Thursday, December 15, 2011
Some Thoughts from a Calvinist Atheist
I've been resisting the urge to write this little piece for quite some time. It really starts in Glasgow Cathedral back in September, which was Kate's first exposure to a 15th century Protestant cathedral. Glasgow Cathedral is unusual in that the rood screen survived the Reformation although all the other idolatory, particularly representations of the virgin Mary, was removed. It is a beautiful, but very austere, piece of church architecture. I warned Kate at that point that, as we progressed south, the interior decoration of churches would become more and more ornate, culminating in the fantasies of the southern Iberian Peninsula.
As we have looked at churches and cathedrals from Languedoc south, my inevitable first utterance in most of them has been "What happened to the second commandment?". For those of you who have forgotten, the second commandment is the one that says "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image".
As Kate has said, Toledo Cathedral was more art gallery than church, with a collection of paintings of which any real gallery would be extremely proud. It was, however, one of the side chapels that finally provoked this diatribe. It was full of all sorts of "relics": thigh bones of saints, multiple skulls belonging to various "holy" people etc., and the purpose of the chapel, explicitly stated, was to "worship" and venerate these remains. On top of all the other Marian idolatory round the place, this finally did it for me. OK, strictly speaking, the bones etc are not "graven images" but they fulfill the same function. The endless statues of Mary certainly fit the description in the commandment, and what a statue of a woman wearing what appears to be a wedding dress, a gold hat that would not look out of place at a royal wedding and with a large sword sticking out of her heart has to do with ANYTHING in the bible beats me.
If any of our readers wishes to justify this and explain how it fits in with the second commandment I'll be very pleased to hear. End of diatribe.
To end, and just to attempt to show that I'm not a complete Philistine, I do find much of the art really beautiful, well, the stuff up to the early 17th century anyway. Once it gets into Rococo and Baroque it just loses the plot completely.