On August 28, 1963 beneath a sweltering Washington D.C. sun resumed a journey for redemption that had begun nearly four hundred years earlier across the mighty Atlantic Ocean. As a people who, stripped of their pride and dignity were utilized as an expendable resource in a foreign land to carry out the tasks that seemed to be beneath the doing of white hands. These “tasks” that those slaves were burdened where the toils of enduring harshness that have built the very bedrock of our land. And from that land over three hundred thousand men and women of all colors and religious denominations have congregated at our nation’s capitol to embody a growing outrage that was not being given proper remedy. Those that gathered where; of assorted and varying race, unified with one another, and peaceful but thunderously demanding that an end be brought to the injustices that had been delivered to them through the cold motions of indolence and dispassionate action from their government. Here in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King would have seen the masses that collectively gathered and displayed no sense of individuality or apparent distinction from one person to the next. Here, all is how he must have envisioned in his dream. And from this place of turbulence and roiling unrest articulated and with all the soothing nature his clerical background could muster he imparted an ever hopeful plea into what was to become a lighthouse beacon shining through the darkest of nights. A plea that Illuminated even the most bewildered and lost souls to usher in a new chapter of peace and brotherhood for every person who would call themselves American.
Although, in light of the many advances and tolerances we now enjoy in today’s society there is a small, creeping notion to uphold the walls of indifference that were built up so long ago. Though the fires of racial injustice have been all but extinguished, beneath those very ashes smolder the embers of dissension and mistrust. We are now faced with not reigning in the fiery content of a person’s speech or ending the malicious content of their actions, but to try to open the most important of all conduits; our minds. We have now in recent times seen such blaring examples of the old world that still fester within the very halls of justice. Actions that sharply contrast our popular ideal of what equality and progress have come to mean. Travesties such as the “Jena 6” in which there is an obvious bias in how ” law” is metered out to even our own children. And unbelievably, no clear resolution was made to correct these missteps until the verge of a civil thunderstorm was brought to bear on the small town of Jena. This abhorrence of justice was a flashpoint to causing old familiar labels to be made again and giving those who had not yet been burned by hatred a chance to stir those ashes and unearth that underlying intolerance renewed.
And still, after almost forty six years, those prophetic words of peace and harmony that Dr. King spoke to us have struggled at times but certainly have endured. We are no longer a country openly divided which can sanction arbitrary laws that limit the expansion of a person’s intellect or bar an individual from using the common facilities that are public and located at reasonable distances or means. We have learned to co-exist and become the richer for it. The examples of our cultures merging is apparent and all around. From seeing couples of mixed racial background freely enjoying each other’s company to school children sharing their lunches at recess. The time for wholesale bigotry has been brought to a much needed and abrupt end. We have, in less than fifty years, done much to level the partitions that stand between unity and the union of improving our lives together. We are making strides to uplift the status of the most exalted of all religious teachings, fellowship. We have proudly claimed a victory to that end with the overwhelming election of our forty-fourth president. These are extraordinary times that would surely have made Dr. Martin Luther King very deeply satisfied with the evolution of his aspirations. Time is the healer of all wounds but the ointment which promotes a strong and healthy recovery is the faith of the people who carry their vision high and share it for all to see.
But still in this pursuit of companionship there have also been many casualties along the way. Good men and women who have at their end compiled a portfolio of understanding and compassion for even the ones who have dealt them their final blow. We have lost irreplaceable minds in senseless acts. These losses have incited everyone at one time or another to question whether or not the cause is lost. We are reminded of the sting that accompanies the departing of heroic icons that brave the unrelenting odds and the void in which they leave in their wake. To have shone so brightly and burned out so young is a painful transition for all to comprehend. But within that grief there lays a strong testament to the validity and urgency of the ever widening chasm they had given their lives to span. For across that great divide lies the sweet tranquility of the Promised Land. And in that sense their struggle seems duly justified.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe found itself trapped in a downward spiral in terms of the Humanities and civil order. This was a long period of ruling warlords, transient warriors and various cultures attempting to exact their dominance in their respective areas. Some of these efforts were unique and original to the world stage and others harked back to times of familiar but forgotten order. Through this time of uncertainty and weariness many of these cultures established their influence and weaved their tale into the collective story of European history as displayed through their constructions. I will preview some noteworthy examples from Germany, Italy, and France to attempt to clarify their cultural contexts and meanings in this new age for Europe.
