… the “why” of it all is hard to answer. I’m not religious, although I think I have a deep streak of the need to believe, which takes expression in artistic work. I first fell in love with Romanesque architecture because of its beauty, durability, and variety. But over the years studying these buildings, I have come to believe that they are some of the most perfect expressions of faith that architecture has ever produced. Our Greek ancestors, with their temples, the Egyptians with theirs, the Chinese, Japanese, so many others have all found unique and powerful ways to match structure and belief. But it was, not to be showing disrespect, elitist. The Romanesque and Gothic, on the other hand, were “partout“, everywhere.
For two centuries, hundreds of churches were built every year by towns, cities, monasteries, episcopal sees. They were not just the reflection of Man and God, as are the others, but the record of an entire people. When that faith dissipated, as is inevitable in any civilization, we were left with a stone record of incredible beauty, a direct link, as it were, to the aspirations of these people. Like the Greek temples of the Athenian golden age, they were built by a free people. In the 12th Century, these people moved more stone in building their 80 cathedrals and thousand churches than did the Egyptians in the entire history of building their pyramids using slave and conscripted labor.
If we can be commended for anything in this project, it is not having a point of view to impose on the world of the Romanesque and Gothic builders (for they often worked simultaneously). We have walked into our hundreds of these churches with no other object than to let them speak for themselves, to tell their own stories. Many times that meant entering, sitting, and waiting for something; at other times it meant setting up and shooting immediately, trying to capture impressions that changed with the light, capture them before they disappeared. But in all cases, it was the church speaking, the building. Eventually we understood that to mean that the builders were speaking, and the monks and bishops, the thousands who prayed, the armies that pillaged and murdered, the revolutionary crowds that tore down what symbolized to them the oppression of their lives. The churches told tales of reformist iconoclasts who destroyed the statues because they considered them idols.
All of these things, the churches told us, but more, as well. They told stories of the thousands who came to pray and seek guidance. They told of the monastics who pulled Europe out of the chaos and devastation of the post-Carolingian world and brought civilization, one that might be considered one of the great civilizations of history, to a land invaded, burnt and benighted. This is a choir of thousand-year old voices, still standing witness to a world that we can barely understand, much less participate in.