Wednesday, October 22, 2008

sacred spaces and liminality

A new $2 word for you: liminality-- meaning "1.) of or relating to a sensory threshold; 2.) barely perceptible; 3.) of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition".

That was one of many things I learned from my colleague Anne Allen during her presentation last week at IUS, "Sacred Spaces", on the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals. I'll try to faithfully reproduce what I heard and synthesized from her talk.

She described doors as "liminal" and "transitional"-- between inside and outside. As such, they are often used a metaphor for transition, choice, growth, and so on.

The Romanesque style runs from about the 10th through 12th centuries-- and featured, most prominently Romanseque (rounded) arches. The rounded arches were a wonderful technological advance, but required thick walls for stability. This resulted in fewer, smaller windows-- and thus, a "darker" experience.

The Gothic style runs from the 12th century into the 16th century-- and transitioned toward Gothic (more pointed) arches. This allowed for much smaller walls-- and thus, many more windows. Coinciding with this was the expansion of stained-glass windows. The result was "lighter" and beautiful.

I was struck by the role of eschatology in Anne's presentation.

1.) The boom in cathedral building started or was spurred on by the passing of the year 1000-- and the great non-event of the world continuing.

2.) The Romanesque cathedrals were largely built by monks, dark inside, and their art placed a heavy emphasis on judgment (very pre-millennial in flavor).

3.) The Gothic cathedrals were largely built by cities, light inside and more emphasis on royal and divine power (very post-millennial in flavor). The cities built them, at least in part, as tourist attractions-- trying to attract pilgrims. The latter points toward "civil religion" and its optimism and even utopianism-- the optimism that often accompanies the expansion of State power for explicit or implicit religious purposes.

See the differences below...

Angoulême Cathedral, France.

The western facade of Reims Cathedral, France.


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