Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
What are the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? There was a time when every schoolboy or girl could name them (citing Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels): Halicarnassus, the Colossus at Rhodes, the Pharos (the Lighthouse at Alexandria), the Temple of Artemis, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, and the Great Pyramid at Giza.
The only trouble with this list is that, except for the Pyramids, all the rest are gone— and have been for centuries. Unlike the un-codified “Natural Wonders of the World”—which is claimed for everything from Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon—the Ancient Wonders were set down (supposedly) by the great Greek historian Herodotus and constituted a Grand Tour of the ancient world centered around the Mediterranean Sea.
So either in a stroke of genius or marketing madness, a “New List” of Seven Wonders of the World by Swiss-Canadian Bernard Weber was founded in 1999 to lay out a group of extant manmade “wonders” that anyone could visit today. Their official website is http://world.new7wonders.com.
So continues our society’s love for lists. What harm could possibly come of it?
Well, not much harm, exactly, but in the list of the twenty-one finalists not a single Catholic church made the cut. That’s right: No St. Peter’s Basilica, no Notre Dame of Paris, no Chartres, no Santiago de Compostella, no Pantheon.
True, St. Basil’s of Moscow—an Orthodox church—technically shows up (but not on the final list of the “New Seven”) as part of “Kremlin and Red Square”, as did Rio de Janeiro’s iconic statue “Christ The Redeemer” (which did finish as a top seven finalist, but it’s obviously not a church)—yet how one could come up with any list of “New Seven Wonders of the World” that ignores any and all of the above Churches (and one could make an argument for La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence, and even the five-domed San Marco in Venice) is a real head-scratcher, to put it very mildly.
To make things even odder: two mosques did make the finals—Hagia Sophia, which is ironically, of course, a former church; and the Taj Mahal, which is technically a tomb, but certainly a holy Muslim site and tourist attraction. Also in the running for the finals are two more Islamic sites: the Alhambra, the Moorish Spanish-fortress/palace, and Timbuktu, a Muslim stronghold in Africa.
And in a final irony: the Roman Colosseum is on the new list—the place where hundreds if not thousands of Christians were martyred—just down the street from St. Peter’s, the world’s largest and most well-known church.
Thus the “new” Seven Wonders of the World are (the list is actually eight, if you include the only remaining pyramids of Egypt):
- The Pyramid at Giza (grandfathered in from the ancient seven wonders, as it’s the only ancient wonder still standing),
- Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- The Great Wall of China
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Petra, Jordan
- Pyramid at Chichen, Mexico
- Roman Colosseum
- Taj Mahal, India
Part of the “mission” of the New Seven Wonders of the World was to make it a truly “worldwide” event—a laudatory and wise concept, given the title “…of the World”. However this led to the pretty weak entry of the Sydney Opera House—which even by opera house standards might not have made a top ten list when compared to La Scala, Beyreuth, Staatsopera, Covet Garden, L’Opera, and The Met.
On the flip side of this “mission”, perhaps unspoken, is not to include any Christian religious site. In fact, I misspoke above when I said that “St. Basil’s” in Moscow made the round of twenty-one finalists: it was only included because it was part of “Red Square” which served as the official entry.
Had the Taj Mahal and Hagia Sophia and the Alhambra and Timbuktu not made the final round of twenty-one, I could understand an aversion to all places religious and/or spiritual—which sort of flies in the face of the original Seven Wonders of the World, as most of them were dedicated to polytheistic deities.
But it’s not just a favoritism towards Islam: while you won’t see Saint-Chapelle or the Cathedral at Cologne or even Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s—let alone the Church of the Holy Sepulchre— in the “new” Seven Wonders list of 21 finalists, you will find the Kiyomizu Temple, a Buddhist place of worship in Kyoto, Japan. There’s also Angkor Wat in Cambodia, a stunning structure that began life as a Hindu temple, but wound up as a…yes, you guessed it, Buddhist site, too.
One could stretch this to the Acropolis, “Stonehenge” (the Druids) and Easter Island, and, of course the pyramids both in Mexico and Egypt. But there’s really no need: these are “dead” places, literally. In fashioning a list of New Seven Wonders of the World, Mr. Weber wound up curating a group of mainly deserted and ossified fossils, probably in the name of “diversity”.
The full list of the finalists (who obviously didn’t make the top seven) are:
- The Acropolis
- The Alhambra
- Angkor Wat
- Eiffel Tower
- Hagia Sophia
- Kiyomizu Temple
- Kremlin and Red Square
- Neuschwanstein Castle
- Statue of Liberty
- Easter Island
- Sydney Opera House
Would that the final list of seven had indeed included St. Peter’s Basilica, Hagia Sophia (which seems to be making a comeback as a true mosque and no longer a state-sponsored museum, if the Muslims in Istanbul have their way), St. Basil’s, and the Beta Ghiorghis, a thousand-year-old underground Ethiopian Orthodox church fashioned from volcanic rock in the Horn of Africa.
Instead, we got a list of missed opportunities—and missing Catholic churches. This is supposed to be a list of World Wonders, not what-might-have-beens—or what-once-was.