Thursday, June 21, 2007

Switzerland Journal Day 15 pt.2

So...we headed across the bridge to Grossmunster.

The iron work on the bridge over the Limmat River was pretty. Notice how the water runs right under the Haus zur Ruden guild house. The whole scene seemed so gloomy.

It does drive me batty not to know who the statue is about, when it was made and why it is important.

Um...a pretty spire with a clock face behind the statue of the man on the horse.

I've borrowed a professional shot of Grossmunster, or "Great Minister" church. It gives you a better idea of Grossmunster's size and setting. The church building was begun in 1100 AD and was completed in 1200 AD.

Once we were inside, I appreciated that it, like most historic places in Switzerland, offered free handouts in English to help visitors know what they were seeing and why it was an important place.
The problem was we were feeling so rushed that it was difficult to stop and read the handout on the spot.
Inside the church it was very gloomy and subdued. The stained glassed windows seemed to struggle to glow. The middle window showed a dominate figure of Mary, with a very minor figure of baby Jesus. To the left and right were two of the three kings, and angels with flowers. The windows were installed in 1933, the subject might be considered an unusual motif for a Protestant church.
Between the aisles is the baptismal font from 1598, it also serves as a Communion table.
The architecture style is called Romanesque. The pulpit however was from 1853.

Another pop quiz: Who is the person portrayed in this stained glass window?

I myself do not know who this saint is or what he is trying to communicated by holding a book and sword in his hand.
The only reason I know that this is probably a Saint Somebody is due to my own cultural literacy; others who grew up without attending church or studying art might wonder why the guy is wearing long robes and a big yellow hat.
Is anyone willing to make a guess as to what this stained glassed image is attempting to represent or what idea is being communicated?
The fact that I do not know what this beautiful window was trying to communicate speaks volumes to me about the importance of one facet of the Reformation itself. A key feature of the movement was the idea that individuals should read Scripture, as opposed to counting on a select few individuals within the church hierarchy to read and pass the information along.
Prior to the Reformation, the printing press, and wide spread literacy, churches were filled with statuary and iconic images which served to invoke a sense of veneration or homage to the subject of the statuary or image. Presumably the images were placed to call to remembrance key concepts of the faith; a noble intent to be sure!
I'm all for lovely art in churches, and if anything I am wondering why my generation seems inclined to limit church decor to a few silk plants plunked down by a lectern and perhaps a colorful felt banner with a word or two hanging somewhere. I think even the sternest of Reformers would agree that a bit more embellishment of worship related facilities would not be out of line.
The problems with the pre-Reformation church art were varied. Spending large sums of money for art in the midst of human need could be viewed as an off target use of church funds. The (hopefully) inadvertent veneration of the statuary itself shattered the commandment to not make a graven image for adoration. Eventually there were also misunderstanding or erroneous interpretation of the art due to shifting cultural filters over time.
The Grossmunster hand-out attempted to interpret some of the art that remain in the church from before the Reformation. To quote one passage:
"We recognize King David (or Orpheus?) with a stringed instrument on the capital of the left hand column. The two flanking lions are difficult to interpret. It is assumed that they are a reference to Christ; however , lions can also symbolize, as seen on the opposite capital, man as an unredeemed being, who bites himself in his own tail. Symbols of the Middle Ages are never so lucid; they rather tend to be suggestive of light and darkness, of healing and destructive powers."

Suggestive, but ultimately obscure to the contemporary viewer.

