The Old and New Testaments

Here is a series of remarkable windows from Chartres Cathedral in northern France. Please click on the image to enlarge it and have a closer look at its design.

These five lancets sit below the South Rose Window, and at first glance it is a very odd arrangement of figures.  The central one is relatively conventional, showing the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, but the two windows flanking on each side are quite bizarre, in that they depict four smaller men sitting on the shoulders of four larger men. The ones above are holding on to the heads of the ones below, with their legs wrapped around their supporters’ necks, like some troupe of performing acrobats.

But this is not an entertainment, it is important symbolism, and it is quite an effective metaphor, once you understand who the characters represent.  The four men below are the major prophets of the Old Testament, from left to right, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.  Sitting on their shoulders, with haloes indicating that they are saints, are the four evangelists, the writers of the New Testament Gospels, again from left to right, St Luke, St Matthew, St John, and St Mark.

Symbolically, these figures are showing that the evangelical Gospels of the New Testament were built on top of the prophetic pillars of the Old Testament.  The New did not supersede the Old, but together they define the law, linked by the pivotal figures of the Virgin Mother and the Christ child.

The evangelists Luke, Matthew, John, and Mark, sitting on the shoulders of the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, with the Madonna and Child in the centre panel.

The evangelists Luke, Matthew, John, and Mark, sitting on the shoulders of the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, with the Madonna and Child in the centre panel.

This beautiful set of windows date from about 1255, and they were paid for by the Duke of Brittany.  The Duke’s blue and yellow check heraldry colours are at the bottom of the central lancet, below the Madonna and child, while the Duke himself and his wife and two children are depicted below the other four pairs of prophets and saints.

Not only did the Duke’s money and power achieve a form of immortality for himself and his family, this major donation probably earned them all some papal indulgencies as well, substantially shortening their post-mortem sojourn in purgatory.

Nowadays, of course, papal indulgencies can be acquired just by following the Pope’s tweets on Twitter.  I’m not kidding.

Notre Dame du Taur, Toulouse.

Jammed in amongst a street full of shops and other old buildings is a sweet little church that you can easily not notice at all as you walk down Rue du Taur from the Place du Capitole, the main square in the French city of Toulouse, to the Basilica dedicated to St Sernin, the patron saint of the city.  Yet, here was where the remains of St Sernin (or Saturnin) were first interred, only being transferred to the newly built basilica down the street when the crush of pilgrims became too great.

St Sernin was the first bishop of Toulouse, supposedly appointed by St Peter himself in the 1st century AD.  The church is named Notre Dame du Taur (Our Lady of the Bull) because, for refusing to worship pagan idols, St Sernin was allegedly martyred by being tied to a bull and dragged around by a rope until he was dead.  Legend has it that the place where the rope finally broke is where this church is today.

The church was built in the 13th-14th century, and the facade is of characteristically ‘Toulousain’ red brick, but not overly impressive.  And the only way to take any sort of picture of it in that very narrow street is from down a nearby alleyway.

Red brick façade of Notre Dame du Taur, in Toulouse, France.

Red brick façade of Notre Dame du Taur, in Toulouse, France.

Inside, though, it’s a little gem.   Quite short and squat, with side chapels but no transept, nearly all the surfaces, including the vaulting ribs, are quite nicely decorated.

Inside Notre Dame du Taur, looking towards the altar down the short nave.

Inside Notre Dame du Taur, looking towards the altar down the short nave.

The surfaces inside Notre Dame du Taur are quite intricately painted and gilded.

The surfaces inside Notre Dame du Taur are quite intricately painted and gilded.

Many medieval churches were once gilded and decorated like Notre Dame du Taur

Many medieval churches were once gilded and decorated like Notre Dame du Taur

Over the altar is a 19thC tableau depicting the moment the rope broke and St Sernin’s body, and the bull, came to rest.

The painted tableau over the altar showing the martyrdom of St Sernin is from the 19th century

The painted tableau over the altar showing the martyrdom of St Sernin is from the 19th century

There are several stained glass windows with traditional imagery that I also think are rather nice, like this ‘Pieta’, although I suspect that they are a relatively modern addition, from the 19th or perhaps even early 20th century.

This lovely stained glass window of the Pieta is not original, but a much later addition.

