Wednesday, April 16, 2014

stories in stone and glass

In late February, visiting friends and I spotted pictures of the Abbaye de Sénanque in one of my guidebooks and decided to sojourn to the ever-picturesque Luberon to visit it-- even if it wasn't the season for the lavender blooms that feature prominently in the Abbaye's lovely promo shots. With their two small boys in tow, my friends settled on the self-guided tour option while I opted for some language practice and joined the French tour of the abbey.  

Since arriving in France and moving in down the street from a cathedral built between the 5th and 15th centuries, I've become a bit enamored by these sacred spaces. But I'm no architect, and I never took enough art appreciation/history classes to prepare me for living in Europe where suddenly architectural terms and eras matter.

I've mostly viewed these spaces without any tools for understanding them. But at the Abbaye de Sénanque, I was struck by the way a tour of the building, with explanations of its features and their symbolism, couldn't help but present the gospel. Thus, people with no interest in religion, just in old buildings, couldn't help but be exposed to an embodied rendering of the beliefs held by those of us who worship in churches. I find this to be a brilliant form of evangelism. In a post-Enlightenment culture that often doesn't respect the role of art, few of our modern churches--most built to be practical, inexpensive, and multi-functional--could claim to have the gospel worked into their masonry.

So I was happy when a friend recently sent me a link to a podcast that expounded on these very things I've been intermittently pondering: "The Spirituality of Europe's Great Cathedrals." It's long but worth a listen! I ended up buying the book Heaven in Stone and Glass by Robert Barron, the podcast guest. Haven't had time to read it yet, though I'm eager to.

Toulouse, France
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Saint-Esprit - Aix-en-Provence, France

Saint-Émilion, France
Brussels, Belgium
Abbaye de Sénanque - near Gordes, France
Île Saint Honorat, France