Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 23, 2009
Cathedrals offer pathways to mystery of God – pope
Architecture is a privileged way to know the beauty of God
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - Recalling the great European cathedrals of the Middle Ages, Pope Benedict said the contemplation of art and beauty offers a special way to commune with God.
At his weekly general audience Nov. 18, the pope gave a brief lesson in art history, explaining the religious significance of the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries in Italy and France.
Looking at the cathedrals of the period is important for two reasons, he said. First, the examination of artistic movements of centuries past shows that "the masterpieces are incomprehensible if the religious spirit that inspired them is not taken into account."
And second, he said, the wonder inspired by the cathedrals shows that even today, "beauty is the privileged and fascinating pathway to the mystery of God."
The pope spoke of the traditional connection between the Christian faith and its expression in art and architecture.
"An extraordinary religious fervour" in 11th-century Europe coincided with greater political stability, population growth, the development of cities and increased wealth, the pope said.
One result, he said, was a great advance in building techniques and the ability of architects to make much bigger churches that offered "salvation and majesty" to the faithful.
Long naves that could hold many people, simple design and thick walls marked the Romanesque style that developed. The churches were "capable of stirring souls with strong impressions and feelings."
Images of Jesus as a universal judge or of the apocalypse were intended to guide the faithful away from sin and toward virtue, he said.
In centuries in northern France, the pope said, new building techniques allowed architects to build ever-higher cathedrals that allowed in more light.
"The reach toward greater heights imitated prayer and guided the souls toward God," the pope said.
The large windows filled with stained glass "became great, luminous images that could illustrate the faith" with scenes of the lives of saints, parables or biblical events.
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