This post is not about my brother David and our adventures in the Poitevin town of Chauvigny where we grew up. Instead it is a tale of two monks, both sculptors, who worked in the medieval churches of Chauvigny. One, Gofridus, is justly famous for his work at the Collégiale Saint Pierre at the top of the hill that dominates the town. The other, Harduinus, was less known for his work in the church of the lower town, Notre Dame de Chauvigny. Visitors streamed up the hill to see Gofridus’ creations while Notre Dame remained quiet and empty. It seems that Harduinus saw fit to complain to his abbot Imbertus about the reception to his sculptural work.
“I don’t understand it,” Harduinis complained. “My work is so much better than his. My forms are more realistic, my carving is better, yet everyone flocks to see Gofridus’ work and mine is here unseen.” Imbertus nodded tolerantly as the young monk charged on. “You have assured me that my work is pleasing to the Lord. My wild beasts are as realistic as it is possible to be. Brother Mainardus of Lusignan went to the Crusades with his Lord Guy, and said that when he saw my beasts, he jumped backwards, fearing that they would leap from the stone and tear at his flesh, just as he saw them do in the Holy Land.”
“Yes, my son, your beasts are fearsome indeed.”
“Far more fearsome than those beasts that Gofridus has carved, even if they are tearing at the flesh of humans. They aren’t fearful, they’re comical!
“And my birds, aren’t my birds more perfect, more beautiful. Gofridus’ birds are silly, eating human flesh. Birds eat seeds, insects and grains, not people.”
“Didn’t you say that my birds were so real that they are like those created by God on the fifth day when he said ‘let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.'”
“Be careful, my son. Do not compare yourself to the Lord and His creation. Your creations are more modest.”
“Modest? Gofridus is modest? Did you seen that he actually inscribed his own name on one of his capitals!!! ‘Gofridus me fecit!’ On the capital depicting the Visit of the Magi, center on the altar, visible to all.”
“I understand your confusion, my son. What would you have me say?”
“Tell me, Father Abbot, why does the world flock to Gofridus’ sculptures while mine remain unseen just a short distance away?”
Imbertus rested his hand on the shoulder of his young monk. “That which pleaseth the Lord does not necessarily please the soul of man.” And this lesson sank into Hardunius’ heart and he himself began to find the beauty of Gofridus’ visions.