They would actually be able to tell you exactly which apostle every one of those statues represents. They would be able to tell you the story behind that apostle. If you look above those statue's heads, you'll see carvings. To us, they look like a jumbled up bunch of pictures. To a person from the Middle Ages, that art has meaning. They would be able to tell you the story that's being told in pictures. They can read this Cathedral every bit as well as you and I could read a book. To them, this art has meaning. It is the story of their world, the story of the religion that they believe in. This is a guide map to finding order in a world that to them frequently seems confusing and chaotic. This art has meaning. It has significance in their practical day-to-day lives. It's not just something that goes in a museum; it's something they see. It forms the style of story that they tell to one another. And again, if you look at the artwork, this is not "classical" artwork. This does not represent real depictions of the human body. These people are not meant to look real. They're not organized in three-dimensional space. They're symbols. They're meant to represent something, to be the thing that reminds you of a story. I always compare these carvings to the pictures in a kids' book. The pictures in the kids book often looks silly, cartoony, and simplified because it's not about portraying exactly what reality looks like. It's about making
a point, about telling a story, about representing something. And that's what the art on these cathedrals mean. Now, very quickly let me to give you a thumbnail tour of one of these Gothic cathedrals so you can see how the different elements come together. This is Notre Dame. Now technically this is actually Notre Dame de Paris. This is our Lady of Paris. "Notre Dame" means our lady. Just just for my sanity I have to say this: "No-tra Dahm" is the cathedral. "Noter Daym" is a football team. "Notre" means "our." "Dame" means lady. This church is dedicated to Mary. It focuses on honoring Mary the mother of Jesus. If you look at the church, you can see the focus on Mary because one of the symbols of Mary that comes to be quite common easily recognized in the Middle Ages is the Rose Window. Those large, round windows that are meant to represent the petals of a rose. You can see that Notre Dame is covered in those round rose windows. You can see that it is a Gothic cathedral because it includes buttressing. If you look outside, you will see flying buttresses around the outside of the church, supporting the weight of the roof. And inside you will see that there's a groin vault as well. Those Rose windows are one of the signature pieces of Notre Dame cathedral, again "our lady," honoring Mary. Now if you look at that, and you go, "well that doesn't look like a rose." That's because you're thinking of a modern greenhouse rose. But roses the way a medieval person would have thought of them were wild roses. Think climbing roses. And a wild or climbing rose is a wide, circular spread of petals.
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- Fall '08
- Middle Ages