Saturday, May 10, 2008

Expressions of Faith at St Germain des Pres, Paris

Yesterday I visited the parish church of Saint Germain des Pres in Paris, a beautiful Gothic style church which is very active in helping the needy (raising a budget for this purpose of 250,000 Euros annually). Originally, this was the site of the oldest church in Paris, part of the abbey founded in 543 by King Childebert. This powerful abbey was independent of the authority of the bishop, and consequently not under the jurisdiction of those controlling the cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris.

I appreciated expressions of faith in this ancient church. The structure itself bespeaks faith and industry--the high enclosed spaces were architectural marvels which draw the eye and mind upwards, for many people, God has best been conceptualized as being located high, above. The spaces were quite dark, in spite of the bright day. This reminded me that the builders had to create relatively small windows, allowing the walls to be substantial, to support the incredible weight of the very high arches and ceilings. I tried to capture this sense of height photographically. It also reminded me of the mystery believers appreciated centuries ago, the willingness to accept and relate to the soft touches of light, seeing them both as physical expressions and as glimmers of hope.

I was also moved by the beauty of the groupings of candles, each paid for and lit by someone wishing to offer a prayer for a deceased loved one, or possibly on behalf of a concern of a friend or some worry they carry personally. One of the photos shows candles close to marble plaques commemorating and listing the names of those in the St Germain des Pres parish who died in the World War II, another shows candles before the statue of the Virgin.

I do not think the windows are truly ancient (12th c.) but I was intrigued by the colours of one widow and show a small pane which is the in lower right-hand corner of a much larger stained glass window.

Although I am uneasy photographing people in church, I used my 70-200 lens to record the pensive mood of a young lady pondering a statue, plaque and flowers by herself. The lighting was intriguing, the moment was very personal and beautiful. I also waited quite a while to get a photo of someone leaving the former abbey church, showing them in profile as they returned to the bright light after spending perhaps 30 minutes or more in the contemplative darkness of the sanctuary.