Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire de Béziers (Dennis Aubrey)

Once again Dennis Aubrey’s writing and photography on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture offers a rare jewell worthy of wider circulation.

Beziers has fallen!
They’re dead.
Clerks, women, children:
No quarter.

They killed Christians too.
I rode out,
I couldn’t see nor hear a living creature.
I saw Simon de Montefort.
His beard glistened in the sun.

They killed seven thousand people!
Seven thousand souls who sought sanctuary
In St. Madeline’s.
The steps of the altar were wet with blood.
The church echoed with their cries.

Guiraut Riquier, troubadour (Translated by Martin Best)

In 1130, the master builder Gervais built a Romanesque cathedral in the thriving episcopal town of Béziers. Built eighty years before Notre Dame de Paris, it had a comparable nave height as that Gothic masterpiece and was 50 meters long. Evidence given at the time indicates that it was a truly remarkable structure but it lasted only 79 years. The Cathedral of Saint Nazaire was burnt to the ground on July 22, 1209.

We went to Béziers in…

View original post 1,316 more words

Non-verbal Communication: Cain looking at us

Cain and Abel – the mythical story of the first two children of humanity – in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16) is about something that never happened way back when but about what is always happening with us: the inexplicable violence to which humankind turns against itself. It’s about the yawning abyss of violence into which we plunge when we can’t make sense out of life or when things don’t go our way.

Yesterday’s brief post on Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture focuses on a capital of Cain and Abel in a Romanesque church.

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Photograph by Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture

Like the Genesis writer, the Medieval artist whose hand crafted the story in stone many centuries later was doing theology and anthropology. The biblical author told the story with words; the Medieval sculptor told it with non-verbal communication.

The face of Cain on Via Lucis held my attention long after I’d gone on with the day. It kept returning to mind.

Cain’s head isn’t turned toward Abel whom he is pummeling to death with his stave. He’s looking away from Cain at someone or something else, as if to say the viewer, “So, you think I’m cruel. You think I’m different. You’re looking in the mirror.”

In the biblical story God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Medieval sculptor’s art seems to be saying it in stone. Cain’s head is cocked, his eyes looking at us. At you. At me.  And, perhaps, at God, to whose failure to rescue Abel he shifts responsibility: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The capital seems to say Cain knows he owns us and the endless history of violence in which the blood of the silent victims cries out from the ground, unless and until we – persons, groups, religions, races, cultures, nations, a species – master the sin that’s forever crouching at our door.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2015

 

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes (Dennis Aubrey)

Via Lucis Photography of Religious Architecture is a Views from the Edge favorite because of its ability to synthesize art, history, theology, and social commentary centering on the deeper things of the human spirit and the awe of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. In the midst of this post, Dennis Aubrey draws attention to the lion which appears to be spewing foliage. I proposed to Dennis that perhaps the lion is “eating straw like the ox” in Isaiah 11 and 65, Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom, an interpretation that seems to go well with the church’s sculptural rendering Jesus’ Parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25.

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes’s Last Judgment scene suggests an artistic interpretation that eliminates the divide between sheep (saved) and goats (damned), a pictorial witness to the final judgment as universal forgiveness and salvation. To enjoy the original, complete with photographs, scroll down and click on “View the Original”.

The church of Saint Jouin de Marnes is known as the Vézelay Poitevin, a tribute to its importance and beauty. It was named after a 4th century hermit named Jovinus from Mouterre-Silly near Loudun. Desiring a retired, contemplative life, he settled on a site of a Roman camp near the road from Poitiers to Angers, ten miles southwest of Mouterre-Silly. The site was called Ension and was in the swamps of the river Dives which flows two miles to the east. In 342 he founded an oratory church which attracted a modest religious community. By the time he died in 370, Jovinus had achieved a great reputation for sanctity and miracles. Over the years, his small community grew in importance, but eventually there was another decline.

In 843, however, the monks of Saint-Martin-de-Vertou in Brittany were forced to abandon their monastery by depredations of the Vikings. With the help…

View original post 968 more words

✚ The Artist (PJ McKey) ✚

This piece was published today by Via Lucis Photography: Photography of Religious Architecture. Click the blue link to view P.J. McKey’s lovely post.

✚ The Artist (PJ McKey) ✚.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Pentecost. At Vespers on Pentecost, the monks sang Veni Creator Spiritus in Latin (here translated into English), attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856 CE). Click HERE to hear the sounds of prayer.

