Re: Re: reorganisation and destruction of irish catholic churches

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@Praxiteles wrote:

Abbot Suger, who was responsible for what is often recognized as the first Gothic church, said that his abbey church of St Denis transformed “that which is material to that which is immaterial”.

Kenneth Clark (the art historian, not the politician) had some interesting things to say on this subject.

It turns out that Abbot Suger was not averse to accumulating ‘material’, his great gold cross at St. Denis, for example, was reportedly 24 feet high and encrusted with jewels and precious crystals. Suger also seized on a Greek philosophical text called ‘The Heavenly Hierarchies’ had it translated and put it about that it had been written by the Athenian convert to Christianity with, conveniently, the same name as the saint to whom his abbey was dedicated, to justify, and give a sacred/philosophical foundation to, his passion for beautiful things.

Suger himself gave an account (recorded by Clark) of how he releaved a bunch of unworldly Cistercian of a valuable bequest of jewels for considerably under the market rate, as they appeared not to understand the monetary value of their baubles.

Add to the fact that Suger was a fervent nationalist, possibly in the Jean Marie Le Pen mould, and was capable of navigating through the cut and thrust of politics as Regent of France for seven years, the picture emerges of a man who may have had more than God on his mind.

In considering the magnificence of Gothic architecture, ‘material’ is a useful word to keep in mind for another reason also:

Whatever about the inspiration behind the emergence of the Gothic style, and Suger’s undoubted role in it, to my mind, the real engine driving the movement was the almost obsessive exploitation of a material; stone. You can’t explore the progress of Gothic architecture without realizing that, close to the root of it must have been a burning desire to push stone to the limits of it’s capabilities. I presume that the mystique of the master mason, which is a known legacy of the middle ages, arose at this time from their ability to conceive and build incredible structures and presumably in the process challenge each other to go one better.

St Sebalduskirche in Nurnberg. A late Gothic hall church where the purity of the architectural forms are not even interrupted by capitals as the ribs of the columns merge with the ribs of the vaulting, as if the stonework was extruded!

Raising the funds to pay for these incredible structures is where the spirituality of the whole exercise is inclined to break down for me.

Who knows what was going on in the medieval mind, but I suspect that if true spirituality was at play, the places of worship may have ended up a tad more humble, and the worship of beauty may have found some more simple expression.

Obviously from an architectural point of view, this would have been a pity, to say the least.

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