Podcast with Mitchell Foyle-York

Timothy Krell recently re-connected with a friend he made at the Scrutopia Summer School conference a few years ago. Mitch is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and invited Tim to discuss what Christian community life practically looks like: how to handle conflicts, politics, and sacrifice.

“You can’t solve conflicts without the Holy Spirit.” ~ Tim Krell

“There’s something spiritual in disagreement itself; disagreement can be very devotional.” ~ Mitchell Foyle-York

LMF appears on the Yours Truly Podcast

One of our deacons, Timothy Krell, recently appeared on the Yours Truly podcast hosted by Christian Baxter. Timothy give a brief introduction to our church’s genesis and talks about our approach to liturgy, faith, community, art, technology, and tradition. Some quotes from the video:

“Trust comes from your commitment to each other.”

“‘What do you do?’ Being the people of God is the mission.”

Chartres’s Facade: Functional Beauty

Constructed in the 1140s, the west facade of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is quite different from the north and south porches built 75 years later. The portals are shallower, and the jamb statues are elongated and columnar compared to the more realistic and elaborate statuary on the north and south. Regardless of which side of the cathedral you are admiring, the profusion of imagery is bewildering.

Statues from the West Facade – elongated and columnar
Statues from the South Porch – more life-like

To understand and appreciate the statuary and symbolism of Chartres’s facade, you have to imagine yourself as a 13th-century pilgrim. The decorative layout is practically inscrutable to modern people. As Christians, we can make a good deal of sense of the imagery and stories, but without a medieval history lesson, some of them will be lost on us.

The jamb statues on the west facade are thought to represent Old Testament Kings and Queens. This explains why the ensemble of three doors on the west facade is called the “porte royale” (royal portal).

The Royal Portal – West Facade

Even though the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the central theme of these doors is Christ. The south tympanum depicts stories of the incarnation; the north illustrates Christ before He takes on physical form (previously thought to represent Christ’s ascension), and the central tympanum shows Christ’s return, surrounded by imagery of the four-winged creatures from the Book of Revelation.

South Tympanum – The Incarnation
North Tympanum – Christ before He takes on physical form
Central Tympanum – The Return of Christ

The four winged creatures of Revelation resemble in some ways the seraphim who surround God in Isaiah chapter 6 and the creatures of Ezekiel chapter 1. In some early Christian traditions, they represent the four gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) who “surround” Christ with their gospel narratives. Recall that the same imagery decorates the Cathedral’s lectern where Christ is preached.

The Apocalyptic Christ with the four-winged creatures of Revelation
Lectern with the Four Evangelists

The medieval history lesson is handy when looking at the sculpture in the archivolts (the archlike frame around the tympanum). In the archivolt above the south doorway on the west facade, we see the Seven Liberal Arts portrayed symbolically through female figures with a historical practitioner of the art below them. The liberal arts were broken into two categories: The Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) and the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric).

The liberal arts of music and grammar with their practitioners (Pythagorus & Donatus).

In the archivolt above the north doorway on the west facade, we see the signs of the zodiac and, besides them, the corresponding month represented by its natural activity. Humans depend on the heavens for the rhythms of life: sun and rain in seedtime and harvest.

The signs of the zodiac and associated labor of the month in the upper and lower archivolt.

Chartres was the most important center of learning in 12th-century France, and the cathedral’s facade reflects the medieval curriculum. Smarthistory’s video on Chartres Cathedral gives a beautiful overview.

The North and South porches present an even more elaborate display of sculpture and sculpted narratives, which I will explore in my next post.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

Judgment is Love

Martyrdom of Saint Thomas à Becket (Bayeux Cathedral)
Martyrdom of Saint Thomas à Becket (Bayeux Cathedral)

No one likes anger. Well, that’s not true. Anger feels good when venting a complaint (at least briefly), but it is awful for those receiving its wrath. Judgment appears to be in the same boat – a powerful thrill for those exercising it but misery for the unfortunate recipient. Perhaps that’s why most people find it difficult to believe in the justice of judgment. Shouldn’t love win?

