It is with infinite sadness that I must tell you that Dennis passed away suddenly last Friday (July 12, 2019). I write this on behalf of his wife and partner, PJ.
With his passing, Dennis leaves a gaping abyss in our lives. He was a man larger than life, zestful in his embrace of all that life offered. Readers of this blog enjoyed the excellence of PJ and Dennis’s photographic art, and the enlightening and entertaining musings that accompanied those featured photographs.
The power of Dennis’s writing derived from his encyclopedic brain: he brought his vastly read knowledge to every subject he wrote about, whether history, or philosophy, religion or geometry, music or poetry. Via Lucis isn’t simply a photography blog. It isn’t simply an art and architecture blog. It is a brief—and intriguing—glimpse into the mind of one of the artists who brings these Romanesque churches to life through photograph and word.
Battling with Faith
Throughout the years, Via Lucis readers responded most strongly to Dennis’s quest for deeper understanding, his sometimes combative seeking for Truth and faith, and his near-speechlessness when he recognized the necessity of God. “I discovered, not by intention, when the church sang to me: at the very least, there is something in every human being that has a need for God. . . . It was terrifying to me when I realized it. It had never dawned on me.”
In his writing, Dennis professed that he sometimes despaired, the madness of the world overwhelming him. He never hid that fact from his readers. Rather, he let his demons loose, and tried to make sense of them, in light of the churches they photographed and what they mean to humankind in general.
“The long dark nights magnify our solitude and lay us to waste. The world is mad and we just don’t know what to do,” wrote Dennis. “As individuals we believe ourselves peaceful and righteous, but somehow as a race we are possessed by a madness of blood-lust and destruction. We are so because in our little private worlds of peace and righteousness, we believe others are evil and mad. . . .
“Is the madness that surrounds us a sign that we being destroyed, or that we are simply destroying ourselves? Is there a reason that we stand at the precipice of disrupting the careful balance of nature that nurtures life as we know it? We must ask the question, because there is a difference between the madness that we see today and that which preceded. Today, the madness destroys not just men, but more apocalyptically, it threatens to obliterate a world. . . .
“We can only hope that this suffering and madness eventually will yield a purpose and a meaning, that it is not hollow and purposeless.”
Of the beauty that he and PJ found in the churches they photographed, Dennis wrote, “But I do not believe it is suffering experienced that creates beauty, but suffering endured. It is this suffering endured that we find in all that is truly beautiful, and the intermediary step of creation allows us to gaze at even the greatest suffering and find the great human dimension of beauty.
“Medieval man understood this completely while contemplating the suffering of the Christ Redeemer. The sacrifice was enough to make men and women weep with sorrow, but their eyes looked up at these magnificent churches to find the most moving and beautiful representations of the cruelest of crucifixions, transforming pain into salvation.
“It is not the pure beauty that moves me to tears, but something contained within that beauty—the suffering that made it necessary. Sophia Loren once said ‘If you haven’t cried, your eyes can’t be beautiful.’”
Hope in the Ineffable
Their photographs and blog posts are journeys of discovery for those who read the blog and view the photographs, but they are also journeys of discovery for Dennis and PJ.
In those churches both Dennis and PJ find hope, the hope of centuries past that speaks to them today. “Although not a practicing Catholic, there is a sense in which I am profoundly moved by the concept of the Virgin Mary as expressed in the Middle Ages. To touch and handle Throne of Wisdom Madonnas like Notre Dame d’Heume or Notre Dame de Vassivières links me to the fervor of veneration for the Mother of God that led to the creation of the great cathedral of Chartres as her home on earth. It moves me when I see the simple beauty of the Sedes Sapientiae Madonna with her implied knowledge of the sacrifice of her son, and it is possible to sense the deep feeling and kinship expressed by the artist. This is no simple idol, but the most human response to the most human of the venerated saints. God used a human being to create his son and Mary is the mystical link between our own humanity and the divine.”
“Much of my writing is done late,” wrote Dennis, “after I awake from sleep in the middle of the night. I get up and look at the churches that PJ and I photograph. Often something happens that is hard to describe—I am so moved by the churches that I begin to weep. I don’t think that these are tears of sadness or loss, but in response to some characteristic of beauty found in stones wrenched from the earth, shaped, and arranged by human hands. These most earth-born objects were raised high in the air to became part of a soaring monument, a beauty indescribable.”
Dennis confided, “I long for our churches in France where PJ and I can sit quietly together, contemplating a monument to the higher purposes of our species.”
“In the quiet of our thoughts, our emotions drained, we are left with beauty that we cannot describe, perfections that we cannot express. We are left with the ineffable.”
Dennis was like Jacob of old, wrestling with angels. As I write this tribute to my brother, I am overcome with the belief that he has embraced his God at last, and now his struggle can end. He is one with the Ineffable.
A Memorial Page
A man of expansive interests and energy, Dennis shared much of his passion with each of you, the readers of this blog who responded thoughtfully to his observations, knowledge, and insights. Because we are certain that many of you will wish to respond to the news of his passing, please feel free to post your thoughts about Dennis and Via Lucis for PJ, for his family, and for the global Via Lucis community. Eventually, I shall gather your comments on a Memorial Page.