Rediscovered Gems (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have been doing an enormous amount of work preparing for our exhibition this week at the McConnell Art Center in Columbus, Ohio. We had to select our photos, color correct and proof each one, arrange the printing, framing and wrapping the selection of thirty-eight images. We deliver the images tomorrow with all of the associated labels and the proof of the exhibition catalog.

One of the great joys of doing this was rediscovering images that we had forgotten, images that we liked so much that we included them in the show. Here are five that I particularly enjoyed. The first is Poitier’s Basilique Saint Hilaire. This shot of the strange upper ambulatory shows the complex nature of the rebuilding, additions, and renovations that have taken place over the centuries, as the purity of the original design have long been replaced by a hodgepodge of structures. It is easy to see the complexity in the ground plan.

Plan, Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne)

This photograph taken in the ambulatory shows the unique passageways on the sides of the chancel. From a photographic viewpoint, I love the welter of columns and arches in every direction and how the light varies from region to region.

Ambulatory, Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photograph by Dennis Aubrey

PJ’s shot of the altar at Notre Dame de Nazareth in Vaison-la-Romaine is a beautifully balanced photograph, but I particularly love the way the chancel crossing looms in the darkness at the top. As happens so often, the lighting fixture is a distraction on the central column but there is nothing that can be done about that. The austere, undecorated stones of the building are shown to great advantage here.

Altar, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ Aubrey

This next shot of the altar at La Souterraine took me totally by surprise. What seems to be a simple, uncomplicated shot features a striking counterfocus in the internal elements. The diagonal line from the bible on the altar to the flowers to the stone font is trisected by the statue in the niche to the right. In addition, the shiny lightning bolt section of the floor in the foreground leads directly to both the font and the statue. This gives an unexpected sense of motion to the otherwise stable composition and is another example of PJ’s surprising eye for detail in composition.

Altar from side aisle, Église Notre Dame, La Souterraine (Creuse) Photo by PJ Aubrey

I am always a sucker for symmetry in these churches, and the photograph of the north side aisle at Coutances’ cathedral is a perfect illustration of that. This is just a simple shot but pleases me immeasurably, particularly the lighted central passage terminating at the stained glass window in the dark wall at the end.

North side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame, Coutances (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This next photograph of Saint Étienne in Blomac was astonishing to me – the composition, the color and the layering of detail give this great emotional resonance. PJ always talks about how these small churches hold the history of the communities. Every detail reaffirms that here – the flowers at the foot of Mary’s statue (supported by a wooden stump), the floor pattern, the rug at the altar, the metal table in the left foreground, and especially the collection of objects on the table next to the pillar. This is a shot that we both missed for years and then rediscovered.

Nave detail, Église Saint Étienne, Blomac (Aude) Photo by PJ Aubrey

This final shot was taken in 2007, our first year of photographing for Via Lucis. PJ has taken a split composition, usually a bad idea, and made it beautiful. The obvious charm is the vignette with the statue framed on the right side, with the candles in the photograph in perfect position as if lighting the scene. But the secondary framing is astonishing – both the left and right framing pillars are perfectly vertical, as we always try to accomplish with our tilt-shift lenses, but the interior pillars are all leaning. This is one of the graces of these old churches, how they settle over the years into compositions of their own.

Side chapel from aisle, Église Notre Dame, Cunault (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Our exhibition in Columbus is open for the rest of the year and we would love for readers who live in the area to come visit and let us know what you think. For those who are interested in the photographs but can’t attend, here is a link to the catalog.

McConnell Arts Center Catalog

Some Changes to our Web (Dennis Aubrey)


As I heal from my bout of illness, it is clear that there was much neglected on the Via Lucis sites in the last year, especially with the amazing flurry of activity that has begun with our exhibitions. We have had four exhibitions so far this year and have at least two more scheduled for fall and two more in January. These will all be announced, but people have asked how they could see a listing and schedule of events. I finally opted to try the WordPress widgit for Eventbrite. This can be found at the bottom of the right column of the blog and lists all upcoming events. If you are interested in attending, you can simply hit “Buy Tickets” and you will get a free ticket to the event. There are, of course, no charges for gallery exhibitions. You can also just select the exhibition title and a full description will pop up with dates, locations, and all the other pertinent information.

Second, the more we exhibit, the more people are asking to buy prints of our work. We have been working for almost a year with another vendor to do this, but they seem to be more interested in their blockchain currency than they are in working with photographers, so we started by embedding a store for prints on our website. We are offering prints by our exhibition collections.