Similarly, some find it hard to believe that a God of love can also be a God of judgment. A pastor once told me that he only preaches God’s love, not His judgment (as if those are separate attributes of God). But when it comes to God (or anyone acting in virtue), judgment is an expression of love.

In the book of Revelation, God’s wrath unfolds on humankind as the “slain lamb” opens the seals of the divine scroll of judgment. After the fifth seal is opened, the scene of a martyred multitude under the altar appears, crying out for retribution and justice to Him who sits upon the throne. N. T. Wright says:

“These ‘souls’ are conscious of the fact that the world is still unjudged and unhealed. Wickedness, including the wickedness that brought them to their martyrs’ deaths, still goes unchecked. They long for justice, as all who have been deeply wronged long for it; this is not petty or spiteful vengeance, but the heartaching desire to see the world brought back into balance at last, and their own harsh verdict and sentence being shown up as unjust.”

Healing cannot happen until there is judgment. The disease cannot be cured until there is surgery. Judgment is ultimately about healing and “putting the world to rights.” Love must win, and for that to happen, evil must be condemned. God is love, and that’s why there must be judgment. Wright beautifully sums it up:

“God is indeed angry at everything that has so horribly spoiled his wonderful world. His gaze from the throne is a deep, inexpressible mixture of sorrow and anger. But the lamb’s anger is the utter rejection, by Love incarnate, of all that is unloving. The only people who should be afraid of it are those who are determined to resist the call of love.”

Chartres Cathedral: A Pilgrimage Through Time and Light

No Cathedral Pilgrimage in France would be complete without a stop in Chartres. The city was the most important intellectual center in 12th-century France, and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is arguably the best-preserved Gothic Cathedral from that period. Additionally, Chartres was a starting point for the main pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, originating in Paris. As we approached Chartres on our drive from Rouen, the Cathedral came into view, and we felt like medieval pilgrims.

Every place we went on our pilgrimage amazed and inspired us, but we knew this stop would be unique. It was almost hard to believe we were about to encounter this legendary place of worship as we left the underground parking garage. We arrived before noon and only glanced at the exterior so we could get inside before they closed the church for lunch (which never happened).

Professor Cook calls Chartres Cathedral the mother lode of original medieval stained glass. The staggering amount of beautiful blue glass lining the nave convinces you that he must be right. But the transept and choir are also liberally spangled with the blue crystal canvases.

As the keeper of the exceedingly important relic, the cloak of the Virgin Mary, it seems appropriate that among the treasure trove of medieval glass is a window depicting the Madonna and Child. “Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière” is one of 75 representations of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral, but it is famous due to the extraordinary cobalt blue glass used.

An ambitious cleaning program has turned the darkened surfaces reflecting the Cathedral’s age into gleaming white Gothic beauty. One of the complaints about Chartres is how dark it is inside. The progress of the cleaning project is wiping away that criticism.

Complementing the newly brightened Gothic surfaces is the massive white stone choir screen separating the choir from the ambulatory. Built in late Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance styles, it depicts scenes from the life of Christ. Again, Lisa was caught up in studying and admiring their sculpted magnificence while I attempted to capture something of their charm and virtue with my phone’s camera.

Finally, some unique features inside Our Lady of Chartres caught our attention. Firstly, the astronomical clock on the choir screen reminded me that Chartres was an essential place of learning in Medieval France. Secondly, the lectern ornamented with the signs of the evangelists on its four corners intrigued us. We only knew about the symbols of the four evangelists once we began to study Christian history in earnest. Chartres’ lectern inspires us to incorporate these symbols in our monastery.

We hurried inside to see the stained glass when we arrived in Chartres. But in my next post, I’ll share about the Cathedral’s facade, which has a vast and complex array of sculptures.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

While not exactly close to Chartres, staying in Rouen put us within striking distance of one of the world’s most outstanding examples of Gothic architecture – Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. It is undoubtedly the best-preserved Gothic cathedral in France.

