Immanence or transcendence?
Sometimes you can capture something amazing with a camera. For me, there is a lot of crawling around for strange angles, a lot of awful blurry useless frames, followed by a little moment of inspiration. It’s easy to get cathedral fatigue (castle fatigue, museum fatigue, etc) in Europe. It’s even easier to forget that cathedrals were a monstrous economic investment for those places which built one.
Of course, stranger still is the relatively small places, the places which don’t register much outside the fact of their cathedral (Ely, anyone?) indicate places that once were much more important than they are now. Sometimes the cathedral in a town fades in everyone’s mind, perhaps superceded by a leaning tower (Pisa, maybe?). These buildings once served as a focal point for the spiritual lives of every one, for miles around; a reminder to people of the presence of God, of the life beyond this one, and an orthodoxy which was not often questioned.
Probably a world where one could see (if they were so inclined) a half-dozen cathedrals in a day, or perhaps a more leisurely dozen in a week, was never something the medieval mind could conjure. The resulting oversupply of masonry, the magnitude and weight of that work, the money, time and effort these structures embody occasionally still strikes me powerfully.
The best example of this remains Sagrada Família — it’s still being built 100 years after they started — which is more or less on a par with the best of medieval cathedral building. I was not able to get a good picture of it, not at all, but looking at the ones I took, I was reminded of an overwhelming feeling of immanence on the inside; it really took my breath away.
For a more medieval flavour, I really like the cathedral in Prague. The way it dominates at the top of the hill, in and around the castle complex; the coloured tiles, copper and stone coming together to form something lovely. I thought this picture was better.
But my favourite picture by far, was this one from Brussels (you see! Brussels treats me right)…
It’s really just a good feeling when something turns out just how you want it to, and better still when looking at it again later, you are struck by the magnificence of what has come before.
All photos by PJD, in above mentioned places, usually involving some level of contortion trying to fit the whole of an enormous building in one shot, without annoying people.