A P R I L 15,  2011

Rather unexpectedly for myself I decided to offer you by way of news a set of photographs made during a visit to Reims, the capital of Champagne (France), in the autumn of 2010.

Founded by the Romans, Reims got its first temple in the 5th century at the site of Gallo-Roman baths (in general, evidence of Roman presence, for example, the Mars Gate, continued and still continues to coexist with the new culture). The heart of the city – the famed Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims (1211–1311) – is richly decorated with sculptures. Twenty five kings of France were crowned in it, including Charles VII in the presence of the Maid of Orleans (Jeanne d’Arc). The tradition of coronation in Reims goes back to 498, when Clovis, King of the Franks, converted to Catholicism and thus determined the history of France for ages to come.

It is only natural that after the Light of the Ages project I always pay special attention to stained glass, which is plentiful in Reims, and not only in its main cathedral for that matter. This time, however, I want to share with you not old stained glass of past centuries, but samples of artworks separated by ages and harmoniously blending together. Stained glass produced by contemporary artists and Gothic architecture of the 12th-14th centuries are in absolute harmony. Fragments of stained glass are nothing short of abstract paintings of stunning beauty. I think that even those of you who do not particularly fancy abstract art cannot but admire the tremendous power of color born of sunbeams touching (penetrating) colored glass. Light gently flowing into the lines of window frames and Gothic vaults literally pervades the viewer with the feeling of the power of the Spirit. Artworks of different ages get along well enough and complement each other. I personally believe that this always happens with true Art.

 

134 Historic Meeting across the Ages

 

I am offering for your attention photographs of stained glass from the Church of St. James, done by the Czech artist Josef Šíma, who came to France in 1921 and lived there for 50 years, and by the French Abstractionist artist of Portuguese descent Marie-Hélène Vieira da Silva, a student of Fernand Léger and the first woman to be awarded the Grand Prix national de l’art by the French government (1966). She too had a long artistic career, most of it in France.

Josef Šíma did stained glass in the church gallery after the Golden Legend by the Dominican friar Jacques Voragine, who lived in Italy in the 13th century. According to this medieval bestseller about the lives of 180 saints, which came out in an “edition” of 1,000 hand-written copies, after his martyrdom the remains of St. James were put on a boat and pushed off into the open sea. The boat miraculously crossed the Mediterranean Sea, doubled the Pyrenees Peninsula and moored by the Galician coast governed by the wolf queen.

When the disciples found the imperishable remains, they put them onto a large stone that immediately melted like wax and formed the first tomb of St. James. That brown stone is depicted in the center of two stained glasses, and the apse in the middle has another stained glass with a large cross. The legend has it that the stone is “hospitable”, more alive than any living creature, and as a result it transforms and emits light.

 

smaller Historic Meeting across the Ages

The large bright cross in the center of the composition stands for the crucified Jesus against a sparkling green background as a symbol of life and salvation. The artist loaded the composition with another meaning: the cross looks like a huge beacon or “semaphore” from Paul Claudel’s Le Soulier de Satin and symbolizes St. James calling upon all nations to unite.

A rain of blue stars against the green field reminds us that the Milky Way is also referred to as the Way of St. James because it served as the lodestar for the pilgrims heading for Santiago de Campostela (Sant ‘Jago – St. James, Campus Stellae – star field), where the relics of James the Apostle have been kept since the 9th century.

 

 

Vieira da Silva did abstract stained glass in Renaissance style, which complements Josef Šima’s stained glass perfectly well. The northern side-altar has a color palette of soft grays, browns, blues and light shades. Red dominates the southern side-altar. The church invites you, as it were, to take a stroll around.

 

Unfortunately, we owe this possibility to see wonderful pieces of modern stained glass to the loss of medieval masterpieces at man’s hands rather than due to old age. The Reims cathedrals were badly damaged by German artillery fire in the First World War and are still being restored. Though the job is being done with great care, many windows have been just glassed and are waiting for their turn and stained glass makers, so the masterpieces are yet to come.

Stained glass of the Reims Cathedral, beyond doubt, deserves a separate account, all the more so since there will be a special occasion. So, as they say, stay with us!