Sacred Spaces (Ann Aubrey Hanson)


(This entry is part 1 of a 6-part series based on an interview with George Hoelzeman, liturgical artist, art historian, and Medieval scholar, discussing Art and Architecture and Meeting the Divine. This first part discusses Sacred Spaces. The other five blogs in the series are: The Theology of Light, The Quest for Beauty, Prayers, Bearing the Weight of Mystery, and The Sensual Is Not Sinful.)

Hoelzeman suggests that there are sacred places and sacred spaces, and that we create sacred space in a sacred place. Three things make a place sacred:

1) Natural beauty (think Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, or the Alps). The natural beauty of these places touches something within mankind, and we deem the location sacred, worthy of preservation.

Eglise Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche)

2) What happened there (think Gettysburg or Normandy). We deem the place sacred because of what happened there, such as in Jerusalem with its Via Dolorosa or the Western Wall, or in Rome with St. Peter’s Basilica and the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom. We imbue the location with sacredness because of memory.

Lanterne des Morts, Fenioux (Charente-Maritime)

3) What we do and what happens there (think churches with sacraments and liturgy). We become attached to a location and what surrounds it. That place becomes imprinted on us and we become protective.

Cathedrale de Santa Maria de Seu d’Urgell, Seu d’Urgell (Lérida)

Sacred space, says Hoelzeman, is a mnemonic device of the past. The place is sacred because of what we have bestowed on it, the meaning we have invested in it. That meaning is what makes it sacred. And this is why we mourn when those sacred spaces are destroyed.

Cathedrale Saint Front, Périgueux (Dordogne)

Sacred spaces such as churches are not just a repository for everything we have invested in them, but for all that God has invested in them. This is why these churches still speak to us. They tell us of things past and, in the case of Christians, things to be. For a moment, we see heaven on earth.

(Next, the Theology of Light.)

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