These offerings can be seen by clicking on the “Shop” heading on the lower menu and the collections appear above.

Photographs from each exhibition are offered as a signed custom print from an edition limited to ten prints, or a slightly smaller custom print, unsigned, limited to fifty prints. Right now we have embedded payment options with Paypal and credit cards. Later we will probably add Google Pay and Apple Pay.

We haven’t forgotten our Via Lucis articles either, but we are in the midst of proofing dozens of images for exhibition and that takes a great deal of time and there is a deadline. But we have three articles in the hopper and more coming after that. It is an amazing thing to have energy again and to be able to work at a sustained level. Thank you all for your patience as we get the Via Lucis train moving again on the tracks!

Come See Us at the Lancaster City ArtWalk (Dennis Aubrey)


Our “Painted Romanesque” exhibition will be on display at the Lancaster City ArtWalk next week. The ArtWalk is organized by Destination Downtown Lancaster as part of the Lancaster Festival, the city’s ten-day celebration of the arts (July 18-July 28). ArtWalk provides visual artists with a platform to share their talents and gifts to enrich the lives of the community members. Artists are chosen by a jury to display their artwork in Downtown Lancaster businesses from July 20-July 28.

This annual ArtWalk attracts an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each year. More than forty artists show and sell their work in numerous downtown venues while the closed city streets host a beer garden, music, and food trucks.

Our set of eight images will be at Art & Clay On Main at 150 W Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130 on Friday, July 20 from 6-10pm. PJ and I will be there speaking about our photography during that time.

North side aisle, Église Notre Dame la Grande, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Aubrey

We will also participate in the Artist’s Reception on Thursday, July 19 from 5-7pm at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio at 145 E Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130. Again, members of the Via Lucis community are welcome to come to either event. Our lives have been so enriched by meeting many of you in the past and we hope to do so in this next month.

A Columbus, Ohio Exhibition (Dennis Aubrey)


We are very pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition at the McConnell Art Center in the Columbus suburb of Worthington. We will be featuring thirty-six photographs of Romanesque churches in an exhibition called “Light and Stone” from October 18, 2018 to January 6, 2019. In addition, there will be a reception at the gallery on October 19 from 6-8 pm.

McDonnell Art Center, Worthington (Ohio)

The McConnell Art Center (MAC) is a contemporary, multidisciplinary facility presenting and promoting the performing, visual and digital arts. The 20,000 square foot building features a 213 seat theatre, an exhibition gallery, four classrooms, a digital imaging studio, a dance studio and rotating exhibitions sprinkled throughout the facility.

The address for the exhibition is:

McConnell Art Center
777 Evening Street
Columbus, OH 43085

Our current exposition at the Marian Library at the University of Dayton ends on July 27, so this Columbus show will be the next time we have the opportunity to show our work in a solo show. We hope to see anyone from the Via Lucis community who happens to be in this area, especially for the reception. We extend an open invitation to you all.

Our Dayton Opening (Dennis Aubrey)


Via Lucis has been very quiet lately, but it is not because nothing is happening. We are preparing a post on our recent trip to photograph Savannah’s Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist and working on our exhibition at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, which opens next week!

The exhibition of photos of Black Madonnas and Throne of Wisdom Madonnas takes place from June 25 to July 27 at the Marian Library. The Marian Library Gallery is on the seventh floor of Roesch Library at 300 College Park Drive, Dayton, Ohio 45469 and it is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Monday through Friday.

We will host a small reception on Wednesday, July 11 at 3:30pm. PJ and I would love to meet any members of the Via Lucis community who are in the region. If you are interested in coming, please email us and we will get you the information on the reception.

On an additional note, we have an upcoming show at the Lancaster Art Walk here in Lancaster, Ohio. We will be at the Artist’s Reception on Thursday, July 19 from 5-7pm at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio at 145 E Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130. Our “Painted Romanesque” exhibition will be on display at Art & Clay On Main at 150 W Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130 on Friday, July 20 from 6-9pm. Again, members of the Via Lucis community are welcome to come to either event. Our lives have been so enriched by meeting many of you in the past and we hope to do so in this next month.

PJ at the exhibit of photos, July 2018

On the technical side, our prints for the Dayton exhibition were provided by Miller’s Professional Imaging in Columbia, Missouri. After an exhaustive national search for vendors and extensive proofing with Miller’s, we selected them. Their work is superb and they have the best customer service I have seen in years.