Chartres is an hour west of Paris, which is a perfect place from which to visit this pilgrimage city. We planned to circumnavigate the Île-de-France, so it made more sense for us to make our way there when we were in Rouen. It’s two hours from Rouen but an easy highway drive. The route passes through Évreux, another cathedral city we also intended to visit. In the end, however, we were much too tired to stop, having spent the day at Chartres.

Chartres Cathedral is simply marvelous. It stands as a testament to truth, beauty, and goodness. The church can awe and transform its visitors; history is full of those who testify to that fact. Being well preserved, we get a glimpse into the spirituality of the medieval world. Far from being a dark age, the medieval world prioritized reverence for God, giving us essential features of civilization that we take for granted (which we now find can be easily lost when we de-prioritize God).

As keeper of the relic of the cloak of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Chartres received attention and support from nobles and commoners across Europe. Enduring multiple fires, nobles and devout believers generously funded and personally supported rebuilding campaigns.

North facade window with the coat of arms of Blanche of Castile (French Queen who paid for the window).

It seems evident that divine providence has been at work to preserve the Cathedral. Several remarkable stories illustrate how God has protected Chartres Cathedral. During the dark age of the French Revolution, the townspeople prevented the revolutionary crowds’ madness from destroying the church’s north facade. Likewise, a local architect persuaded the Revolutionary Committee to not blow up the Cathedral by explaining that the rubble from the destruction would clog the streets for years.

A side alley next to the Cathedral.

During World War 2, the Cathedral was almost destroyed by Allied forces. The American command thought the Cathedral’s towers were being used as an observation post for German artillery, so they targeted them for destruction. The bravery and tenacity of an American colonel and a volunteer soldier showed that the Germans were not using the Cathedral. They rang the Cathedral bells to signal the Americans not to shoot. The command to fire on the Cathedral was revoked, saving it from the ravages of war.

Welborn Barton Griffith Jr., American Colonel who saved Chartres Cathedral from being destroyed in WW2 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

What makes the Chartres Cathedral so awe-inspiring are the building’s structure, sculpture, and windows. I will devote my next posts to these wonderfully preserved features.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

Rouen Treasures

Rouen’s Old Market Square

Rouen was the most prolonged stay on our cathedral pilgrimage. It was a perfect home base with three unique Gothic churches, beautiful architecture around every corner, magnificent museums, a rich history, and a strategic location to explore other cathedrals. Staying in the hyper-center of the city immersed us in all these treasures.

The narrow medieval streets around our apartment with Église Saint-Patrice open for personal prayer

We stayed in a medieval building beautifully renovated and hosted by a thoughtful and kind gentleman. The apartment was small but adequate for the two of us, although being surrounded by other flats made us feel like we were staying in “The Aquarium” of the Quai des Orfèvres (the Paris police prefecture) in the Inspector Maigret series. But that’s what curtains are for.

On my first exploration of the neighborhood, I was eager to see the sixteenth-century church around the corner dedicated to Saint Patrick and built in both flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance styles. Its door was open, and I reverently entered to find a marvelously old place of worship currently in use. A woman entered after me to spend time in prayer. I left so I wouldn’t distract her, but eventually returned to marvel at this lovely building.

Église Saint-Patrice de Rouen

Very close to the apartment was the Rouen Museum of Fine Arts, a free museum we enjoyed on two occasions. As I mentioned in my last post, they have a gallery dedicated to the life of Joan of Arc, but their collection is extensive. I particularly liked the model of the Church of Saint-Maclou and the set of paintings of the twelve apostles by Nicolas Poussin. In these half-length portraits, each apostle is depicted with a different symbol of their martyrdom. They are considered to be one of Poussin’s masterpieces.

Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts
Model of the Church of Saint-Maclou
Paintings from the set of the 12 Apostles by Nicolas Poussin

Close to the Fine Arts Museum is the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, a museum of ironwork located in a former parish church dedicated to Saint Lawrence dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The church is defunct, but the collection in its gothic structure is terrific. Entrance is free, and we loved exploring the displays and the building.

