received an invitation to the celebration just over 200 years later.
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