Inside Charlegmanes' chapel at Aachen, Germany
“The Palace Chapel at Aachen”
was the primary residence of Charlemagne. Emperor Charlemagne had attempted to steer Europe back onto the path of civil and human normality which was expressed under the earlier Roman Empire for over a millennia. He had adopted the Catholic Church and ordained it as the religion of his land which was to follow and convert as he did. Charlemagne constructed his palatial retreat in the Carolingian style of Roman, Christian, and Byzantine architectural treatises. The palace reflects his deep-rooted belief in the Christian faith and simultaneously adopts the Roman Basilica style as seen in the Church at san Vitale which was reported to have a great effect on the Emperor. The interior has columns and arches that recall the Byzantine ethos which also heavily influenced the San Vitale Church. The Palace also contained a great audience hall that emulated a classic Roman forum as well. In all, the palace chapel at Aachen was trying to revitalize the late Roman Empire by highlighting the virtuous aspects of creative and varied ability while combining new emerging religious fervor and merging them into a unique blend that defines a large part of historical timeline In Europe.
In Tuscany, the “Cathedral Complex at Pisa”, Pisan artists began work on a complex that would attempt to channel past Roman greatness to an extent as seen in the previous example of Aachen. Here the decorum was decidedly more Roman with the facades being clothed in various marbles and richly decorated in tiered columns and decoration. The Cathedral proper is designed in the classic Roman Cruciform-Basilica style and is accented on its exterior in a way that suggests the styles seen on the Parthenon or Coliseum. Multi leveled expanses of the outside facades offer their own unique differentiations in exterior layouts that include the external portions of all the buildings within the complex. The grand presentation of these worship places are highly vested in their Imperial past and offer a true recalling of Romanesque history that their culture is responsible for.
Amiens Cathedral, France
“The Amiens Cathedral” represents another distinct movement in European religious/artistic history. Here concept of Christianity has been taken on as a high art. The churches and cathedrals of this time have become a more centralized and an integral part to community life in a way that makes them major economic and civic epicenters to the villages and towns they serve. A movement to bring praise and glory to the religion was to adopt a style of construction called Gothic which was simply a new and decidedly French style that countered the more traditional Romanesque ethos. Here this new style was used to promote the greatness of God through ornate and architectural excellence. These large cathedrals were extremely costly and highly avant-garde in their construction methods. Every available exterior surface seems to be covered in a symbolic pictorial homage to a teaching or parable from Christ and the Bible. At a time when illiteracy was rampant, these illustrations no doubt helped reinforce the sermons delivered in the pulpit and warned of the revenges and rewards the pious and sinister would befall in their final judgment. The exteriors generally revealed more of a skeletal framework from which windows and ornamentation where displayed rather than merely impressing the overwhelming scale and heavy presence that was custom until this point. Light was now a more valued commodity and with the usage of stained glass the desired mood of salvation was better achieved and appreciated. Also new techniques had to be used to cope with the drastic architectural changes. The walls where now higher, thinner and topped by sharply (and large) inclined spires and roof systems. Accordingly, new buttressing techniques were developed (flying buttresses) to ease the pressing forces of natural physics that were in opposition to these lofty and ornately delicate structures. Also important to note is the perfection of various vault types and styles that carry the weight of the megalithic creations. In summation, the art of religion and human ingenuity peaked at the same time in France in the middle ages. This style was a clean break from tradition and placed new value towards functionality and art in the sphere of everyday use.