Imagine a terrifying alternative history of modern Europe: suppose that the Nazis had not only controlled the whole continent but also unleashed a dreadful persecution of the Christian churches. They demolished or desecrated the best-loved monuments of the Christian heritage—St. Peter's in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, the cathedrals of Canterbury and York. Then, decades later, with the tyranny somehow overthrown, the restored churches begin to restore their lost buildings. The 21st century becomes a new great age of cathedral building, as St. Peter's and the others rise from the rubble. Critics wonder whether the epic restoration scheme rests on any true spiritual foundations, while others argue that resources could be much better employed. But for all the negative sentiment, contemporaries marvel at the soaring affirmations of a reborn faith.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.