At the end of the road, the road split into two (to the left and right) at the vast empty square. They travelled around the square which was about a few hundred steps wide at the top of the steps. Green-grey stone tiles were laid on the ground to make up the square while round stone pillars surrounded it. Every pillar was so thick four strong men could hug it to complete the circumference. They were covered with all sorts of protruding-style carvings left behind by different masters. Some of them were broken, creating an ancient aura.
There were not many people on the square, just a few religious workers of the church in black robes walking silently with their heads lowered. There were even pigeons fluttering around quietly unresponsive to passersby, only occasionally flapping their wings. There was sanctity to this place under the sombre clanging of the bells.
Saint Sophia’s church was at the end of the square, made of buildings both tall and short. The bell hung at the top of the tallest tower, its oval-cone-shaped roof pointing at the sky. One row of windows glimmered as sunlight shone on their multi colored stained-glass.
The central tower was at least a hundred metres tall. It was inevitably intimidating to stand right at its base and look up, even its entrance was more than ten metres tall with a row of guards standing on both sides. They were in simple, traditional Byzantine-style armour, golden plates attached to their chests and shoulders. All of them stood in solemn silence with round axes in their hands.
The warriors stood at the bottom of the wall, their eyes staring straight ahead and ignoring Shaar at the entrance. The two warriors nearest to the door lifted their axes and blocked the door in an ‘X’. If Shaar wanted to pass through, he would have to get past the shiny blades.
The entrance was divided into three segments. Other than the main large door in the centre, there were no soldiers at the two side entrances on the sides. These entrances were much smaller with their doors half-closed.
Shaar was about to approach the entrance but Tatara pulled him back, whispering, “Wait! You can’t take the main entrance! It is only used during the New Year or any important occasions. Usually, other than the Pope himself or the emperor, no one can take the main entrance.
Shaar muttered a little, then frowned when he looked at the golden-armoured warriors. “That’s unnecessary, building a door that cannot be used.”
Even though it was just a casual remark, Tatara was already pale, terrified that someone had heard what this reckless hillbilly said and quickly dragged him towards the side entrance.
Although the side entrance wasn’t as majestic, it was still several metres tall and wrapped in a layer of metal too. On it were protruding images of angels descending to the mortal realm. Two black-robed spiritual workers stood solemnly at the door, looking up at Shaar and Tatara nonchalantly, then looked away so they could just walk inside.
“The main hall of the church is usually open. Theoretically, both aristocrats and commoners can come in to pray but while the aristocrats can enter anytime, commoners can only enter two days a month. As for regular prayers, Osgiliath has a few smaller churches where the poorer people pray,” introduced Tatara in a low voice.
When they walked into the main building, Shaar took a deep breath.
The ceiling was more than ten metres high, and at least tens of metres wide. This building must be at least a hundred metres long!
Shaar had never seen such a large structure in his life. To support this hall, there were two rows of square-shaped pillars to support the roof. Famous masters across history left their artwork on the walls, all religious-themed carvings, murals or blooming flowers and clouds that represented ‘going up to heaven’.
Multi colored stained glass lined the walls in different places too, making up interesting pictures. One depicted angels saving suffering humans, another about a divine light blessing the lands while others were direct statues of religious figures.
The hall was not lit with candles but well-illuminated by sunlight. Upon Tatara’s reminder, Shaar looked up to see a gigantic mural on the ceiling!
This mural was more than ten metres wide and a hundred metres long, encompassing the entire ceiling. The drawing was of ethereal clouds and the sun, as well as angels with wings on their backs soaring through. Beneath the sun was a blurry golden silhouette, that must be depicting god…
Exquisite and radiating a quiet tranquility, the most surprising part of the mural was that it was a magical array! With closer inspection, the clouds seemed to be flowing slowly! The angels looked like they were actually in flight, while the sun in the painting shone with real light, illuminating the hall. Shaar could even feel a gentle warmth on his skin, it felt like he was in the presence of sacred light!
Not only could this magical array provide illumination, it could also radiate a sacred aura to set the tone for the church!
That was why he could feel an omnipresent sense of something bigger, even the carvings and murals on the walls made one fill with reverence—this was amplified with the magical array.
Occasionally, nobles in robes could be seen standing by the murals, looking up silently. Other nobles knelt before the paintings with folded arms, closing their eyes in prayer.
There were several aristocratic women young and old, clad in simple or exquisite robes, all hooded and veiled. When they passed Shaar and Tatara, they looked at peace and solemn, seemingly communicating in a wordless language.
It was obvious that everyone’s behaviour was greatly restrained in this quiet place. When Shaar walked just a little too loudly, someone would look at him with displeasure, knitting their brows and then looking away and ignoring Shaar and Tatara.
Naturally, a hillbilly like Shaar had no artistic sense to fully appreciate the invaluable artworks on the walls. He only looked curiously. Were those protruding gold pieces on the murals made of pure gold? There were no guards here but so many visitors, aren’t they afraid that someone’s going to steal the gold?
The hillbilly obviously did not understand what sanctity meant.
Quickly walking to the end of the hall, they stood before a thick, heavy wooden double door. Above the arch wooden door frame was stained glass while the bottom corners were wrapped with gold. After opening the wide doors, Shaar could hear faint hymns. Since he did not understand anything, he turned to leave and walked through a side door with Tatara.