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Sunday, 13 March 2016

10 best places for reflection

In today's Observer Aaron Rosen chooses his 10 best places for reflection. From Reykjavik to Tate Modern, he looks at spaces to inspire contemplation during Lent.

Aaron has some great choices but his choices are clearly intended to prompt reflection among his readers on the choices they would make, so here is my top 10:

l’Abbaye de la Fille Dieu, Romont

Brian Clarke says that stained glass ‘can transform the way you feel when you enter abuilding in a way that nothing else can!’ I would concur, especially after arriving at l’Abbaye de la Fille Dieu in time for a memorable service of Vespers followed by silent contemplation in the still onset of darkness falling.Tomas Mikulas, the architect on the restoration of this Cistercian Abbey, has stated that the overall goal of the restoration was to offer both nuns and visitors an ‘atmosphere conducive to meditation and prayer.’ Mikulas suggests that it is the ‘warm and vibrant atmosphere’ created by Clarke’s windows ‘with the changing light of day’ that ‘makes a decisive contribution’ to the space and to the restoration as a whole.

Chapelle Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus et de laSainte-Face, Hem

Alfred Manessier was a lyrical abstractionist who thought of stained glass less as a design than as “the simultaneous creation of a light-filled architectural unit, thought-out and created by the painter at one go.” In this way he wanted "to express man’s inner prayer.” Chapelle Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus et de laSainte-Face in Hem is an attempt to create spiritual space - a sense of prayer and a glimpse of heaven – through the play of light and colour within the building.

Pleshey was the first Diocesan Retreat House to be established in the country. Amongst the list of Retreat conductors is Evelyn Underhill. Arguably the most distinguished Conductor of that time, it is largely due to Underhill that the Retreat house became so popular. When you come to the Retreat House in Pleshey you sense an atmosphere created by six hundred years of prayer. For me, it is a special place because of ordination and cell group retreats.

Down dimly-lit stairwells / into a cavernous immensity / of curved brick, concrete and darkness / to stand still, transfixed, / in silent expanse / focused on the glow / and gleam / of the white stone table / over which / the crucified Christ hangs / from concrete cross-beams. / Morning light softly infiltrates, / casting shadows, / bringing the dawn ... The space and acoustic / act and appear as /
the inside of a hi-fi speaker; / the lantern, like an industrial chimney, / funnels the aromatic incense /
of prayer and praise / to tease and to please / the senses of God.

St Benet's Chapel

Adam Kossowski's murals at St Benet's Chapel fill the entire wallspace of this circular chapel surrounding and enveloping worshippers with their imagery. When services are held, however, the altar table is located in front of the panel depicting worship in heaven of the lamb that was slain. In this way, worship on earth is conducted in the context of worship in heaven. This work is about rescue, redemption and salvation. Fr. Edward Maguire has written, 'From clay and fire he forged a vision of the past, present and future to lift up and inspire countless others ... May we be inspired by him to use our gifts as he used his."

Notre-Dame du Bon Conseil, Lourtier

Lourtier is to be found among the imposing alpine architecture of snow-capped peaks in the Val de Bagnes, one of Switzerland's largest nature reserves. I arrived at the end of the afternoon to find the mountain sunshine flooding the empty church. Alberto Sartoris’ design for Notre-Dame du Bon Conseil is clean, spare and minimalist. Internally, the church is a simple white rectangle with a sleek arched wooden roof. Both the ceiling’s planks and the grey-painted wooden pews draw the eye to the sanctuary wall containing two large stained glass windows by Albert Gaeng. The triumph of Lourtier is an influential design coupled with a dramatically beautiful building that is well suited to the liturgy and well used by its people.

The Crypt of Colònia Güell

The Crypt of Colònia Güell is a warm, womb-like enclosure; intimate yet archetypal. It is real and usable communal space while also being of great architectural worth, innovation and beauty. Here the ‘heaven in ordinarie’ of the Eucharist is celebrated in the surround of natural forms recreated by man-made means. 'Gaudí based his buildings on a simple premise: If nature is the work of God, and if architectural forms are derived from nature, then the best way to honor God is to design buildings based on his work. As the Barcelona scholar Joan Bassegoda Nonell notes, "Gaudí's famous phrase, 'originality is returning to the origin,' means that the origin of all things is nature, created by God."'

Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence

‘Simple colours,’ Henri Matisse wrote, ‘can affect the innermost feelings, their impact being all the more forceful through their simplicity.’ The spiritual expression of the blues, greens and yellows he used in the stained glass of the chapel struck him as unquestionable. His goal ‘was to find a balance between a light surface and colour with a solid wall of black-on-white line drawing.’ The line drawings on ceramic tiles of both St Dominic and the Virgin and Child he thought to have a ‘tranquil reverent nature all their own,’ while the great drama of Christ in the Stations of the Cross had made ‘his impassioned spirit overflow within the Chapel.’

Musée Chagall, Nice

On entering the rooms of the Message Biblique - first the room of Genesis and Exodus, then the Song of Songs - one is struck by the colours of the works before their content. Chagall viewed painting as the reflection of his inner self and therefore colour contained his character and message. In his museum inauguration speech he said, ‘If all life moves inevitably towards its end, then we must, during our own, colour it with our colours of love and hope.’ These are paintings which seek to dream by their colours and lines an ideal of fraternity and love. To be surrounded by these massive statements demonstrating - through content and construction - the potential of religion for reconciliation, was a wonderful and moving experience.

A stunning blend of old and new art and architecture is to be found at St Stephen Walbrook, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. Bombed in the Second World War and restored to its present magnificent state in 1981, twentieth century artists and craftsmen have adorned its interior. Henry Moore’s travertine marble altar now stands at the centre under Wren’s dome surrounded by dazzling kneelers from Patrick Heron. Moore’s altar design was intended for people to gather as a community around the altar where God could be found at the centre. Currently contemplation is aided by 'Lamentation for the Forsaken, 2016’, a digital art installation by Michael Takeo Magruder which evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict by weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin.

What would your 10 choices be?


Lavine Hudson - Flesh Of My Flesh.

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