The relevance of our Romanesque heritage
During the Romanesque period of European history, the world of Vézelay occupies an important place amongst the masterpieces which from East to West have been built by a few generations of craftsmen who toiled, aided by grace, at the very beginning of the twelfth century, to produce a flowering of works which still have the power to move us today.
Romanesque architecture offers a vision of a unified world
We can gain a perception of this unification in the harmonisation of its languages, from its volumes and proportions, to its acoustic qualities. The play of the light and the sculpted ornamentation take their shape from this union. Moreover, Romanesque art speaks to man in his entirety, body, heart and soul, by means that are more intuitive than explicit. That is, sight, hearing, touch and emotion are the vehicles of an experience which effects a metamorphosis of the soul of the pilgrim. Today, in these uninterrupted and untroubled places, we men of the 21st century rediscover the influence that architecture can have over our state of being. Our meeting with Vézelay may prove to be the occasion of an inner happening, or reconciliation.
Romanesque building is an inspired art, both empirical and communal
«There were no architects at Vézelay, only builders’ exclaimed Le Corbusier. This exclamation reflects above all the attitude of those working on the building site. That is, they built whilst the light of their inspiration lasted and with that perspective in mind, without any absolute guarantee of the result. The conception of the building and its realisation were inextricably linked in the practical and shared savoir faire of its builders, and in the intuition of their hands. The building site functioned by means of constant communication between the overseer of the project and the master builder, who was well aware of the particular skills of each of his craftsmen. In most cases, the finished products were anonymous. The successful creation of a fine piece of craftsmanship, accomplished by the collective enthusiasm and energy doubtless constituted its real signature
A fundamentally symbolic art
Every element, regardless of its nature – architecture, sculpture, the orientation of the building, the plans for design, or the exploitation of the light – has its own function, which is at once physical, ornamental and liturgical. Each of these elements come together like the colours of the rainbow to create a symbol of the whole building. This concept could be expressed as being a bridge between visible and invisible realities.
Today, the interpretation of such works, which resonate with both our personal and communal aspirations, can act as a catalyst, making us question the capacity of human construction to create places which make sense, and which are capable of uniting men with those around them, as well as with those greater than him.
The role of the image
Both the 12th and 21st centuries are remarkable for the profusion of images with which they abound. An image can stimulate and influence the mind much more easily than long hypothesising, thanks to its ability to immediately capture its subject in its entirety. The capitals, with their images sculpted by the stone masons, offered to the medieval man a lesson at once mystical and human. Today, the contemplation of such images can shake and dislodge some of the conditioning to which our sight is subject, and can inspire artists in their search for consistency between technique, ethic, and aesthetic.
The role of Light
During his discovery of Vézelay, the first thing that strikes the visitor is the quality and the play of the light, as it shines down directly or obliquely. The building’s perfect mastery of the light is evidence of its very sophisticated positioning, as well as the fact that it was built in close harmony with the laws of nature. Today, this art of construction lays bare the fact that once man is in tune with with the laws of the cosmos, he develops an understanding of reality and an economy of means, which in turn pave the way towards a creativity filled with meaning.
Looking at the medieval world through the perspective of the modern world
The distinctive features that we have just mentioned bestow relevance upon this art even today. In order to realise this relevance properly, we must place our behaviour and habits beneath the scrutiny of a renewing interpretation, and this exercise of interpretation must favour the re-appearance of fundamental values, of which our society has desperate need. Without wishing to idealise medieval society, whose peculiar brand of Christianity is well known for its limiting qualities, the qualities of this art gives us the opportunity to rediscover certain gestures and impetus that are inherent within it, in spite of the material and social constraints of today.