Musée Le Secq des Tournelles
Musée Le Secq des Tournelles

Finally, I wanted to see the equestrian statue of Napoleon in front of the Town Hall. A cache of bronze, silver, and gold coins of Napoleon III was found in its pedestal when the statue was taken down for repairs in 2020. Since then, it has been expertly restored. Napoleon is a controversial figure, and there have been several movements to replace his effigy, but thankfully, a love for history has prevailed, and there it proudly stands today.

Equestrian statue of Napoleon in front of Rouen Town Hall with St. Ouen Abbey in the background

We scarcely mined the treasures of Rouen. But we were privileged to delight in its offerings and use it as a launching pad to visit Chartres, Bayeux, and Mont-Saint-Michel, which will provide the material for my next few posts.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

Joan’s Triumph

Jeanne d`Arc listening to her voices (Leon Francois Benouville)

In the “Translator’s Preface” of Mark Twain’s biography of Joan of Arc, we read these words:

“To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours. Judged by the standards of one century, the noblest characters of an earlier one lose much of their luster; judged by the standards of today, there is probably no illustrious man of four or five centuries ago whose character could meet the test at all points. But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.”

Historiated initial depicting Joan (dated to the second half of the 15th century, Archives Nationales, Paris. Image: Wikipedia
Historiated initial depicting Joan (dated to the second half of the 15th century, Archives Nationales, Paris. Image: Wikipedia

The Saint’s legacy is still felt in France (even if she is almost forgotten in the United States). Nowhere is this more true than in Rouen, the place of her martyrdom. A tall cross in the Old Market Square beside a church dedicated to her life marks her martyr’s pyre. The city hosts museums, monuments, exhibitions, festivals, street names, and works of art in her honor. Having recently come to revere her as a spiritual heroine made our visit to Rouen particularly special.

Le Bûcher de Jeanne d’Arc

Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts has several art pieces depicting La Pucelle’s (the Maid’s) life, suffering, and death.

A gallery in Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts dedicated to Joan of Arc.

Joan was treated with unusual cruelty for a woman of that time. She was not allowed to be imprisoned with other women and had to suffer with predatory men guarding her day and night; that may explain her insistence on wearing men’s clothing while captive.

Joan of Arc, Prisoner in Rouen (Pierre Henri Revoil)
Joan of Arc is Put into Prison (Anonymous) – 19th century painting.

Her relentless, brutal, and callous interlocutor, Bishop Cauchon, was unafraid to use corrupt means to effect her condemnation and demise. He was even able to forcibly extract an admission of guilt from the weary and ailing teenager, which she promptly renounced once she regained her presence of mind.

Joan of Arc Led to the Execution (Isidore Patrois)

A couple of decades after Joan’s martyrdom, the French expelled the English from France. The political situation demanded a re-examination of Joan’s condemnation, and it was determined after a thorough investigation that her judgment as a heretic was arbitrary and that she was a political prisoner unjustly executed. The verdict of her rehabilitation trial was announced in Rouen at Saint-Ouen Abbey with Joan’s family in attendance.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

3:10 to Gothic

Rouen’s rich history is reflected in its magnificent architecture. A treasure trove of half-timbered, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Gothic buildings dominate the cityscape. For history and architecture enthusiasts, Rouen does not disappoint. Within a ten-minute walk, you can encounter three outstanding Gothic churches.

The first of these Gothic masterpieces naturally is Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, which I wrote about in my last post. But equally fascinating are Abbatiale Saint-Ouen (Saint-Ouen Abbey Church) and Église catholique Saint-Maclou (St. Maclou Catholic Church). Saint-Maclou is considered one of France’s best examples of the Flamboyant style. Saint-Ouen, as large as Rouen Cathedral, was also completed in the Flamboyant style in the 15th century. These beautiful examples of Gothic are only blocks away from the Cathedral.

