A Stark Contrast Within Us
My wife and I recently took a holiday exploring some of the cities in central and southern Spain. Our itinerary included several days in Seville. One of the first places we visited there was the majestic Gothic cathedral, full of famous relics and treasures including the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
What left the deepest impression in me is the stark contrast between two particular objects. The first of these is the Monstrance of Seville – a four metre high masterwork of solid silver weighing almost 500 kilos made by the metalsmith Juan de Are in the 1580s. A monstrance in the Roman Catholic Church and some other churches is a vessel in which the consecrated host (the sacramental bread) is carried in processions and is displayed during certain devotional ceremonies. The word monstrance is derived from the Latin word monstrare which means “to show.” The second object is a carved wooden cross no more than one metre high with hundreds of individual, intricately detailed figures.
Both of these objects demonstrate exceptional workmanship, perseverance and attention to detail in different crafts. The monstrance was however, clearly built to convey authority and power over people, at a time when the Church in Spain, was forcibly imposing itself on the population through the Spanish Inquisition after hundreds of years of Islamic rule by the Moors. The wooden cross simply conveys devotion and service to an inner authority, without wishing to impose. Is this not a totally different and more human impulse?
This contrast was reinforced by a visit to Salamanca, which has two cathedrals built next to each other. The old cathedral is Romanesque, having been built in the twelfth century, and the “new” cathedral was built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The impulse to build the latter apparently came from the need to have a larger building to handle the increased numbers of people coming to services. The new building is awe-inspiring in scale and architectural grandeur. On walking through the join between the two buildings, and stepping down into the older cathedral, there was an immediate, spine-tingling sense of Prayer and Presence, a feeling of returning Home inside to something more true. This impression was intensified as we walked around, to the point where there was an overwhelming sense of having been there before.
Do we recognise the two different natures in us? Firstly, the one which has a need to control and impose what we think and feel at any one moment as “Right” on to everything and everyone around us and reacts to everything. The other nature is of a totally different, deeper level, one which quietly wishes to see and understand – simply “to be”. Is not learning to truly live wholeheartedly working to bring these two natures together, so that one is seen and digested by the other?