This lovely stained glass window of the Pieta is not original, but a much later addition.

The ‘Mondrian’ windows of Sacre Coeur

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur in Paris is at the highest point in the city, the top of the Montmartre hill – the Mount of Martyrs.  It’s a magnificent location and the church is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, but it is not an old building.  Not begun until after the Franco-Prussian war in the late 19th century and not completed until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, it is an unusual multi-domed Romanesque-Byzantine revival design.

Sacre Coeur Basilica is at the top of the hill in Montmartre, the highest point in the city.

Sacre Coeur Basilica is at the top of the hill in Montmartre, the highest point in the city.

Sacre Coeur was built by private subscription as a penance for a century of moral decline after the French Revolution of 1789

Sacre Coeur was built by private subscription, supposedly as a penance for a century of moral decline after the French Revolution of 1789

Part of the multi-domed interior of Sacre Coeur

Part of the multi-domed interior of Sacre Coeur

The official website of the basilica states that the stained-glass windows, which were originally installed in 1922, were destroyed by WWII bombing during the liberation of Paris, in August 1944, but “were restaured (sic) in 1946”.  I don’t think this can be correct.  I think some of the windows, at least, were not ‘restored’ to what they were before, but were replaced by new designs.

Here are two of the windows that I think could not have been designed before 1922.  The style of these windows is much more consistent with post-war design style, clearly influenced by the abstract geometric paintings of Piet Mondrian.  Mondrian’s work captured the public imagination in the post-war years, but his signature geometric style was not developed by him until after the original windows at Sacre Coeur were installed, and he did not reach the peak of this style until the late 1930s and early 1940s.

One of several windows seemingly inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian

One of several windows seemingly inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian

One of several windows seemingly inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian

One of several windows seemingly inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian

There are other windows in this Basilica that, although still quite modern, are at least more in keeping with traditional ecclesiastical stained glass window conventions.  It’s a shame that a real attempt wasn’t made to restore, or even reproduce, the 1920s designs.  I can’t help thinking they would have been more appropriate than these.

A gift from the gods

Beneath the relatively new rose window in Reims Cathedral that I wrote about yesterday are three large lancet windows, presumably also quite new, but not deliberately modern looking, at least, not compared to some other even more modern windows in this same cathedral.

The south transept rose window of Reims cathedral and the three lancet windows below

The south transept rose window of Reims cathedral and the three lancet windows below

From a distance, they look very pretty and very colourful.  They also look very busy, and there is no obvious theme or imagery that jumps out at first glance, you have to look very closely to figure out what is going on in them.

There are people with wings and haloes blowing trumpets and several people with just haloes looking saintly and making blessing gestures, but this is not a religious theme – at least not in a conventional sense.   Reims is the centre of the champagne-producing region of France, so these three large and complex windows are a celebration of the main industry in the area: wine making.  In the central rectangles of each lancet is the whole production story: workers tending the vines, picking and crushing the grapes, making barrels and bottles, and so on.  In the narrow rectangles down the sides of each lancet, all the wine producing areas of the Marne are listed and illustrated, Rosnay, Trigney, Avize, Dormans, Vertus, and many others.  (click the picture to enlarge it for the details)

 A closer view of the three lancet windows of Reims cathedral (I moved them a little closer together to show them all at once)

A closer view of the three lancet windows of Reims cathedral (I moved them a little closer together to show them all at once)

At the top of the central lancet there are two angels heaving to turn a wine press, while below there is another bewinged and haloed creature praising the red fluid coming out of the bottom of the press.

Closer view of the top of the central lancet in Reims cathedral south transept

Closer view of the top of the central lancet in Reims cathedral south transept

This whole tripartite window seems to be saying that wine is a gift from the gods.  I can relate to that.

Reims South Transept Rose Window

Have you got the impression yet that I’m very fond of rose windows?  An earlier post looked at the mostly original 13th century North Transept Rose Window in Reims Cathedral, and here is its twin, the South Transept Rose Window.

