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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.