4.17.2007

Where credit's due.

One more thing today--

I was just organizing some archives in my computer, and came across this paper I wrote a year ago for Peter Counts' art history final, and thought I should finally take credit for it. Why? 'Cause it's fucking good, and as Peter Smith and Ed can attest to, it highlights my carefully honed ability to pull a paper out of my ass on subjects I know absolutely nothing about. And I mean nothing.

Enjoy; or rather, you probably wont, because this is a fucking art history paper and it's boring. If you start to fall asleep, you can peruse my archives for grander tales of doing it or drinking or something.

The cathedrals at Toulouse and Chartres, France are both Marvels in their own right. Although they show a visible stark contrast to each other upon first witness, further inspection proves them having much in common. They are visibly and historically quite individual, but both serve as a testament to how greatly faith can inspire both architecture and design; both have been and remain major centers for worship and pilgrimage.
Originally built on a different site as a smallish wooden chapel in 402 CE, it was Bishop Hilary who transferred the remains of Saint Sernin to begin construction of the church we know today. These remains as well as this site were exceedingly important to pilgrims of the eleventh and twelfth centuries as one of the stops on the way to Saint James of Compostella. Saint Sernini was a bishop and martyr, sentenced to death for not apostizing in 250 CE by Emperor Decius. His original name was Saturnini, but was changed upon becoming a saint.
The Cathedral of Saint Sernin was completed in 1095 and consecrated by Pope Urban II; its architecture at the time was unrivalled. Two primary doors adorn the south side; The Door of the Counts contains three reliefs, the center panel of this triptych containing the inscription “Sanctos Saturninus” after its namesake. This is flanked by a figure on either side representing Saturnini’s deacons Papoul and Honest. The Door of the Meigeville on the other hand, contains a masterful tympanum devoted to the Ascension of Christ. Mirroring the Counts reliefs, an angel flanks Christ on either side leading a viewer to use this visual cue to make the intended correlation between Christ and Saturnini as a Christ figure, this cathedrals namesake being a martyr and saint in his own right.
During the completion of Saint Sernin, another masterful cathedral was being constructed in Chartres, about 50 miles from Paris. Begun in 1145 and completed in 1220, the Cathedral at Chartres is a testament to high gothic architecture. Much like Saint Sernin, one of the primary portals of Chartres contains in its tympanum depictions of the Ascension of Christ, along with other scenes of his life. This scene is flanked by scenes of royalty, giving it the name: The Royal Portal.
These artful portals were exceedingly important to the roles of both Cathedrals, as they are host to a great many pilgrims; this is the main purpose of both sites. Year after year, people flood through these doors to be brought closer to god through the many religious relics housed there as well as simultaneously dwarfed by the enormity of their faith though their gothic construction. The large spaces filled with ornate detail, tall towers one might have once been imagined to stretch almost into the very heavens.
At the Cathedral of Saint Sernin we see one eight-sided bell tower, which with the addition of the spire in 1478 brings its total height to a dizzying 215 feet. Its construction was in several stages; the more basic 11th century base is topped with higher levels bearing mitered arches, the bell and spire at its peak. In its shadow, one can feel the weight of this mighty ornament, an architectural feat and beautiful memoriam to Saint Saturnini whose remains are housed within. The Cathedral at Chartres is host to two spires which, when combined with the Cathedral’s natural height of being built on the top of a hill, seem almost ridiculously tall compared to the sprawling city underneath. One is pyramid shaped and reaches 349 feet, while the other more closely mirrors the tower at Saint Sernin both in sight and construction. Like its Toulouse counterpart, this tower at Chartres was built in stages, reaching its final height of 377 feet during a second construction in the early 16th century eclipsing the former, shorter tower.
Unlike Saint Sernini, which holds the physical remains of a religious figure, The Cathedral at Chartres is home to a more detached but still highly significant relic. It is home to the Sancta Camisa, said to be tunic of the Virgin Mary. Retrieved in the crusades by Charlemagne, it is this item that spurned this cathedral original construction; the need to accommodate the massive numbers of pilgrims was becoming increasingly important.
It is this relic that is also at the center of the greatest contrast between these two French Gothic churches. The idea of Mariolatry at its spiritual core combined with the utilization of flying buttresses in its physical construction leads us to the absolute interior artistic focal point of this cathedral—its 186 stained glass windows, 156 of which have survived revolution and war and are installed in its apses to this day. The most memorable and fitting of these is that of The Virgin Mary herself; this window utilizes the stunning cobalt blue we oft associate with depictions of the Madonna and Child. Towering above the 427 foot long cruciform floor plan, these windows, aided by the advances in architecture, are the combination of light and art, and as the creators might have hoped, of beauty and faith.
Saint Sernin on the other hand uses ambient light to highlight reliefs and frescos; the meeting of beauty and faith if you will, rather than the combination. They are awe inspiring nonetheless, a full modern restoration making its sanctuaries frescoes as grand as they once were. These frescoes highlight the Ascension of Christ, the Resurrection and the Apocalypse rather than being centered on the Madonna.
The overall feeling of both cathedrals is similar. Upon visiting either, one might hope to be brought closer to the history of their faith and former pilgrims who have graced their vast and decorated interiors. This idea of faith through congregation is what one might argue is the main focal point of any church. Essentially, buildings of any faith are made to house people rather than art or artifacts. Yes, both sites are complete with vaulted ceilings, bell towers and priceless pieces of art and history, but neither would be complete without the history of their supporters, the people who inspired them and have been inspired by them. These Cathedrals, although magnificent pieces of Gothic Architecture, are mere buildings without the faith that is and has been practiced within its walls. They are nothing without the care that is taken to keep their stories alive.


Yeah that's right. I can read and write.
--M

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