Seeing the reverse

I could show more images from Switzerland but the fact of the matter is, this blog is supposed to be about life in rural Pennsylvania. That being the case, I will end the travel series but could not do so without offering this image taken in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Lausanne. Upon entering, the vaulted ceiling was the first thing to capture my eye, my attention, and my fascination. It was magnificent. If I knew anything about either engineering or architecture I could wax eloquent about domes, barrels, fans, buttresses, and even ribs, groins, and hyperbolic paraboloids. But, alas, I am not and therefore, cannot. As a biologist I am, likewise, speechless. As someone who beheld the structure I can observe that whatever the motivation on the part of those who designed the space, its effect on me was to evoke a sense of awe. I was impressed by its beauty, symmetry, grace, and its overwhelming sense of volume. Although made of hundreds, perhaps thousands of tons of stone, brick, and mortar, the thing seemed to float. I saw and appreciated the place in reverse such that I was captivated less by the physical nature of the thing than I was by the space it created. I thought about how masons, sculptors, wood workers, and glaziers labored for more than a century (1170 – 1275) to create the beauty I beheld. I happened to be watching Michael Palin’s most recent travel documentary, Brazil, the other day. Toward the end he visited the renown statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Jeneiro. Palin interviewed a woman who, if I remember correctly, was the granddaughter of the man who engineered that project, Heitor da Silva Costa. The woman observed (in all seriousness) that her grandfather had been an atheist all of his life but by the time the statue had been completed he had accepted Christ and became a member of the Catholic Church. I don’t know anything more about Costa or his work but, for him, creation of such a magnificent structure was clearly transformational. I wonder about the engineers and trades-people who constructed the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Lausanne. Did the masons and sculptors wake each day and trundle off to work, like so many of us who punch-the-clock and put-in-the-hours? Or, like Costa, did they view their work as service to some higher calling? Those who lived to see that thirteen-century consecration of the structure must certainly have taken great pride in their contributions, however small. But I wonder whether they considered their work divine or divinely inspired? Anyway, I digress. They certainly must have had great satisfaction in what they had wrought. And it must have been the fulfillment of many a life’s dream to participate in such a project. A testament to whatever power you name and to the power of humans to contemplate and to create order from disorder.


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