It seems that my Puritanical sensibilities are only disturbed in a West European context. Such as a recent (2008) visit to the Berliner Dom, when I was shocked by all the gold, and by the huge statues of the giants of the Reformation, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin and Knox. (To be fair, I think that they would have been shocked to find statues of themselves in a Protestant cathedral!)
It seems that I am the child of the Reformation, with an in-built and thoughtless bias against "images" in a place of worship. I am not proud of this. I worry that my reaction varies as much according to aesthetic taste as to religious sensibilities.
A beautiful Virgin and Child in Reims CathedralFor example, in Laon Cathedral yesterday, I noticed three different statues of the Virgin Mary and Child, and had different reactions to each. I am so not proud of this. There was a creamy white one, made of stone or resin, in the worship area in the transept. And I thought "I can see that she would be a good aid to devotion." Then there was a larger one carved from dark brown wood, which I admired for the beauty of its carving.
But lastly, there was one which I saw as tawdry, painted crudely in a white robe with a blue sash, an ugly face, and with a rosary draped over her arm, which I found to be totally inappropriate. After all, Jesus' mother was a Jewess.
But it was this statue which had the most candles lit in front of it, and which was obviously used for intercessory prayer to Sainte Marie de Laon. My lapsed Catholic husband laughed at my indignation, and poked fun at my Protestant prediliction for taking things too literally. He pointed out that the literal truth is not the key thing for Catholics; it is what (or who) such a figure represents (i.e. the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven) that matters.
Suitably chastened, I have realised that I need to be more open-minded and open-hearted, and to exercise what Karen Armstrong would call compassion when confronted with religious traditions that don't chime with my own. If a blue and white madonna provides comfort, who am I to criticise?