The structural form, the size and shape of both windows, is identical, but that is the only aspect of them that is the same.  They LOOK very similar at first glance, similar in age and style and type of imagery, but I’m disappointed to discover that this one is not original at all, it is a modern replacement.  The original 13th century south transept pair to the very old one in the north transept blew out in a storm in 1580.  It was rebuilt the following year, although perhaps not faithfully to the original design, but that matters little now because that whole window was destroyed in the First World War, anyway.  This replacement window was installed in 1937.

The window shows Christ in majesty in the centre, surrounded by 12 panels of worshipping angels, then the twelve apostles in roundels in the outer ring.  I imagine the theme and its realisation follows that of its predecessor fairly closely, but how similar this is to the original design I don’t know.

If you weren’t told this was not a 13th century original, I think you’d have to be an expert to be able to tell, because this is still a very beautiful window.

The rose window from the south transept of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

The rose window from the south transept of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

The central roundel from the south transept rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

The central roundel from the south transept rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

Some outer panels from the south transept rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

Some outer panels from the south transept rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims, France

Inner City Legacy – 2

Brisbane was still only an infant settlement when a parcel of land on the hill near the old penal colony windmill was granted for the establishment of a church in 1856.  The ‘Brisbane Tabernacle’, as it was then known, was constructed of locally-quarried pink porphyry, and opened in 1862.  It soon proved to be too small and was enlarged in 1869, and what is now All Saints’ Anglican Church is the oldest surviving church building in the Australian State of Queensland.

Over time, almost all of the land around this small Early English Gothic Revival church was resumed by the city.  As happened to St Andrew’s Uniting Church not far away, the biggest sacrifice of church property was required to build a railway, only this time to tunnel a line directly underneath the church itself.  Once the tunnel was built, the former church land required to access this tunnel was filled in and sold privately.  Now, directly in front of the church entrance, stands a towering circular bank building, dwarfing what was once a Brisbane landmark.

Like so many inner city churches, All Saints is surrounded by modern office buildings

Like so many inner city churches, All Saints is surrounded by modern office buildings

There are a couple of features of this quite small church that are particularly worth noting.

Although it is a simple rectangular space with just a chancel, it has a spectacular and very rare double hammer beam roof. Compared to the single hammer beam roof in St Andrews’ (yesterday’s post), this is a more complex construction, but much lighter and more delicate, while doing the same basic job.

The rare double hammer beam roof of All Saints' Brisbane

The rare double hammer beam roof of All Saints’ Brisbane

There are many really pretty stained glass windows in this church, all in a very traditional style, most of them much more modern than they look.  However, at the east end, behind the altar, are the oldest stained glass windows in Queensland, dating from 1870.  The three main lancets are what you would expect to see, a crucifixion in the centre flanked by the Virgin Mary to the left and… er…someone else with a halo on the right.  But above them are one large and two tiny roundels which I really like – a benificent post-resurrection Christ, looking like some pagan sun god, and two tiny little decorative, and very cute, ‘alpha’ and ‘omega’ windows.

One of the oldest stained glass windows in Brisbane, over the altar of All Saints' church

One of the oldest stained glass windows in Brisbane, over the altar of All Saints’ church

One of two tiny roundels over the altar of All Saints' church, this is the sign for 'alpha', as in 'I am the alpha and the omega', i.e. the beginning and the end.

One of two tiny roundels over the altar of All Saints’ church, this is the sign for ‘alpha’, as in ‘I am the alpha and the omega’, i.e. ‘I am the beginning and the end’.

The other tiny roundel over the altar in All Saints" church.  Would it really be sacrilegious to put these two images on the front and back of a t-shirt?

The other tiny roundel over the altar in All Saints” church, is ‘omega’. Would it really be sacrilegious to put these two images on the front and back of a t-shirt?

All Saints is a ‘Forward in Faith’ church, which is almost, but not quite, a breakaway sect from Anglicanism.  That means that it sticks to a very traditional and more catholic form of the communion service, and is vehemently opposed to the ordination of women at any level, as well as being opposed to its parent Anglican church’s increasingly tolerant attitude to homosexuality.  Despite that, the Rev. Canon Richard Martin, the priest in charge of this church, was a very friendly and helpful man, and very accommodating to me and my questions, as well as to my tripod and other paraphernalia, and I thank him for that.

