18 November 2009

Pope Benedict Speaks Of The Beauty of European Cathedrals

A few days ago I posted a comment by a priest who said that he was first introduced to the Faith by visiting the great Cathedrals of Europe which he said were, "the Catechism in stone and glass." And today at his weekly audience, Pope Benedict had this to say about the Catedrals of Europe,

"The Christian faith, profoundly rooted in the men and women of the Middle Ages", said the Pope in his catechesis during this morning's general audience, "not only gave rise to masterpieces of theological literature, it also inspired some of the most exalted artistic creations of all civilisation: the cathedrals".

Apart from the more favourable historical conditions, such as greater political stability, the artistic fervour Europe witnessed over three centuries from the year 1000 was due also to "the ardour and spiritual zeal of monasticism", thanks to which the abbeys were built. There "the faithful could remain in prayer, drawn by the idea of venerating the relics of saints, which led to incessant pilgrimages", said Holy Father to the 8,000 faithful gathered in the Paul VI Hall.

Thus the Romanesque churches and cathedrals came into being, one of the novelties of which was the introduction of sculptures which, more than seeking technical perfection, "had an educational aim. ... Their recurring theme was the representation of Christ as Judge, surrounded by the figures of the Apocalypse. In general it is the portals of Romanesque churches that present this image, underlining the fact that Christ is the Door that leads to heaven".

Benedict XVI then turned his attention to the Gothic cathedrals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries characterised, he said, by "their vertical thrust and luminosity". They "reveal a synthesis of faith and art, harmoniously expressed through the universal and captivating language of beauty. ... The Gothic cathedrals thus sought to translate - in their architectural lines - the longing of the soul for God", while their stained glass windows caused "a cascade of light to fall upon the faithful, recounting the story of salvation".

"Gothic sculpture made cathedrals 'Bibles of stone', depicting the episodes of the Gospel and illustrating the passages of the liturgical year, from the Nativity to the Glorification of the Lord. ... Nor were the figures of the Old Testament overlooked, whose story thus became familiar to the faithful".

Yet "the artistic masterpieces created in Europe over previous centuries are incomprehensible is we do not take account of the religious spirit that inspired them", said Pope Benedict. "When faith, especially as celebrated in the liturgy, encounters art, a profound harmony is created because both wish to speak of God, to make the Invisible visible". He also indicated that during his forthcoming meeting with artists, scheduled for 21 November, he will renew his "proposal of friendship between Christian spirituality and art, as expressed by my predecessors, especially ... Paul VI and John Paul II".

"The force of the Romanesque and the splendour of Gothic cathedrals remind us that the 'via pulchritudinis', the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God", said the Holy Father.

"May the Lord help us", he concluded, "to rediscover this way of beauty as one of the paths, perhaps the most attractive and captivating, to encounter and to love God".

I always wondered who those Vatican visitors to my blog were.

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