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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  October 2009

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION October 2009

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Subject:

Re: Medieval lighting

From:

Dr Jim Bugslag <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 21 Oct 2009 19:25:14 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (295 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Christopher,
There was a distinct change in the "aesthetics of lighting" in churches 
about the middle of the 13th century.  Through the 12th century, as 
church windows became larger and more numerous, the tones of glass used 
in stained glass windows actually darkened, in order to maintain a 
consistently "dark" lighting level (which would have been relieved by 
candles and lamps strategically placed at altars, etc.).  There is a 
nice analysis of this by Louis Grodecki, 'Le vitrail et l'architecture 
au XIIe et au XIIIe siècles', /Gazette des beaux-arts/, 6. pér., 36 
(1949), 5-24.  But in the mid-13th century, not only did the tones of 
coloured glass begin to lighten up, but much more white (or clear) glass 
began to be used in church windows.  A nice treatment of this aesthetic 
change is John Gage, 'Gothic Glass: Two Aspects of a Dionysian 
Aesthetic', /Art History/, 5/1 (1982), 36-58.
Cheers,
Jim

Christopher Crockett wrote:
> medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
>
> thanks for that loverly quote from Moore, Jim.
>
> i had no idea that suchlike detailed interpretations existed so early. 
> Moore's now on my Must Read list, for sure.
>
>
> "...they be al sumwhat darke. Howbeit that was not donne through ignoraunce in
> buildinge, but as they say, by the counsel of the priestes.  Bicause they
> thought that over much light doth disperse mens cogitations, whereas in dimme
> and doubtful lighte they be gathered together, and more earnestly fixed upon
> religion and devotion."
>
> what a perceptive observation that is.
>
> it might even be True...
>
> combining this with John's point about smallness and darkness, my feeling
> --based on only an incomplete and spotty knowledge of the few early
> (Merovingian, Carolingian, Early Capetian) buildings left in central and
> northern France-- is that, while "smallness" may well have been a function of
> economy and, perhaps, sociology, and "darkness" may well have been a function
> of technology (or lack thereof), there is another consideration which, as
> Moore points out, must be considered, esp. concerning the latter condition: 
>
> that the "darkness" was, at least to some degree, quite deliberate.
>
> however, i disagree with Moore's implication that it was the "darkeness" (per
> se) which was dispositive.
>
> rather, what was actually intended by having few and small windows (again, i'm
> thinking about pre-romanesque and romanesque buildings, whereas Moore probably
> had in mind Gothic ones, their glass in his time significantly darkened by
> centuries of acquired patina, inside and out) was the *control* of light and
> its manipulation, the latter indeed for the priestesly purposes which Moore
> suggests.
>
> these pre-12th c. churches were, indeed, "darke" --compared to outside, during
> daylight-- but they were certainly "lighted" (as our documents amply
> demonstrate), and that lighting was *controlled*, both in its intensity and
> its placement, as well as in its "quality" (i.e., the flickering flames of
> candles or lamps).
>
> recall that the interior surfaces of *all* churches of this period were
> *covered* by paintings --mosaics or frescoes (frequently combined with
> elements of "plastic" stucco relief-- and the peculiar "style" of those
> paintings, with their more or less abstract shapes, vivid colors,
> figure-ground "confusion" and, above all (when viewed in flickering
> flamelight), their strikingly deep, highly contrasting shadows and shimmering
> highlights, combined to create, i'm convinced, a sensorily-induced, quite
> profound psychological effect, esp. when combined with
> echoing/reverberating/resonating sounds (to say nothing of the psychic effects
> of the liturgical/spiritual "content" of that music) and (not to forget)
> literally clouds of quite pungent incense. 
>
> think: a 1969 Grateful Dead concert at the Philmore, complete with hypnotic,
> reverberating music, flickering lights, clouds of "incense," all within a
> "setting" which particularly lent itself to environmentally induced
> psychotropism.
>
> (and we needn't even speculate here about the enhancing effects of certain
> pharmaceutical agents freely available in the Haight in '69; nor, for that
> matter, of the effects of argot "poisoning" on the poor middelvils' darkened
> Doors of Perception.)
>
> c
>  
>
> ------ Original Message ------
> Received: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:19:33 PM EDT
> From: Dr Jim Bugslag <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [M-R] Medieval lighting
>
>   
>> medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
>>
>> Sir Thomas More, in his Utopia (1516), has a delightful commentary on the
>>     
> illumination of medieval churches, or lack thereof: "Their churches be verye
