The Cathedral, the Tire Man and the Guide

On the website of the Västerås tourism board and the city’s tourism brochure is the Västerås Cathedral… I skimmed through the words, old historical church worth a visit… yea yea got that…. rated three stars by the Michelli Guide…

Wait, what?

Why would a church be rated on a food guide? Was there a restaurant there?

There is so much to this world that we use shorthands for something. Much like how the Nobel Prize is shorthand for a scientific genius (a prize that has received as much flak as it has applause), the Michelin Star is shortform for a top-notch world class restaurant and a world class chef.

When a restaurant receives a star, it immediately gets elevated to the pantheon of must visit restaurants. Tomes are written about them and people go to check them out, the prize is not always an award but to some an exhausting burden to bear (and sometimes to suicide).

How did this food guide come about and what the hell (joke intended) would a church have three stars. All this turns on the history of the guide. At the turn of the 20th century automobiles became increasingly democratized, however take up was slow. In 1900, there were barely 3000 cars on the roads of France. A business servicing only 3000 vehicles in the whole of France would not last long. To boost their business, the owners of tire company Michelin (Edourard and Andre Michelin) decided that they needed to encourage more people to buy cars, so made a restaurant guide of France, filled it with strict reviews of good restaurants and placed in the guide listings and maps of hotels, tire repair and car rental companies etc. They then printed 35,000 copies and gave them out for free.

But people don’t value things that come for free (and don’t have value) and so after a harrowing experience, the brothers upgraded the guide and slapped a cost on the item. They threw on a star system in 1926 which over time gave the stars and the restaurants a glowing halo. The stars mean as follows: one star – a very good restaurant in its category, two stars – excellent cooking, worth a detour, three stars – exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.

There are plenty of issues of the guide – not least the irony that a tire company rates food (some other problems include the fact that the guide is not made for every country and has an over valuation of french cuisine) . The front cover of the guide is in red, giving this guide the nickname the Red Michelin Guide.

What I did not know was the second guide that the brothers created, a travel guide called the Green Guide began at the same time with the same three star system, and the cathedral had three stars. What made this cathedral worthy of three stars? Originally un-enthused about visiting yet another church, I decided to check it out.

The oldest parts of the Västerås Cathedral date back to the 13th century and the incense of history has seeped into its high walls.

It is filled with beautiful art pieces and altars, particularly unique for a Lutheran church.

It was beautiful just as many churches and cathedrals in Sweden are, but I didn’t really get why it was worth a special trip.

Well, at least all I made was a detour.



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