(Part 3 of a 6-part series based on an interview with George Hoelzeman, Medieval scholar and liturgical artist.)
Beauty in some way reveals the Divine. That which is beautiful, says Hoelzeman, connects us with God. If God is truth, and truth is beauty, then beauty attracts us to truth, to God. We are drawn to beauty.
We want to surround ourselves with beauty. Even primitive societies decorated their clothing and their utensils, eliciting a different response to the world with beauty around them. Beauty can be humble and express humility, but beauty always expresses hope.
There is a driving energy in mankind to seek, discover, and create beauty, to fulfill an inner desire. Beauty is a reflection of God, and God draws us to Himself through that which is beautiful. Our quest for beauty is a quest for truth, for God. If we destroy beauty, we destroy something of ourselves.
The Europeans of the 10th-12th centuries understood this quest for beauty, and looked back to the Roman Empire as the Golden Age, the paradigm of a great civilization. In their eagerness to advance beyond the struggles following the collapse of Rome, the Europeans tried to recapture the era that was Rome, but with the superior advantage of faith, says Hoelzeman. “They combined the beauty of faith with the beauty of Rome, changing and adapting forms to meet the needs of the time and their world view.”
The Europeans of the Romanesque Period were heirs to something new at the dawn of the new millennium, as the earth clothed itself with a white garment of churches erected to fill the desolate landscape of lives that were often “brutish and short.” The new churches were stunning in their architecture and brilliantly painted. People were largely illiterate, but when they entered the churches, with their filtered light, paintings on the wall, and glass art in the windows, it was “a transcendent experience.” They understood they were in the presence of God.
This beauty was a powerful draw to an encounter with God, and so it remains today.