Snapshot: Churches of France and Belgium

By: Joseph Wenderski, ’16

As anyone at Aquinas knows, we are required to take two humanities courses, wherein we listen to lectures about culture and see the fruits born of history.  Yet, when we students are not quite as excited as professors Eberle, Dail Whiting, Crabb, or Brooks, this merely theoretical approach can seem boring—but only occasionally, right?

Nonetheless, my studies in France and subsequent travel have afforded me the ability to personally experience the magnificent art portrayed in class. As one could likely infer, my favorite art is religious—namely, Catholic architecture.  While here, I have visited several cathedrals and neo-Gothic churches.  Even the most diminutive are comparable to the grandeur and magnificence of the United States’ grandest cathedrals.  Angers, my city of study, has several churches within 20-minute walks of one another.  Though not quite Notre-Dame de Paris, Mont St. Michel, or Sacré Cœur, these spaces take even the most modern Catholic to a much older time in our tradition, to a sense of the divine made immanently close at hand.  Consequently, it a travesty that many of these structures are being destroyed, as they are no longer beneficial to the state which seized them during its Third Republic.

Yet, as much as I enjoy French churches, my mid-April road trip to Belgium surpassed anything I have ever seen.  The cathedral in Ghent is home to the multi-sectioned painting featured in Monuments Men, which I had seen a mere two weeks beforehand.  The cathedral was breathtakingly stunning, with an exterior of dark stone and flying buttresses imposingly resting for structural support.  Inside, pillared walls of white and black marble stretch down the nave.  Behind the altar, over ten side-altars house paintings, statues, and confessionals, testimonies to the artistic brilliance of its age.  Moving to the basement, the church displayed chalices, vestments, and monstrances from across the centuries.  My only regret was the prohibition of photography.

I left Ghent emotionally attached, more so there than to any other church.  Reflecting on both its historical and religious impacts, I was shocked with a sense of religious awe, as the venerable designers had intended centuries earlier.  Moreover, I parted with a deeper appreciation of the knowledge gained in my semesters at Aquinas.

Case in point, pay attention to the Humanities…at least a bit!

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