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Even the modern man receives a deep impression of serenity, little as he is willing to submit himself to its influence. There his doubts and theories may be forgotten for a time.
Gothic Cathedral - definition of Gothic Cathedral by The Free Dictionary
Seen from afar, the church with her transepts, spires and towers seems like a mighty ship about to sail on a long voyage. The whole city might embark with confidence on her massive decks. As he draws near her he first meets the figure of the Christ, as every man born into the world meets Him on his voyage through life. He is the key to the riddle of life. Round Him is written the answer to all men's questionings. The Christian is told how the world began and how it will end; and the statues which symbolize the different ages of the world measure for him its duration.
Before his eyes are all the men whose history it is of importance he should know. These are they who under the Old or the New Law were types of Christ, for only in so far as they participate in the nature of the Savior do men live On entering the cathedral it is the sublimity of the great vertical lines which first affects his soul.
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The cathedral like the plain or the forest has atmosphere and perfume, splendor, and twilight, and gloom. The great rose-window behind which sinks the western sun, seems in the evening hours to be the sun itself about to vanish at the edge of a marvelous forest. But this is a transfigured world, where light shines more brightly and where shadows have more mystery than in the world of fact. Already he feels himself in the heart of the heavenly Jerusalem, and tastes the profound peace of the city of the future.
The storm of life breaks on the walls of the sanctuary, and is heard merely as a distant rumbling. Here indeed is the indestructible ark against which the winds shall not prevail. No place in the world fills men with a deeper feeling of security. How much more vividly must this have been felt by the men of the Middle Ages.
To them the cathedral was the sum of revelation. In it all the arts combined, speech, music, the living drama of the Mysteries and the mute drama of sculpture. But it was something more than art, it was the white light before its division by the prism into multiple rays. Man, cramped by his social class or his trade, his nature disintegrated by his daily work and life, there renewed the sense of the unity of his being and regained equilibrium and harmony. The crowd assembled for the great festivals felt itself to be a living whole, and became the mystical body of Christ, its soul passing into His soul.
The faithful were humanity, the cathedral was the world, and the spirit of God filled both man and all creation. Paul's words were realized, and in God men lived and moved and had their being. Something of this was dimly felt by men of the Middle Ages when on a glorious Christmas or Easter-day, standing shoulder to shoulder, the whole city filled the immense church. Symbol of faith, the cathedral was also a symbol of love. All men labored there. The peasants offered their all, the work of their strong arms.
They pulled carts, and carried stones on their shoulders with the good will of the giant-saint Christopher. The burgess gave his silver, the baron his land, and the artist his genius.
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The vitality which radiates from these immortal works is the outcome of the collaboration of all the living forces of France for more than two hundred years. The dead too were associated with the living, for the church was paved with tombstones, and past generations with joined hands continued to pray in the old church where past and present are united in one and the same feeling of love. The cathedral was the city's consciousness In the thirteenth century, rich and poor alike had the same artistic delights.
There was not on the one hand the people, on the other a class of so-called connoisseurs. The church was the home of all, and art translated the thought of all. And so while art of the sixteenth or seventeenth century tells us little of the deeper thought of the France of that day, thirteenth-century art on the contrary gives full expression to a civilization, to an epoch in history. The medieval cathedral takes the place of books.
It is not only the genius of Christianity which is revealed, but the genius of France. It is true that the ideas which took visible form in the churches did not belong to France alone but were the common patrimony of Catholic Europe. Yet France is recognized in her passion for the universal.
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She alone knew how to make the cathedral an image of the world, a summary of history, a mirror of the moral life. Again, the admirable order as of a supreme law which she imposed on that multitude of ideas is peculiar to France.
The cathedrals of other countries, all later than the French, do not reveal so wide a range of ideas or so finely ordered a scheme of thought. Nowhere else can be found such wealth of thought. When shall we understand that in the domain of art France has accomplished nothing greater?
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