Inner City Legacy – 1

As small communities grow into large towns, and as some of those towns become substantial cities, the pressure of development either squeezes out the original inhabitants, or it leaves them stranded in an alien environment.  In my lifetime, my home city of Brisbane, Australia, has grown rapidly from being a big parochial country town into a global city of  2.2 million people.  As a result, many of the old parish churches of Brisbane have been bulldozed to make way for skyscrapers and freeways.  A few still remain in the city centre, surrounded by office blocks and apartment towers, no longer dominating their environs, struggling to survive.

In Australia, the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists carried out a corporate merger in the 1970s, rationalising an oversupply of protestant churches into one ‘Uniting’ group.  So this former Presbyterian brick church is now St. Andrew’s Uniting Church.  The original St.Andrew’s was an 1860s Victorian Gothic pile across the street to the right of this picture below, but it was resumed by the city at the end of the 19thC to make way for the railway that you can see in the bottom of the picture, and later demolished.  The church fathers of the day built this one as its replacement, choosing this time a Romanesque Revival design rather than a ‘true Christian architecture’ mock gothic style.

St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

As old churches go, particularly by European standards, this building is relatively new.  However, although it may be little more than a hundred years old, it is not without its charms.  Unlike its predecessor, there are no arcades, no separation of nave and aisles, just a wide open space with round arches leading to a shallow chancel, and to a very short transept occupied by two chapels, one on each side.

The Romanesque interior of St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

The Romanesque interior of St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

A timber roof is not uncommon in Australian churches, but few hammer-beam constructions have as wide a span as this one.

The hammer-beam roof of St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

The hammer-beam roof of St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

St Andrew’s also has some very nice stained glass windows.  At first glance, they are not very different from many late medieval windows that can be found in churches across Europe, except these were all made in the 2oth century, mostly memorial windows funded by wealthier members of the congregation, emulating that much older style.  I doubt that any of today’s heritage leadlight window manufacturers have the skills to produce picture windows of this quality, anymore.

Stained glass window inside St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

Stained glass window inside St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

 

Many of the stained glass windows of St Andrew's are memorial windows, this one for a serviceman in the Great War (WWI)

Many of the stained glass windows of St Andrew’s are memorial windows, this one for a serviceman in the Great War (WWI)

Today, the church’s core congregation has dwindled to less than a third of what it was even fifty years ago, which is not surprising in an increasingly secular society like Australia.  However, the organ is apparently a magnificent instrument, and the acoustics inside St Andrew’s are also excellent, so this space is used extensively for musical performance of various kinds.  The church has a Director of Music, several paid choristers and three different choirs, and it supports a community orchestra, the Sinfonia of St Andrew’s.  So there is hope for its continuing community usefulness, even if, ultimately, that is no longer for religious services.

The organ of St Andrew's Brisbane.

The organ of St Andrew’s Brisbane.

 

Stained glass aircon

Several years ago, a young friend of mine was a student at the Qld Conservatorium of Music, and I went one afternoon to the nearby St Andrew’s Anglican Church in South Brisbane, to hear a concert recital in which she played viola with her string quartet.

It was a typically hot sub-tropical Queensland summer’s day, and as the performance progressed inside this Victorian colonial mock-gothic church, it was becoming increasingly stifling for both the musicians and the audience.  At some point in the recital a verger emerged from the sacristy and went round the church doing something I had never seen done before in any similar church, anywhere in the world.

He opened the stained glass windows.

All of the lancet windows on both sides of the church had panels that pivoted from a central point, some vertically, some horizontally, so that whatever breeze was around could be deflected into the interior of the church on hot days.  A uniquely Australian solution for a problem generally not faced by gothic church builders in more temperate Europe.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

How ‘cool’ is that?

Local heroes

This quite lovely window in Barcelona Cathedral is a mixture of decoration, celebration, and veneration.  The top part is purely decorative, with no religious symbolism that I am aware of apart from a couple of crosses.  The four centre panels seem to be illustrations of parts of the exterior of the cathedral itself, and they perhaps commemorate the church’s original consecration, or mark some significant anniversary of that event.  The bottom four panels depict four saints, who as far as I can tell must have been all accepted as local Catalan boys.

