Dr. Lorrie Wenzel recalled the time she and her husband Mark traveled to Florence, Italy, and visited cathedrals and basilicas in the area.
Lorrie, then a Scripture professor at Cardinal Stritch University, was explaining to him about the mosaics on the ceiling and when she was done, several people asked her to tell them about the mosaics.
“I think my husband said, ‘Thank goodness,’ and ran away to a coffee shop,” Lorrie said, laughing. “He came back two hours later, and I was still talking. Afterward, he told me that he thinks we may have a project.”
After giving a talk about the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, word spread and soon Lorrie was in demand to speak at various groups.
“There was a lot of interest in the Notre Dame Cathedral. The middle doorway has the 12 statues of the Apostles,” she said. “You go up to them, touch them and get to know them.”
According to Lorrie, 10 million people visit cathedrals each year, and while they are impressed with the space and architectural structure, they forget medieval cathedrals contain visual images of the bible stories.
“The cathedrals were built to educate and inspire a population unable to read,” she said. “Artists used symbols and visual cues in cathedral art to tell stories so the people could see and touch the Bible stories.”
Lorrie and Mark have visited more than 300 churches and cathedrals in Europe over 12 years and taken more than 1,800 photos of the sacred spaces. Both wanted to help religious tourists identify biblical stories in cathedrals around the world, so they published their first book, “Cathedrals: Clues to Identifying Biblical Figures in Cathedrals Around the World.” Lorrie wrote the text and Mark provided the photographs for this guidebook or travel handbook.
The premise behind the book is to help pilgrims recognize the visual name tags associated with the statues and bible stories. While each cathedral’s representation may be different due to various artists, the symbols are the same, Lorrie said.
“A burning bush looms before Moses, a whale swims beside Jonah, the decapitated head of Goliath is held by King David and the keys of heaven rest in the hands of St. Peter,” she said. “Likewise, most apostles and martyrs carry the instruments of their death.”
Lorrie suggests bringing the book when traveling to visit various cathedrals and using it to search for the people described.
“I suggest taking your 10 favorite bible stories and going to the cathedral and don’t leave until you see them etched in stone or glass,” she said. “The same thing is true with the saints. Memorize their stories, take a note card, bring your binoculars and don’t leave until you find them. You will likely see them five or six times in the same cathedral.”
Lorrie and Mark are members of Good Shepherd Parish in Menomonee Falls. Mark is a radiologist and Lorrie is a member of the Patrons of the Vatican Art in Chicago, and a former member of the Catholic Biblical Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. She taught scripture classes at Cardinal Stritch University for 20 years and is a graduate of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.
In the book’s conclusion, Lorrie mentions serving as a minister. For 12 years, Lorrie left the Catholic Church and became an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ but came back after realizing that she was and would always be Roman Catholic.
“You can’t change your eye color and their criticism of me in their higher church was that I was too Catholic,” she said. “I came back and was happy to be an educator in the Catholic Church and not a minister.”
Currently retired, Lorrie enjoys traveling and is planning a trip to France with her husband for five weeks, where they will study the Notre Dame cathedrals not located in Paris. She hopes readers will gain knowledge of the lives of the saints through her book.
“I hope they will have hope in times of darkness, and if you look at the lives of the saints, and their horrible, painful, excruciating deaths by a few individuals, it is beyond evil, but they did not lose their faith in Christ,” she said. “I hope the saints remind us to carry the light of Christ in dark places and not be overcome. Look at the lives of these people and what they went through while dying — they were still forgiving those who were persecuting them. They can help us in our own lives to forgive people and love them anyway.”
Lorrie said when she struggles with forgiveness, she is reminded of Romans 12:14: “Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them.”
“Carry the light of Christ and don’t let someone else extinguish it,” she said, adding, “I am so grateful for this opportunity to share our ministry.”
The book is available on Amazon.