.- In his catechesis to the 8,000 present during Wednesday's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of "the glory of the Christian Middle Ages," the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals. He described how the early Christians' medieval structures reveal their faith and glorify the Lord.
The Holy Father noted that the Christian faith, “rooted in the men and women of the Middle Ages” inspired “some of the most exalted artistic creations of all civilization.” He explained that in medieval times, the historical conditions were more favorable to artistic creation due to the increase in population, trade and wealth.
These developments enabled the construction of churches where the liturgy could be celebrated with dignity, he added.
One of the novelties of Romanesque churches, Pope Benedict continued, was the introduction of sculptures which, more than seeking technical perfection, "had an educational aim... Their recurring theme was the representation of Christ as Judge, surrounded by the figures of the Apocalypse. In general it is the portals of Romanesque churches that present this image, underlining the fact that Christ is the Door that leads to heaven."
Benedict XVI then turned his attention to the Gothic cathedrals of the 12th and 13th centuries, characterized, he said, by "their vertical thrust and luminosity."
They, he continued, "reveal a synthesis of faith and art, harmoniously expressed through the universal and captivating language of beauty.” The Gothic cathedral translates the aspirations of the soul into architectural lines. The walls were pierced and decorated with stained glass windows, from which, "a cascade of light poured upon the faithful to explain the liturgical year, telling the story of salvation."
"In those centuries the perception of humanity of the Lord spread, the sufferings of the Passion were depicted in a realistic way, images that grew to be loved by all, inspiring pity and repentance for sins," the Pope expounded. "Gothic sculpture made cathedrals 'Bibles of stone,' depicting the episodes of the Gospel and illustrating the passages of the liturgical year, from the Nativity to the Glorification of the Lord.”
Benedict XVI underlined two elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Firstly, "the artistic masterpieces created in Europe over previous centuries are incomprehensible if we do not take account of the religious spirit that inspired them," he said. "When faith, especially as celebrated in the liturgy, encounters art, a profound harmony is created because both wish to speak of God, to make the Invisible visible."
Secondly, "the force of the Romanesque and the splendor of Gothic cathedrals remind us that the 'via pulchritudinis,' the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God," the Pontiff indicated.
"May the Lord help us,” he concluded, “to rediscover the way of beauty as one of the paths, perhaps the most attractive and captivating, to encounter and to love God."