> gorgious, and not onelye of fine and curious workemanship, but also ... very
> wide and large, and hable to receave a great company of people.  But they be
> al sumwhat darke.  Howbeit that was not donne 
>   
>> through ignoraunce in buildinge, but as they say, by the counsel of the
>>     
> priestes.  Bicause they thought that over much light doth disperse mens
> cogitations, whereas in dimme and doubtful lighte they be gathered together,
> and more earnestly fixed upon religion and devotion."
>   
>> Cheers,
>> Jim
>>
>> John Dillon wrote:
>>     
>>> medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
>>>
>>> Well yes, but such darkness was hardly unique to English churches. 
>>>       
> Smaller Mediterranean churches too were often _very_ dark within.  And at
> Dixton the priest _did_ use candles.  The scene in the Vita of St. Vitalian of
> Capua has one imagining either that no candles were in use at the start of
> Matins or else that the illumination from whatever candles were used was so
> poor that no one else present could tell before it grew lighter outside that
> the celebrant (a bishop in his cathedral) was wearing women's clothing.
>   
>>> What do we know about the extent of illumination that would be used for
>>>       
> readings at Matins?  We can infer that it probably varied according to the
> wealth of the monastery or non-monastic church in question.  But what would be
> a minimum amount of light? And where would it be positioned in relation to the
> celebrant?
>   
>>> Best again,
>>> John Dillon   
>>>
>>>
>>> On Tuesday, October 20, 2009, at 1:38 pm, John Shinners wrote:
>>>  
>>>   
>>>       
>>>> On the other hand, English parish churches could often be dark.  
>>>> Parishioners across Hereford regularly complained in a visitation 
>>>> register from 1397 that their churches were so dark that priests had 
>>>> trouble reading in them because of "lack of light" (defectum luminis). 
>>>> For instance, at the parish of Dixton, they said their chancel was so 
>>>> dark that the priest had to use candles to say mass even in the middle 
>>>> of the day: "cancellus est obscurus et tenebrosus, ita quod in meridie 
>>>> seruicium diuinum non potest fieri ibidem sine candela..."
>>>>     
>>>>         
>>> <SNIP>
>>>  
>>>   
>>>       
>>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>>> From: John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> To: [log in to unmask]
>>>> Sent: Tue, 20 Oct 2009 11:50:08 -0400 (EDT)
>>>> Subject: Re: [M-R] Medieval lighting
>>>>
>>>> medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and
>>>>         
> culture
>   
>>>> For what little this is worth, the cross-dressing episode in the 
>>>> probably monastic, perhaps late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century 
>>>> legendary Vita of the early medieval St. Vitalian of Capua (BHL 1254) 
>>>> envisions a situation in which V.'s wearing women's clothing while he 
>>>> celebrates Matins in his cathedral (an adaptation of a similar 
>>>> incident in legendary Vitae of St. Jerome) only becomes apparent to 
>>>> others as it grows light.  Which in turn means that the Vita's 
>>>> audience is expected -- if it thinks about this -- to imagine a 
>>>> chancel insufficiently lit at the outset of the service to permit 
>>>> observation of the nature of the celebrant's clothing.
>>>>
>>>> This seems more likely to reflect dimness on the part of the Vita's 
>>>> author than actual darkness in the chancel at Montevergine (or 
>>>> wherever the Vita was written) when Matins began.  Still,...  
>>>>    
>>>> Best,
>>>> John Dillon
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> On Tuesday, October 20, 2009, at 6:39 am, Brenda Cook wrote:
>>>>
>>>>     
>>>>         
>>>>> An entertaining gloss on the whole business of moving around it the 
>>>>>       
>>>>> dark is, of course, Chaucer's The Reeve's Tale. That is the one 
>>>>>       
>>>>>           
>>>> where 
>>>>     
>>>>         
>>>>> two students (from Cambridge, too, tut tut) spend the night with a 
>>>>> dishonest miller and his family and get their revenge by [swiving] 
>>>>> (please substitute your preferred polite word) the miller's daughter 
>>>>>       
>>>>> and wife respectively. The mainspring of the nocturnal errors is the 
>>>>>       
>>>>> fact that student Allan shifts the baby's cradle from the foot of 
>>>>>       
>>>>>           
>>>> one 
>>>>     
>>>>         
>>>>> bed to the other thus totally confusing the navigational aids in the 
>>>>>       
>>>>> darkened room. There is also a reference to a gleam of moonlight 
>>>>> coming in through the shutters at a crucial moment.
>>>>>       
>>>>>           
>>>> **********************************************************************
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>>>>     
>>>>         
>>> **********************************************************************
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>>>   
>>>       
>> **********************************************************************
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>>     
> **********************************************************************
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