I have viewed books that were hand written in the year 600 AD, and scroll fragments from the first century, and even earlier. In each instance I was struck by the fact that as long as the viewer/reader was familiar with the text language in written form, communication remained clear and concise between the reader and the writer, despite the centuries which have intervened between era of the writer and the era of the reader.
I'm getting a little long winded here, but viewing the beautiful church art caused an epiphany within myself. I had struggled between creating visual art and writing. I love doing both. I had made a deliberate decision a year ago to focus on writing. I chose to work on my writing beyond answering emails and thank you notes, writing daily as an exercise to better learn the craft of composition. Sometimes I wondered about my choice.
Looking at the beautiful church windows and statues, I realized that while I enjoyed their intrinsic beauty, I was unable to fully connect with their purpose without some means of written or oral communication.
Later, as I looked at my vacation pictures I remembered seeing piles of pictures at Bernie's grandmother's house, being sorted by relatives after her funeral. No one knew much about the pictures. Occasionally someone would recognize a relative, or a place. But what was there so important about the scene in the photography that someone had picked up a camera, focused their eye, snapped the pictured, took the film for development, paid for development and then stored the picture for twenty, thirty, or forty years. We would never know what the pictures were all about.
I also remembered my grandparent's seemingly endless slide show of pictures from their trip to Europe back in the mid 1960's.. Wondering if perhaps the pictures include shots of Mannheim, and perhaps pictures of my great grandparent's home in Germany, I asked my mom about the slides. The slides had recently been recovered from storage. There were four boxes, each with one hundred slides. My mom told me the news: Each box was numbered; #1, #2, #3, #4.
There was no other information. Not a jot, not a tiddle.
If there was a slide of the town, or an area, or a view, or a house that my grandfather remembered from his childhood, or a mention during the slide show, no one remembers now. There were 400 slides! Even at 30 seconds per slide, jamming them in and out of the view at break neck speed, it would have taken over two hours to see. No, no one remembers what exactly was said about each slide, save for a heated exchanged between my grandparents over exactly where one particular picture was shot.
The epiphany ripple out through my consciousness. The commandment "Thou shalt make no graven image," was a commandment I was please to have little problem keeping; I rarely worked in sculpture, or sketched people, let alone had adoration for those less than stellar artistic attempts. The concept: "In the beginning was the Word..." I grasped readily. Librarian me embraced words and dedicated myself to professionally caring for and connecting people with "word", and the clarity that words provide that prove that while a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture without words is often worthless.
I'm probably well over a thousand words in this digression from the picture of the mysterious stained glass window that glows from the walls of a church in Zurich. It's mystery inspired me to think. Switzerland is the land of the Reformation; it was within the walls of Grossmunster that a visionary named Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) argued that the study of the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel were to be the focal point of the religious community. It was his arguments that lead to the more famous moment where Martin Luther posted his revolutionary 95 theses on a church door in Germany.
Zwingli's thinking inspired sweeping reforms throughout Europe that went far beyond styles of worship and church governance. As I walked through the gloomy church, with my umbrella leaving drips on the stone floor, it seemed like too silent of a place to have held such a revolutionary generation of thinkers. It seemed so aloof, so cold to have ever been the space where people became avid readers and strident enactors of a new way.
When I knew we were heading to Switzerland, the land of the key players of the Reformation, I thought I should study up on the subject. Church lessons on the Reformation always left me yawning, and the articles and books on the topic seemed littered with maps and frozen statuary. I wondered how the Reformation became so staid in modern writing.
I'll be doing more research on the subject now that I have been to Grossmunster, the "Ground Zero" of the Reformation. I'm hoping to find a historical fiction about the Reformation, and Zwingli to read. And if I don't find a good one, I might just write one myself.
And if takes another trip to Switzerland to write the book...well, I would call that a write off, wouldn't you?
If I remember correctly, this was from the 1300's. It boggles my mind to consider how many eyes have looked at this image of the Madonna and Child. I wonder who the artist was that first brushed the images into place, and chose to make Mary wear red, when later artist always chose blue.
I wondered about the generations of little girls who looked at Mary's crown and baby, and the generations of first time mothers who slung their babies on their hip, and identified a bit more with the Mother of Christ as they passed this niche.

The columns outside were lushly engraved, with a different pattern on the walls behind. One hundred years to build this, how many meetings did it take to decide which designs would be chiseled into the stone?
Grossmuster's bronze doors, created in 1950 by Otto Munch, comprise a theological lecture illustrating particular stories from the Bible. The top two rows of horizontal panels depict the 10 Commandments; the next three pay tribute to the Trinity, (Father, Son and Holy ghost), the second row from the bottom the Lord's Prayer, and underneath, the mother's of Jesus' tree of life.
Enjoy enlarging and testing your knowledge of the Bible by connecting the pictures to the proper Biblical story.
Test the idea of written vs. artistic communication by enlarging my picture of the door and asking someone you know to explain what they think the picture is about.
Directly next to the church was this little shop. Black striped top and orange lettering aside, I was slightly grieved to imagine how Zwingli would react to seeing his name used as for a clothing store of such questionable fashion imagery. I suspect he would approve of the scull motif; it was a popular motif for centuries in churches to remind people of their mortality and the importance of living a life aware of the upcoming judgement of their choices.
Bernie and I talked about how likely it would be six centuries from now for there to be a shop named after say, Billy Graham featuring clothing and no one really having any clue who Mr. Graham was in the late 1900's.
The black and white chevron stripes show up again...St. Gallen had similar shutters, but the zigzags were more regular.
Feel like Mexican food? We were half tempted, just to see how they would make Mexican food in Switzerland; Tex-Mex (yuck), Senora, Baja? Ortega or Pablano chili? Black beans or re fried? (We're all about Mexican food!)
This look has possibilities: Knee length jeans, rolled up cuffs, extremely pointy shoes and fishnet stockings. Huge handbag.
You know, I had never even once in all my fashion musing thought about fishnets stocking with turned up jeans.
I'm sure thinking about them now. (Just thinking...)

One of the current best sellers in the USA is a book called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", and it is about a family that decided they would only eat locally grown food to cut down on pollution that results from the fuel used to transport food worldwide.
She (the author of the book) would just hate this window.
She would be heart sick thinking of global warming and the demise of civilization because Zurich people might buy berries grown in Oregon.

