Its height and mass are breathtaking.
I speak of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, in France's Alsace region across the Rhine from Germany. Over the centuries, France and Germany have alternately possessed and dispossessed the soil upon which the cathedral stands.
The cathedral's construction lasted more than 400 years, starting in 1015. British and American bombs found its hallowed precincts during air raids in 1944. The last of the repairs were completed in the 1990s.
Today a gold leaf tribute near the altar reads: "In memory of the American officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who gave their life to free Alsace. 1944-45."
I entered the cathedral on a weekday morning seeking refuge from maddening crowds and hoping to gain a few moments of quiet introspection. My wife, Hedy, was outside in the Place de la Cathedrale visiting tourist haunts.
As I entered, my heart leapt within my breast. I suddenly realized that I'd happened by at a most propitious hour. The cathedral's spectacular pipe organ, located in a "swallow's nest" 65 feet above the floor, was engaged in full-throated declamation.
I was quickly covered in goose flesh.
As I entered the nave, I saw hundreds of people — perhaps more than a thousand — seated or quietly strolling the stained glass-illuminated avenues of the immense sanctuary.
The sound was so magnificent and encompassing that it nearly lifted me off the floor. Startled by the sudden emotion I felt, I negotiated my way down the center aisle to a seat.
For 20 minutes, I drank deeply from the musical wells of Bach and Handel like a parched soul plunging his head in an oasis. I had but one distraction during my cathartic release. I was heartbroken that my bride — pursuing trinkets at tourist stalls — was missing the soaring arpeggios.