Walking into an ancient Catholic church can be overwhelming to the senses: the magnificence of the architecture, the completeness of the silence punctuated by echoing footsteps, the cool damp air on one’s skin. Yet for first time visitors, the most distinctive surprise is the odors of a church.
A mix of old incense, wood, dampness, stone, cleaning solutions, humanity, and a thousand other mysterious odors almost seduce me from the moment I first entered an historic Catholic church. The stone has been gathering the breath of believers for ages, and the natural dampness of the air activates these strong, earthy odors in the walls and floors. Incense, one of the most noticeable Catholic/Orthodox distinctive practices, lingers from Mass to Mass, mixing with the stones and damp to form a redolence that can only be described as the smell of tradition.