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are Thine
….
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed Thy love in every heart,
….
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

The Estate Sale and a Thousand Years

Last Saturday I bit my tongue and went to an estate sale in hopes of buying a patio set. It was sold by the time I got there. Here and gone in a heartbeat.The rest of the stuff, except for the men’s suits (wrong size) was junk.

The memory that lasts is the house itself. Highland Park is a lovely neighborhood in Saint Paul. Beautifully constructed old Tudor homes on a tree-lined street…except for…the house with the estate sale…a lavishly done white retro Art Deco house…plopped down like a fly on top of a French Soufflé.

I blurted out to another shopper, “This place is really strange.”  “Yes!” she said. “What were they thinking?”

Right then I thought of the ongoing conversation with Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis Photography about the Romanesque and Gothic churches that still inspire reverence and awe eight centuries after they were built.

Dennis: “One of the wonderful things about these [Gothic and Romanesque] churches was that they took so long to construct and design that the intellectual currents that drove the builders were deep and powerful, not short, erratic eddies of fashion.”

Dennis had posted a question about a contemporary artistic installation at the Church of Saint Hilaire in France.  Would the newly created installation at the Church of St. Hilaire stand the test of  time. Might it also come from sources that are “deep and powerful, not short, erratic eddies of fashion”? Would it stand the test of time as compared with Gothic and Romanesque structures with their high vault ceilings that lift our eyes and hearts to something else for which we human beings long?  I had shared with Dennis that I find most contemporary church architecture banal and uninspiring.

I wrote to Dennis: “The culture of individualism is NOT Romanesque or Gothic where the glory is directed away from the individual, where the individual gets to feel…well…very small, humble, rather insignificant in the best way. I, too, see wonderful works of contemporary architecture, and I hope I’m not just being a cranky old man here. The comment about banality is not about those magnificent creations but rather about what I believe is the prevailing dumbing down of our time that leaves us bereft of awe, the sense of grandeur, wonder, or humility [one feels in Gothic and Romanesque spaces]. There’s a flattening, a leveling of existence itself to human proportions. The belief in species superiority displaces everything that suggests otherwise. My comments, I think you know, are not so much about the new installation at St. Hilaire – which, in and of itself, strikes me as quite lovely – but more about the age in which we live where nothing much seems to be of lasting value.”

Dennis: “Gordon, I think it was a form of this ‘prevailing dumbing down’ that inspired us to these churches in the first place. I became increasingly disturbed by rampant      commercialism, when the point of commerce is to create obsolescence so that goods can be replaced whether necessary or not. Fashion and styling is substituted for value. PJ and I wanted to concentrate on something that had intrinsic value, and when we began exploring these churches in  2006, we found that something.

“One of my favorite books of all time is Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye [published in 1953]. In it, there is a speech by the wealthy Harlan Potter:

“’You can’t expect quality from people whose lives are a subjection to a lack of quality. You can’t have quality with mass production. You don’t want it because it lasts too long. So you substitute styling, which is a commercial swindle intended to produce artificial obsolescence. Mass production couldn’t sell its goods next year unless it made what it sold this year look unfashionable a year from now. We have the whitest kitchens and the most shining bathrooms in the world. But in the lovely white kitchen the average American housewife can’t produce a meal fit to eat, and the lovely shining bathroom is mostly a receptacle for deodorants, laxatives, sleeping pills, and the products of that confidence racket called the cosmetic industry. We make the finest packages in the world, Mr. Marlowe. The stuff inside is mostly junk.’”

Well, the kitchens today aren’t just for the “housewives,” thank goodness, but the rest hit too close to home.

I think of the height of the Gothic arches and the things that will last when someone says at my departure “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes” and holds an estate sale.

I sit down with the Scriptures for something longer lasting than deodorants, laxatives, sleeping pills, or a plastic patio set.  I want something like the lasting value of the Gothic and Romanesque architecture “took so long to construct and design,” where “the intellectual currents that drove the builders were deep and powerful, not short, erratic eddies of fashion.”

I’m drawn to the English translation that preserves the clear distinction between the Divine and the human – the use of the archaic word “thou” for God. Like the vaults of St. Hilaire, the language lifts up my heart from the flat banality of our self-preoccupations and species grandiosity.

Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey
Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

“O Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

When I look at the work of thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,

The moon and the stars which thou hast established;

What is man that thou art mindful of him…?

 

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

 

“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,

From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.

Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, ‘Turn back, O children of men!’

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:1-4)