This interesting window from Barcelona Cathedral is a mixture of three types of imagery, not all overtly religious

This interesting window from Barcelona Cathedral is a mixture of three types of imagery, not all overtly religious

These saintly portraits are quite formal and in traditional ecclesiastical style, but I don’t think they can be any more than about a hundred years old at the most, because the second from the left is San Jose Oriol, according to the name on his plinth.   San Jose Oriol was born and ordained in Barcelona and spent his life caring for the sick, dying in 1702.  He was beatified in 1806, but not canonised until 1906, so he could not have been memorialised as a saint until after that date.  Don’t you think he has a strange sinister smirk, like he was a 30s Hollywood gangster holding a murder weapon rather than a cross?

San Jose Oriol, a philosophy and theology graduate from the University of Barcelona in 1676

San Jose Oriol, a philosophy and theology graduate from the University of Barcelona in 1676

In the leftmost panel we have San Severo, or St Severus of Barcelona, who was made bishop of Barcelona in 290 AD.  He fled from Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, but was caught and flogged with a cat of nine tails, before nails were driven into his head, which astonishingly did not kill him immediately.  Left for dead, he was found by some followers, but expired as they tried to revive him.  He is shown carrying some vegetation, because one of the miracles attributed to him involved the instant germination of some beans as they were being sown by a farmer.  Perhaps that is the origin of the magic beans idea in the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

San Severo, or St Severus of Barcelona. Bishop of Barcelona, he was tortured to death by the Romans in 304 AD.

San Severo, or St Severus of Barcelona. Bishop of Barcelona, he was tortured to death by the Romans in 304 AD.

On the far right we have the very pious-looking San Vicente, who was born in Huesca in nearby Aragon province, not Catalunya, but still not very far from Barcelona.  St Vincent the Martyr was rounded up during a Roman persecution of Christians in 304 AD, and was subsequently tortured most horribly to death.  So the legend goes, his faith throughout this ordeal was so strong that his jailor converted to Christianity (and if he had any sense would have kept very quiet about that epiphany, in case he went the same way as his mentor).

San Vicente, or St Vincent Saragossa, was also persecuted by the Romans under Diocletian, and tortured to death in 304 AD.

San Vicente, or St Vincent Saragossa, was also persecuted by the Romans under Diocletian, and tortured to death in 304 AD.

Second from the right is a mystery saint.  I can’t find a reference or a list of saints that can tell me anything at all about San Medin, but he looks a lot less priestly than the rest of these pious gentlemen, and I would love to know why he is depicted here with that wickedly barbed short spear.

San Medin, a well-armed but apparently not ordained mystery saint.

San Medin, a well-armed but apparently not ordained mystery saint.

An unusual window

This very pretty window from St John the Baptist’s Cathedral in Lyon, France, is quite unusual for a catholic cathedral.

The top part, with lovely heart motif mullions, has conventional imagery of angels carrying Latin texts written in a Germanic script, and although I can’t see a date marked on it, it appears to be quite old.  Below that, though, the four lancet windows have no religious imagery at all and are simply four columns of colourful swirly shapes.  It’s possible that the bottom part of the window is a modern replacement for an older window that was damaged somehow, but even very modern windows usually contain Christian symbolism of some sort, and are rarely this organically abstract.  Modern windows are also more likely to be dated, which this one appears not to be.

The two outer columns are mirror images of each other, but, curiously, the two central columns are not. Well, not quite.  The first, third, and fifth pair of square panels are mirror images of each other, like the two corresponding outer column panels.  The second and fourth pair, however, are identical copies, the same way round instead of mirrored.

Bright and colourful, this pretty window from Ltons Cathedral is a strange mixture of traditional Christian imagery at the to, and more modern-looking purabstract patterns below.

Bright and colourful, this pretty window from Lyons Cathedral is a strange mixture of traditional Christian imagery at the top, and more modern-looking purely abstract patterns below.

To me, it looks as if all the panels must have been removed at some stage, and two of them were replaced back to front.  I have found examples of windows in other churches where the panels have not been replaced as they should have been after cleaning or restoration, so that is not as unlikely as you might think, but it is hard to imagine that no-one noticed at the time.  Yet, why would this odd asymmetrical arrangement have been deliberate?

I wish I could give you answers to some of the questions that this window prompts, but I regret I can’t.  We’ll just have to accept it for now as an attractive curiosity.