Friday 2 July 2010

Images of heaven

We live in an age of images, in which photography and photoshop, CGI and advertising, surround and enfold us in an inescapable cascade of pictures and fragments of pictures, sometimes to the extent of seeming to create a whole artificial world. The elderly are often dependent on the TV that serves as a companion and tranquillizer, the young live their lives through the computer screen on their phone or laptop. The word "icon" now signifies for most people something purely secular - a tiny image that opens up into an application, or else the trademark appearance of some celebrity. Paradoxically, in this Age of the Image, we have lost the ability to read images - to see through them into their meaning. Instead we go through them to other images, and are caught in an endless chain of distraction. To read images we must appreciate symbolism. The image signifies something ultimately real yet invisible, something grasped by intuition or intellect using the image as a support. We need a revival of "mystagogy". This is something church architects and artists have rediscovered, and as a result many new churches may be easier to pray in than some built in the last generation. Matthew Alderman writes about this in "Heaven Made Manifest" from Antiphon magazine ("The crucifixion is just a symbol, but symbols still have meaning, especially in this age so starved of symbol, sign, and iconography"). The symbolism of the Christian temple is analysed in great detail by Jean Hani in a book of that title. The leader of the new movement in church architecture is Duncan Stroik, who directs the Institute for Sacred Architecture at Notre Dame and its brilliant journal. Take a look, also, at Liturgical Environs by Steven J. Schloeder. The beacons are lit...

Photo of Westminster Cathedral by Rose-Marie Caldecott.