With Apologies to St. Bernard

“Ack! C’est flamboyant !” says St. Bernard, as he is bathed from the colored light illuminating the rose window of Chartes. Did this really happen? No…but you could imagine it would have if the advocate for humility, St. Bernard, had been able to see the reconstruction of churches into the gothic art design come to fruition. The French abbot wrote his apology in defense of the Cistercian order, to promote the austere lifestyle, and to criticize excess.

The gothic art movement that took Europe by storm seemed to take the opposite road of what St. Bernard’s apology aimed to disparage and possibly eliminate. With the advent of the flying buttresses adding reinforcement to walls, churches were able to block out large areas open for windows. This was not only a great feat of engineering but added to the aesthetic of the church. This innovation was all born from the want to rip at the veil between heaven and earth rather than heeding the word of St. Bernard’s apology to scale back and cut at the excess.

The use of stained glass added another element of elaborate color to the church. The windows allowed for another medium to portray the venerated saints and members of the church and also to portray biblical stories as was done with the friezes and reliefs on the outside of the church. The stained glass windows also served to illuminate the interior of the churches allowing architects to guide the light to the areas of interest like the altar.

Although these all would serve to cause St. Bernard to become flushed with disappointment, but what would have sent him maybe to anger would be the riches that would have been spent on these endeavors. Some of the constructions took years to finish not only because of the degree of difficulty in the builds but also because the amount of money that would have to be generated to have accomplished these builds in these times. All of these aspects of gothic art did not seem to repress the excess as St. Bernard would have hoped, but rather it seems that the gothic art seems to have spilled over with excess. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing as these churches really did seem to pierce the gap between heaven and earth and, who not only awes modern day travelers, but must have shocked and amazed the people of that time whom may have never seen anything so grandiose. St. Bernard may take solace in the fact that these grand churches and abbeys were made extravagant to honor God but not to out-do him.

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