I looked at the window and thought "Oregon Berries! I love Oregon! Wonder which town? Wonder who grew them?"
I'm always looking at food labels and marvelling at how many places our foods come from. What better way to foster world peace than by trading and sharing our best and most luscious foodstuffs!

Maybe I should read the book. Then instead of being happy to know that the sour cherries came from Michigan, I can feel alarmed at the pollution that was generated by having them for sale in Zurich.
Zurich, I sure, has local means of getting sour cherries.

(The writing above is yet another example of the two maxim that shapes much of my life:
Ignorance is bliss
Knowledge is power.
In every instance you must decide: Do you want to be powerful or be happy?)

After walking and window shopping, it was getting late and time for dinner. The restaurant "Swiss Chuchi" looked cute inside. Schweins-Bratwurst and noodles for me (28.50 CHF)...
Rindsgeschnetzelte (Goulash) and one last dish of the famous Swiss rosti for Bernie (36.50 CHF)
With two glasses of Valser Naturelle water, 2 decaliters of Binaco del Tici white wine and 1 decaliter (about a quarter cup) of Pankraz red wine, we got out the door for 93 CHF.
About a seventy three USD. It is true, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The restaurant was attached to a hotel, and clearly decorated to give a suitable "Been to Switzerland" feeling, with pictures of men blowing the long Alpine horns and other typical motifs. Even the waiter were dressed in vaguely Swiss Alpine type outfits.
Frankly I was glad to see them at least try to keep up the "traditional" icons of Switzerland for us tourists to enjoy.
It was still raining as we headed back to the hotel.
I always seem to manage to be in jeans and casual clothes when I'm in nice hotel lobbies, like this one was.

The hotel's hallways were amazingly austere. That's the door to our room on the left.
Inside was nice though. I liked the red and gold brocade piece on the bed. Made me less nervous about putting my purse and stuff on the white bedding.
We decided to explore the hotel just a little, and headed down to the lounge, to enjoy an after dinner drink and dessert.
We didn't linger too long...we needed to be out of the hotel by six am to catch our plane. Reluctantly we rode the elevator up to our room, packed our bags and settled in to sleep away our last night in Switzerland.

5 comments:

Laura said...

Sorry, Mom, but I can't recognise the guys in the stained glass. However, I enjoyed looking at them!
Funny that the skull and cross bones motif is popular there too. Such a teeny-boper kind of thing here lately.

Lovella said...

Before I read your post today I pulled out the pictures that my mom and dad brought home from Germany when they visited there to meet family they had never met.
All the pictures except one beside a monument to Menno Simons were of people. No scenery, none.
It was interesting to me then when I read your post today you also touched on the reformation and pictures that leave you wondering.

I guess I won't win the prize to Switzerland today, I don't know who the fellow with the key is.

Julie said...

Hi Jill, the 'pop quizz' saint I would think is Peter -- holding the key, "keys of the kingdom".
The one with the book and the sword I don't know...The Word of God is symbolized by the sword in scripture and the sword might be a symbol of being a conquerer...but I have no idea who the stain glass depicts.

What a lot of food for thought when you are in the midst of 'history' -- much of it so old and sadly bereft of meaning to us in modern culture.
I agree with you...Words are so necessary to carry meaning from one generation to another.

Thank-you for a 'historical' focus and also for your commentary!

Kate said...

It's been a loooooong time since I read the Lives of the Saints but I do know that the swords, lions, skulls, platters etc. etc. etc. had symbolic meanings - ususally about how the saint was martyred or what they did to become a saint and so forth. Lots of religious iconography was done because most people were illiterate - the Church having most of the educated people. That changed for the better with the printing press and people learning to think for themselves - dangerous eh? The odd thing is that we seem to be moving in reverse these days with TV (American Idol etc.) anaesthetizing (sp?) the public from reading and understanding what their governments and corporations are doing. Even more dangerous, I think! Having just read Al Gore's The Assault on Reason I am looking forward to reading 1776 for Book Club. Will be interesting to look back on our Founders debates. Zwingli et all hauled off and burned much of the beautiful decorative statuary etc. They had good reasons but what a loss.

One last thought art has always been at the mercy of patronage and the Church was a big patron of art. Who patronizes it now? Look at what passes for art these days?
Oh well, I'll shut up now ...
K Q:-0

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

I agree with Kate about the reformers going overboard when they destroyed almost all church art. Why is it that minor corrections always seem to include elements that over reach the need? The zealotry of the Reformers was shocking in many ways; I suspect however that mob mentality played into the events. It would make a facinating movie I think.
And I also appreciated the critical thinking about who underwrites art (and writing!) now.
Thank you for bringing some extra insight into the discussion Kate. I always learn something from you and your view point.