While the readings from Wednesday really incited much confusion and speculation within me as a whole, I was especially drawn to the pieces written by Henry Adams. Adams begin his account of Chartres on page 87 by saying that "no two men think alike" about the cathedral, which is ironic because even Adams' own thoughts on the cathedral do not appear to be cohesive with one another. Adams calls Chartres magnificent; yet, he simplifies the cathedral as well by saying on page 98, "There is nothing about the Chartres you would think mystical...here you need note how symbolic and how simple the sculpture is...even what seems a grotesque or an abstract idea is no more than the simplest child's personification."
His contradictions even venture toward the Virgin herself. At first, on page 88 he says, “She was the greatest artist, as she was the greatest philosopher and musician and theologist, that ever lived on earth, except her son, who, at Chartres, is still an infant under her guardianship. Her taste was infallible; her sentence final.” But then, on page 99, he says that Mary “troubled herself little with Theology.” He insults her feminine taste and equates her childlike disposition with the childishness of the cathedral.
How can he begin by revering the Mother so highly and then later insult her so greatly? Is he conflicted within himself? Or is there some underlying message within the text that I was missing?
During yesterday’s discussion, a point was made that one really does have to view Chartres with a childlike mind in order to fully appreciate it. A child’s viewpoint is that of awe and wonder, rather than the adult viewpoint of speculation and practicality. As Adams said, the American mind would be more concerned with how much money went into the construction of the cathedral, rather than reveling in the cathedral’s mystery and beauty. This made me wonder whether Adams’ referring to Chartres as something for our amusement is in fact a good thing. It seems as though when he visited Chartres himself he was so awestruck, so taken aback by the light and beauty within the cathedral, so overcome by the Virgin’s presence, that he felt like a child again. He said we must rid ourselves of the traditional idea that gothic architecture exhibits gloom and put ourselves in a childlike mindset to fully understand and appreciate the magnificence of Chartres. He says Mary’s first commands were for the cathedral to be full of light and of color, two aspects children would appreciate, and these two elements would have a harmonizing effect. To a childlike mind, the image of Chartres would be breathtaking.
But why not for a mature, adult mind? Would those with mature, logical minds only look at the cathedral for its value or architectural significance?
This is the point I think Adams may be trying to make. Viewing such a spiritual creation with a practical mindset will never give one pleasure in viewing that creation. I feel that when Adams visited Chartres, he was taken back into a state of childhood. He felt that this building was bigger, held more spiritual significance than another building built for architectural enjoyment. This was built out of devotion and love toward Mary, the endless, unconditional, unquestioning love of children. If we are to understand and appreciate anything spiritual, anything that is greater than human life itself, we cannot view it with skeptical minds. Instead, we must open up our hearts and minds like children do, feeling Mary’s presence within Chartres, and taking in all its majesty and beauty.