Saint-Ouen Abbey Church
Church of Saint-Maclou

Developed in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Flamboyant Gothic style is characterized by double curves forming flame-like shapes in the bar tracery, ornamental ribs in the vaults, and tall narrow pointed arches and roofs. In general, it looks like an explosion of frill and lace. Although overwhelmingly beautiful, Lisa and I do not favor the style, and that is one factor that dissuaded us from making Rouen our main destination. Nonetheless, we enjoyed admiring these churches.

Saint-Ouen Abbey Church was originally part of an extensive Benedictine Abbey complex. Founded in the 6th century, it was one of the most important Benedictine monasteries in medieval Normandy, playing a significant role in religious and secular history. After Joan of Arc’s martyrdom in 1431, her conviction was posthumously investigated on appeal at the request of her family. Eventually, her conviction was overturned, and she was declared innocent. The verdict of her rehabilitation trial was announced at Saint-Ouen Abbey with Joan’s family in attendance.

The abbey was closed during the French Revolution, and the monks’ lodging and old abbey garden are now part of the City Hall of Rouen. Since the church has ceased regular religious services, there were no rows of chairs in the nave, which impressed on us the grand scale of the pillars and vaults. I understand the space is used for special events now, but it still had a transcendent effect on us.

Built during the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic period, the smaller but no less beautiful Church of Saint-Maclou is considered a Gothic masterpiece. Its unique pentagonal form, five gabled porches arranged in a semi-circle, and beautifully carved Renaissance doors compel you to agree with its designation as a historical treasure.

Situated in a neighborhood of half-timbered buildings, it feels old but accessible, like a local parish church. We saw people reverently praying inside, making exploring the building a spiritual experience. The central crucifix lit up by light from the lantern tower inspires the church’s intended use as a place of worship. We were indeed blessed to partake in the uplifting atmosphere.

Church of Saint-Maclou Nave
Church of Saint-Maclou Lantern Tower

Rouen rewards its visitors with remarkable historical sites and architectural beauty, but with its trifecta of Gothic churches, its appeal to pilgrims like ourselves is simply unmatched.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

The site on which Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen sits has hosted a church from at least the 4th century. The Cathedral has undergone multiple building projects since that period. As a result, the present structure has Early Gothic, Late Flamboyant, and Renaissance elements. An all-star cast of famous historical visitors graced the Cathedral with their presence. These include archbishop Rémy, son of Charles Martel, Charlemagne, the Viking leader Rollo, and William the Conqueror. Claude Monet forever memorialized the Cathedral by making over 30 paintings of the church. Its 19th-century iron spire made it the tallest building in the world for a time. And the Cathedral also has the unfortunate distinction of being hit twice by Allied bombs during World War 2.

Rouen Cathedral (Monet series) – images Wikipedia

Rouen’s Cathedral is a fantastic monument of history; maybe because it’s located in such a large city and an important tourist destination, it didn’t have the same contemplative atmosphere as the other cathedrals. The number of people wandering in and out, the extensive restoration, and the bombastic demonstration of the organ’s powerful voice made it feel more like a tourist site than a place of worship. I saw a confession schedule, but that didn’t change the feeling we were wandering around in a museum. Nonetheless, taking in the architecture, history, and grandeur was an unforgettable experience.

Some historical highlights of the Cathedral are the tombs of Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, and Richard the Lion-Hearted, containing his actual heart. Stained glass windows are among its visual treasures from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The 15th-century stairway to the medieval library is a thing of beauty. However, we could not see the remains of the magnificent choir stalls from the 15th century due to the renovations (the upper portions were destroyed during the French Revolution).

Tomb with the heart of Richard the Lion-Hearted.
15th-century stairway to the medieval library.

The ambulatory has statues from the facade removed in the 19th century for restoration, with copies installed back in their place. The little bookstore inside the nave had an informative display about the Cathedral during the war.

We returned to visit the Cathedral on another occasion because it is a marvel regardless of the tourist trappings. We found the two other gothic churches in Rouen equally fascinating, which will be the topic of my next post.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage