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.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Lawrence,

    Yes, I can solve your mental conflict. All these paintings etc in churches go perfectly well together with the second commandment! The point is: Which 'second commandment' are you talking about. You -with your Anglo Sakson preoccupation- seem to think, that there is only one valid second commandment, and that is the Anglican version. But you are wrong, the only valid second commandment is the Roman Catholic version, say the Roman Catholics!.

    The Roman Catholic version says: You may not worship IDOLS and make images of IDOLS and pray to these images as if they represent God. So for a Roman Catholic it is perfect to make images of his/her own God and Saints etc, as long as these images represent the Roman Catholic God and the Roman Catholic Saints.

    And to make it even more interesting: there is a jewish-, an orthodox-, a roman catholic/luteran- AND a anglican/calvinist version of the 10 commandments.

    So, enjoy the beautiful Roman Catholic churches in the south of Europe, the Roman Catholic God will not blame you for that. But I am not shure about the Anglican God, so take care.

    Do you know what MY problem is with these churches? That is the 8th commandment: You shall not steel! (7th commandment for the Roman Catholics). That commandment is common to all religions!

    W'll meet in heaven!



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