PJ’s Doors (Dennis Aubrey)


This post begins with a piece of music recommended by our dear friend Nathan Mizrachi. Since it was the inspiration for this post, Einaudi’s Primavera makes a perfect accompaniment for a moment that was Spring in itself.

Today, PJ gave me a series of pictures of doors that she has photographed in Romanesque churches in France over the last decade. I ran a number of errands and used the time to think about the shots, about what I would write to describe her fascination with these old portals. I thought about how these doors lead us into a long-gone world of spirituality, of generations of veneration by the residents of the small towns where the churches were found. I tried to find a key to these doors; a way in, a way to understand.

Église Saint Martin de Tours de Gausac, Gausac (Val d’Aran). Photo by PJ McKey

But my thoughts were muddled; I felt overwhelmed by polarizing political dialogue, the self-righteousness of both the ignorant and the educated. We have created the horrible condition where children are gunned down in their schools, where our political world is corrupted by special interests, and our culture debased by celebrity and fashion.

Église Saint Martin d’Ur, Ur (Pyrénées-Orientales). Photo by PJ McKey

After awhile, however, I just grew tired. I was tired because I am ill, I was tired because I felt inadequate to the task of writing, and most of all felt so tired about the world around me, wondering if a word that I wrote would mean anything to anybody.

Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet et Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales). Photo by PJ McKey

In this exhaustion, I needed something different, a momentary diversion, an infusion of beauty, if I could find it. So I put on Ludovico Einaudi’s Primavera on my car stereo and drove the back way home through the forest. In our rural area there was no traffic to distract me from the music. Suddenly, three does crossed in front of me on the road ahead. When they saw my car, they did what they usually do – they bolted up the side of the hill and disappeared into the trees.

Notre Dame d’Orcival, Orcival (Puy de Dôme). Photo by PJ McKey

For some reason, however, I stopped, rolled down the window. Then I turned up the music so that they could hear it clearly. Instantly, all three deer stopped and their ears peaked; they turned and stared down at me from forty feet away. I turned up the music even higher and just sat there, watching and waiting. Within thirty seconds, they had started down the hill and approached the car, eventually stopping just five feet away, staring at me. The music was so beautiful, the deer responded to that beauty and stood there listening, calm, unfrightened. The closest deer looked at me with an ethereal calmness, her brown eyes fixing mine, probably wondering why there were tears running down my cheeks.

Basilique Saint Fris, Bassoues (Gers) Photo by PJ McKey

Finally the music stopped and the deer looked up and around, then turned and silently disappeared into the trees. They left me alone, car idling in the middle of the two-lane road, sitting for some period of time. When I emerged from my reverie, I felt a certain calmness, that everything was temporary; my illness, the politics of this world, everything. Beauty still exists and the I still respond to it. PJ and I respond to it in our private Romanesque world. Even the animals of the forest respond, their hearts beating a synchronized duet with my own.

Église de Mailhat, Mailhat (Puy de Dôme). Photo by PJ McKey

And suddenly I thought of a small 90 year old French monk who lives in another woods at La Pierre Qui Vire in France. I thought of Angelico Surchamp who has loved these same churches as we have but for fifty years longer.

And I thought of what he said about beauty; “We do not reach beauty except in love, and love requires time and freedom.”. And PJ’s doors opened to me and I felt her love.

48 responses to “PJ’s Doors (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Yours is a blog worth reading. Every time. I recognised the door of the Chapelle de la Trinité which I’ve also taken a photo of, but this small section in sharp detail reminds me what I’m missing. So glad the deer were there.

    • Great series on your blog, Trish, first lines. My contribution: Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind”:

      There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

  2. A feast for the eyes and ears. You’ve been away too long. Prayers for a recovery and a return to your mission of bringing joys of centuries ago to us.

    • Jay, so nice to hear from you again. I am still working on the recovery side, up and down for now. Hoping that in a couple of months it will all be behind me, but I wouldn’t trade a moment like yesterday’s visit by the deer for anything.

    • It reminds me practicing my horn in the mountains in CO. Deer would wander by and linger. I would think some instinct would relate my instrument with hunting, but their curiosity seemed to transcend this.

  3. Thank you for sharing this stunning moment, Dennis, and for sharing your humanity. The doors, aged and beautiful, the music, the deer, all coming together to give you a great gift. Any one of those doors could be the doors to eternity, in a way they are, the eternity hoped for by their makers, placed to protect the sacred space behind them.
    I spent two hours standing on the front stoop of the building of our temporary quarters this afternoon watching police car after police car, lights flashing, escorting a Commander to his final resting place after being killed in a shoot out with a criminal, responding while off duty. Police from several states, counties and cities came, I saw them all, then the hearse, the limo with the family. There were people on both sides of the street, standing quiet and respectful to honor this officer on his last trip to his final resting place.
    The innocent have always suffered for the powerful and/or the insane and/or the stupid. All we can do is honor them and try to make it harder for them to be victimized.

    • Aquila, two officers killed last week in Westerville, huge funeral procession. And 17 more children destroyed in Florida. We are mad. Playwright Gladden Schrock wrote in his play “Glutt”; “Rats, when penned … rats, when confined … when their numbers mount unwieldy … thinking themselves alert by virtue of excess, they merely enact the ending of their species. Gratuitous violence. Contempt … Religion of boredom … Nothing left finally but haywire senses. Bleached wheat without germ … We were a long time learning about rats …. We have never learned about rats.”

  4. Sliding into this beautiful music, seeing the intriguing images and feeling the animal souls in your story has been the most wonderful surprise today! Thank you so much for sharing. My heart needed to be drenched in art.

    • Trudy, thanks for your kind words. Via Lucis is a project very close to our heart … we have photographed about 900 Romanesque and Gothic churches in France, Spain and Italy, and have written (with the help of some very wonderful guest authors) over 600 articles on this blog. We have a very engaged community who we are pleased to know often by name and many times people we have met in real life and who have become our friends. Via Lucis is a very special part of our life.

  5. These are not only beautiful words but beautiful photos as well. I am touched by the story of the deer stopping and coming closer…sometimes , we just don’t think or realize that animals can be touched by beautiful sounds or music as well.
    That is the second time I have seen photos you have taken/posted of Prunet et Belpuig which is where my cousin lives and operates a Hostel/B &B. One day i might be fortunate to see it and the beautiful area.
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you, Marjorie. It was a special moment at a time that I really needed it. We are lucky to be surrounded by deer in the woods where we live. PJ and I are considering putting outdoor speakers so we can play them music when they visit.

      If you do get the opportunity to go to Prunet et Belpuig, you will find it so rewarding. The whole area is stunning and the small chapel is a jewel. The Romanesque Christ there is a marvel.

  6. Thank you Dennis for your words, your photographs and your wisdom. Your story of the deer rings so true – I can almost picture the scene. I have often encountered deer on the moors and in the woods and that moment when we just look at one another is absolutely magical, pure wonder.

    • Douglas, thank you. No question that the moment was magical, especially considering the distance the deer came on their approach. Such trust.

      PJ and I were just talking about you yesterday. We were looking at our site stats and saw that your article on the theories of architectural conservation is the second all time most popular post on this blog. Thanks for the great contribution. Any time you would like to add something to the canon, just let me know!

    • Thank you, Cynthia. It was magical. In the few days since it happens, I am always waiting to see if the deer will return. PJ and I are talking about putting outdoor speakers on the deck for the deer this spring.

  7. Pingback: 46 Great Opening Lines: 34 | Sounds like wish

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