The great cathedrals of the world were built to inspire reverence and worship for men and women of every walk of life. Chartres Cathedral is certainly among the grandest. When the cathedral was rebuilt after a great fire in 1134, the world was a vastly different place. Though we still marvel at the sheer grandeur of its structure, we can only imagine the impression it created on the simple folk whose lives were absent of modern technologies and conveniences.
As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :
For a preliterate population, the cathedral was a visual “book” they could read to learn the stories of the Bible and of the saints, as well as the key doctrines of Christianity—a virtual encyclopedia of faith in stone and glass. The cathedrals were decorated with images not only of the supernatural world but also of the natural world, with images illustrating the everyday life of the average person. We see clouds, seas, vines, leaves, trees, insects, birds, sheep, fish, and domestic animals in the windows and statues. We see portraits of people busy at work at their trades, or engaged in some virtue or vice. Alongside these natural images we find portrayals of the biblical miracles, glorious angelic figures, and terrifying demons. And bridging this world and the next are the depictions in glass and stone of departed saints. These blessed dead surround the visitor to a Gothic cathedral. Their figures frame the doorways and radiate from the stained glass, and in many cases their actual bodies lie under the floors and their relics in the altars. In the cathedral their world and ours become one.
Besides its function as an encyclopedia of faith, the cathedral was also a place for communal celebration. Pagan temples had been seen as homes for the gods, and the people would gather around them for worship. The cathedral, on the other hand, was a home for the believing community, a gathering place where people might enter for religious worship, feasts, and even secular gatherings. Often situated on the highest point in town, cathedrals became the central buildings around which everything grew and flourished. They were a communal phenomenon. The process of building them required the efforts of people from every part of the social strata, who joined together to finance the construction, gather the needed materials, and perform the grueling labor required to build them.
Has the contemporary church become to casual to inspire deep reverence and awe?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
Barron, Robert. Heaven in Stone and Glass. New York: Crossroad, 2000.
Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969.
Ciaga, Graziella Leyla. Cathedrals of the World. New York: Metro Books, 2006.
Cook, William. The Cathedral. DVD. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2010.
Miller, Malcolm. Chartres Cathedral. Andover, PA: Pitkin, 1996.
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Let’s explore together!
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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
Order it HERE today.