Lux Aeterna (Dennis Aubrey)


The great invisible! He dwells
Conceal’d in dazzling light.

Isaac Watts, The Divine Perfections

Note: my brother John Paul, who is a professional musician, suggested this piece of music (Lux Aeterna by Edward Elgar) for the post. I tried it out and it makes wonderful accompaniment. Play this and then read!

A great joy in photographing our Romanesque churches is to observe the nature of the light. This is truly the photographer’s delight. Sometimes the light is as simple as a shaft penetrating from a single window above the chancel. Other times, it is a glorious and radiant display of color and texture that transfixes the viewer.

Nave from narthex, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave from narthex, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

In the great Romanesque churches, it is different than the jeweled display of the Gothic; it is a simpler and more direct light. It is a light that meant something to the monks and nuns, which was the burning and shining light of God himself.

Nave arcades, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave arcades, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

In Brioude, PJ and I came into the church and illumination was gloriously visible in the soaring nave. We were greedy to start; we entered and began shooting immediately, before we got to our regular shooting positions. Normally I go in, set up the tripod and shoot the center aisle to the apse shot, dead-on, the establishing shot, so to speak. But the light was so astonishing through the windows, rich primary colors splashing down over painted columns, that we departed from our norm.

Vaults and clerestory windows, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Vaults and clerestory windows, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We were like greedy children, grabbing each shot before we lost the light. And the miracle of it was that the light was perfect for three hours and we shot continuously, hungrily.

The light changed hourly; we would shoot, move and shoot more, than look up and want to reshoot what we’d shot an hour earlier. We shot from the floor, climbed up to the Saint Michael’s chapel above the narthex and shot down into the church, but in all that time neither of us made it to the chancel or the apse, despite the fact that the church was almost empty. We finished our three hours, three concentrated hours of shooting without a break, and it was like we had run a marathon. Such a pleasant, happy exhaustion.

Saint Michael's chapel and narthex, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Saint Michael’s chapel and narthex, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

When we finished, PJ came up to me, eyes glazed and said, “Slap me, I can’t stop.” I laughed, but understood exactly how she felt; it was like being drugged. We must have shot 300 exposures each that day in Saint Julien and could have shot another 500 if we had time.

South side aisle, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When we were just about finished, I looked down from the vaulted ceilings and saw another beautiful site. The church floor is a beautifully cobbled with inlaid stones. What could possibly be better?

Cobbled floor, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cobbled floor, Basilique Saint Julien, Brioude (Haute-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

I am pleased to report that we went back to Brioude and completed our photography. We actually shot the apse and the ambulatory, as well as the capitals and the exterior. But we’ll never forget the extraordinary energy we felt the first time we saw Saint Julien de Brioude in all her glory. Such moments make us realize that we are first and foremost photographers and everything takes a back seat to the light.

Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.

If you are interested in seeing more of these images, please see the Via Lucis website.

14 responses to “Lux Aeterna (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Beautiful pictures and a wonderful post. I’ll never forget the first time I entered Sainte Chapelle in Paris. It was late afternoon. When I exited from the stairway into the main chapel space, the late afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows created the illusion that the air itself in the chapel was colored a rosy gold. (And then, with no preamble, a visiting German choral group broke into sacred song [“just to see how they sounded in that space,” one of them said later], and I thought, “This must be what heaven is like.”)

    • Jay, PJ and I were in the Abbaye de Bénédictines Sainte-Marie, Saint-Pierre, Saint-Paul in Ottmarsheim when a group young people came in. It turns out that they were a choir of people with an intellectual disability coming to the area for a music festival. They wandered around the church looking and then one of the kids started singing. Within moments the entire group was singing with him, scattered around the church, listening to their sound. It was a moment like the one you described in the Sainte Chapelle.

  2. Oh, I know how PJ felt. Taking pictures in old churches is such a high, isn’t it?. The more you look, the more you see, and the more you want to see and capture – and there is never enough time, dammit. And the amazing thing is that these beautiful places can work their wonderful magic even on old godless heathens like me.

    Thank you both for visiting and encouraging ‘Enthusiastical’.

    • There never is enough time, Peter. So often we shoot for our allotted time and then realize that we have missed something important. We often return to churches to complete the work a year or two later. When we photographed at the Cathédrale Saint Etienne de Cahors, we never realized that the most important element, the north portal, even existed. We had to return a year later just to shoot that, but it gave us the excuse to shoot again in the cathedral itself. We never get enough.

  3. Dennis, your brother was inspired when he suggested the Lux Aeterna as a suitable accompaniment to these uplifting photographs. I hope you do it again!

    • Viv, John Paul is a wonderful musician and has an encyclopediac knowledge of his field. He has introduced me time and again to some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard.

  4. Pingback: Palhaços assassinos do espaço sideral (1988) | Muvaction

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