Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reading Churches

Most of the "work" we have been doing during this Christmas season has been around the generous dining tables of our wonderful French friends.  We are learning what Charles de Gaulle meant when he questioned  "How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?" Judging from what we have seen just in the past week, de Gaull's number was a bit low!

Between meals, we have had a little time to indulge ourselves in a few visual feasts as well.  We love to visit everything from the small parish churches to the grandiose cathedrals and basilicas here in France that are even more numerous than the variety of cheeses.  Many of these edifices were built centuries before the development of the printing press for congregations who were largely illiterate to the printed word, but who were keenly literate to the language of the visual symbol.  Interestingly, our culture today has some of the inverse problem as far as the church symbolism is concerned.  We sometimes forget that icons are not just those cute little things that originated in the computer age.  These churches are not just filled with beautiful decoration even though many of them are an aesthetic feast for the eyes.  They are in fact bibles, the only scriptures that centuries of earlier Christians could ever read.  So during this temporary slow down, we have visited and tried to read a few more churches.

An altar in the Church of St. Pierre in Mâcon.  The king and high priest of Salem, Melchizedek, offers bread and wine to Abraham.  This is one of the many old testament "types" that predict the new testament, this one foreshadowing the last supper and sacrament.

Alpha and Omega, the trinity and the Greek cross all contained in a circle.

Stained glass from the Vienne cathedral:  Fides (Faith) holding the cross, Caritas (Charity) holding the chalice, and Spes (Hope) holding the anchor.  What better symbols could there be for these three virtues?

Saint Christopher (saint of safe passage) and Saint Louis (Louis IX, king of France).  Lots of tradition and history can also be read alongside the biblical references.

A painting of Saint Cecelia (early Christian martyr and patron of musicians) in the Lyon cathedral.  The martyr's palm and musicians lyre at her feet identify her.  This is who Paul Simon sang was "breaking my heart...shaking my confidence daily".

The home of the French romanticist poet Lamartine in Saint Point, near Mâcon.  With the beauty of this area you can easily see why Lamartine was so inspired by the "cathedral" of nature.

Some "snowflakes" in the mission office made by some of the young missionaries.  I guess not all the symbols here are from early Christianity!

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