Our framing was done locally by The Frame Shop here in Lancaster. Cindy and Steve Smith have done many art works for us and when we asked for a bid on the exhibition, they matched the online prices and provided real wood frames instead of composite frames. First rate works from friendly local neighbors – we couldn’t ask for more.

If you are interested in ordering the exhibition catalog, please follow this link.

An Exhibition in Dayton


We are delighted to announce another Via Lucis exhibition, this time at the Marian Library of the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio. The dates of the show will be June 25 to July 27, 2018.

The exhibition, entitled “The Throne of Wisdom”, features twenty-four photographs of Sedes Sapientiae madonnas, including Black Madonnas, from France.

Notre Dame de Prades, Eglise Saint Pierre, Prades (Pyrénées-Orientales)

The Marian Library was founded by the Marianists of the University of Dayton in 1943 to make the Blessed Virgin Mary better known, loved, and served. It is a special library whose presence on campus is a significant expression of the university’s Catholic and Marianist identity.

The Marian Library is recognized both nationally and internationally as a center for scholarship on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It serves the research needs of faculty and students of the International Marian Research Institute and of the broader University of Dayton community, and of visitors throughout the world.

Saint Mary’s Hall, Chapel, Saint Joseph Hall

The Marian Library is located at 300 College Park on the campus of the University of Dayton. We will provide more information on the exhibition as the dates draw nearer.

The Passing of a Giant (Dennis Aubrey)


Angelico Surchamp June 23, 1924 – March 1, 2018

The first time we saw Père Angelico Surchamp, the diminutive monk was with a group of admirers at the Convent of Notre Dame de Venière just outside of Tournus where he served as confessor to the nuns. One of the guests – obviously a great admirer – insisted on taking his picture. Smiling, Surchamp asked, “What am I? A national monument?” I remember thinking at the time, “Of course you are!”

Dom Angelico Surchamp, September 20, 2011

PJ and I have been planning our fall trip to Europe. As always, we put on the list a visit to the Abbaye de la Pierre-qui-Vire, home to our great mentor. The last time we saw him a year ago his health was failing and we were hoping that he would be well enough to receive us. This is not to be; today we received a letter from Father Mathias at the Monastery.

Chers amis,
Nous vous partageons le départ de notre Frère Angelico Surchamp.
Bien fraternellement.

This short announcement came with an obituary letter from Père Luc CORNUAU, Abbé of La Pierre-qui-Vire, giving the briefest summary of his life and accomplishments. The key phrase in the document is the following; “Artiste et moine, f. Angelico a cherché à unifier sa vie, non sans tension lors des évolutions de la liturgie après le Concile. Son regard pétillant et malicieux laissait entrevoir sa forte personnalité, et son sourire accueillant, sa simplicité ainsi que sa belle confiance en Dieu.” Translated, this reads “Artist and monk, Father Angelico sought to unify his life, not without tension during the changes in the liturgy after the Council. His sparkling and mischievous look revealed his strong personality, his welcoming smile, his simplicity and his trust in God.”

So few words, hinting at so much. But what nothing in the document says is what he accomplished for the history of architecture, specifically, Romanesque architecture. His chef d’oeuvre – the Éditions Zodiaque – is a monumental accomplishment in art history, a collection of over 200 volumes on Romanesque art and architecture. No work in the field is complete without these studies.

Frères Surchamp and Norberto photographing a church in Aragon, September 23, 1986 (Photo courtesy of Románico)

Our admiration for Surchamp is complete, but the sense of loss at his passing has nothing to do with his work. We have lost the luminous spirit of the small monk in the Morvan who had become our friend, our mentor, and our spiritual guide for Via Lucis.

We have one memento of our visits to him that carries his inimitable touch. On our first visit, we met him at the convent and then took him to lunch in Cuisery. Afterwards, he took us to see the Église Sainte Marie Madeleine in the village of Le Villars. He thought it would be interesting for us to photograph. At one point I was shooting the exterior capitals and joked with Père Surchamp that he had now to “sing for his supper”; I handed him the remote and asked him to take the shot. He smiled at me and said “Is the photographer the one who presses the button or the one who composes the shot?” I laughed and said, “Now we’re talking philosophy.” Here is the shot he took – posted in black and white, of course – and even though we never completed the discussion of who the photographer was, I have the pleasure of assigning the metadata and therefore attribute the photo to the master.

Portal of Église Sainte Marie Madeleine, Le Villars (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dom Angelico Surchamp

That night I asked PJ to express her thoughts on Surchamp. “We were so excited to meet him; I thought it was the meeting of the minds for the two of you. You found someone who you could talk to about the churches on a different level than anyone else, because there is a philosophy in his speaking of these places and the experience of photographing them. You can really understand him when you have done it, like we have. It means a great deal to hear him speak. I think that he looked at the churches as an artist, not just as a priest or a monk or from strictly a religious point of view, but also from an artistic point of view. Which is why you don’t have to be Catholic to love the places. He understands this on a very profound level, as I think we do.

And I love his explanation of the difference between Romanesque and Gothic – the Romanesque induces internal experience and reflection; Gothic induces external reflection. Gothic is the demonstration of the belief of spirituality while Romanesque is the experience of that belief.”

And this from a woman who professes not to speak French.

Surchamp’s artistic view of the world comes from his early love of and training in the fine arts. He was a student of the great Cubist painter Albert Gleize and was greatly influenced by Gleize’s work.

Paysage cubiste, Albert Gleize (1920)

PJ had further thoughts on Surchamp. “He sees the interaction of lights and planes, shapes and shadows. He wasn’t just shooting – most of the photography that you see from that era, they are shooting a picture of the church. But he’s really shooting like we shoot, he’s shooting something else. He is trying to capture the church, but he’s shooting deeper than ‘I want to show someone what this place looks like.’ He’s trying to express all of these other things – the interaction of the architecture with the light, it’s multidimensional feel.”

Paray-le-Monial from Bourgogne romane, La Nuit des Temps I, 1974 (6th ed.), pl. 50

Paray-le-Monial from Bourgogne romane, La Nuit des Temps I, 1974 (6th ed.), pl. 50

She continues, “He’s shooting as an artist – taking the religious content aside, you can see that he is shooting it the way an artist would. Of course it’s very realistic, there’s nothing more real than architecture, but like your shot of Fontenay that I love, that’s a perfect example. There’s nothing more realistic than that, but it also wonderfully abstract, and you can look at it and see the bands of light only, it’s abstract.”

As if to confirm this thought, when Surchamp saw PJ’s photograph of the side aisle at the Cathédrale Saint Front in Perigeueux, he smiled at her and said “You photograph as I photograph!”

Side aisle, Cathedrale Saint Front, Périgueux (Dordogne) Photo by PJ McKey

We were lucky enough to visit with Surchamp in the company of my parents some years ago. At the Basilique Saint Philibert de Tournus, we walked through the old columns of the nave together. We descended the steep stairs into the crypt, and seeing Surchamp in his black robes walking with his hands behind his back was like being taken back centuries in time. I could almost hear the plainsong chants of his Benedictine predecessors as he walked these stone floors among the strong pillars.

We mounted again up into the main floor of the abbey church, my father and Surchamp walked arm-in-arm. I thought, “These are my two fathers, my birth father and my spiritual father”.

PJ with Dom Angelico Surchamp in Le Villars

Driving away, my parents were delighted to have met Surchamp – “He was everything you talked about,” my mother said. Indeed, and more, because my words can never do justice to this accomplished Benedictine monk who has become so important to our lives. “We do not reach beauty except in love, and love requires time and freedom.”

On our last visit with Surchamp at La Pierre qui Vire, he said, À mon âge, tout ce que je dois donner c’est ma mort – “At my age, all I have left to give is my death.” I told him that he had more to give than that, just the joy of our visit with him was a greater gift. He took my arm, looked at me with that old, wise look and said Nous sommes séparés par des milliers de kilomètres et un grand océan, mais nos coeurs sont proches.

“We are separated by thousands of kilometers and a great ocean, but our hearts are close.”

I felt at the time that he was saying goodbye, and it turns out that feeling was correct. He is back in the arms of his great, giving, and loving God who Surchamp cherished with all of his heart. We wish him farewell on his long journey into eternity. We will lay flowers on his grave when we return to our beloved France in September.

Here are links to our previous articles on père Angelico, José Surchamp

Those who precede (Part 2), Angelico Surchamp

Those who precede (Part 3), Angelico Surchamp

Those Who Precede part 4 – Angelico Surchamp

The Monk in the Morvan Forest