Peace On Earth

As varied as our backgrounds and beliefs, most of us undoubtedly share the hope of a peaceful future for all (wo)mankind. Despite interpersonal differences and strife, we all know individuals who exemplify the good in humanity, or recall instances when someone’s unexpected conduct stopped us in our tracks, and made us reflect how we would have reacted in a similar situation.

I experienced one such instance when I first learned about the provenance of the windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, in the late 1980s. The building, whose foundations rest on Roman ruins, dates back in its earliest incarnation to the 10th century AD, having since undergone multiple modifications. After vast portions were destroyed by allied bombings in the 1940s, it was restored in the following decades.

I imagine that, in 1973, St. Stephen’s Pastor Klaus Mayer approached world-renowned artist Marc Chagall with some trepidation, with the request to fashion stained-glass windows for the church building, to replace the clear panels mounted temporarily during the postwar years. Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) had moved to France as a young artist, and had returned to his adopted country in 1948, after fleeing to the United States in 1941, in the wake of the Nazi invasion. I can’t begin to understand what it took for him not only to forgive the German nation for its genocide of millions of his fellow Jews, but to have the grace and greatheartedness to sublimate his sadness and sorrow into some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows ever created.

To bridge not only the chasm between Germans and Jews, but also between Christianity and Judaism, he chose to depict scenes from both the old and the new testaments. Between 1978, when he was 91, and his death in 1985 at the age of 97, nine windows of his design were produced at the studio of Jacques Simon in Reims, and subsequently installed at St. Stephen’s. Following Chagall’s passing, his friend and fellow artist, Charles Marq, continued the project, contributing nineteen additional windows. Whereas his conceptions over time became less pictorial and more abstract, they nonetheless emulated Chagall’s original color scheme and intent.

The exterior of the stately, yet not sumptuous, church does not prepare for the splendor that awaits behind the heavy bronze doors. A deep blue emanates from the windows, suffuses the interior, envelops the visitor in its calming, comforting glow. It draws the eye into the distance, while highlighting other colors and figures embedded in the glass. Since first falling in love with the serene, soothing atmosphere of this space, I have returned time and again, either to contemplate in silence, attend a guided meditation, or enjoy an organ concert. No trip to Germany would be complete without setting foot in it.

Marc Chagall’s life and legacy inspire. If each of us were to put forth even a modest effort to respect, and reach out to, one another, regardless of our religious or political convictions, skin color, age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, Peace On Earth would not remain a mere utopian wish, but become a true possibility.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/friede-auf-erden/

Traces of New Spain

     It is a truth universally acknowledged that to the victor go the spoils. In the wake of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1492 for the King and Queen of Spain, the colonial realm “New Spain” supplanted the Aztec Empire. It comprised much of the land mass north of the Isthmus of Panama and included vast stretches of the future United States. After Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821 those became Mexican, but only two and a half decades later were ceded to the U.S. following the Mexican American War (1846-48). Portions of the yet-to-be-founded states of Colorado and New Mexico lay in this ceded territory.

     Spain lost no time in sending expeditions north to search for gold. In 1540, Coronado traveled as far as modern-day Kansas. In the early 1600s, the invaders commenced the Christianization of the native North American tribes with the help of Franciscan missionaries and Catholic colonists. In the process, Christian churches were erected, usually with the sweat of the local “infidels”, or of recent converts. These edifices were built from local materials and plastered with the traditional adobe also used in the construction of indigenous pueblos. Catholicism became the sole “tolerated” religion. Once America lay claim to those formerly Mexican regions, it continued to be practiced by those believers who were suddenly US citizens.

     This history comes alive in October, when my husband and I journey from Colorado Springs southward. South of the Arkansas River, the former dividing line between Mexico and the United States, multiple towns in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and in New Mexico abound with names that harken back to this Hispanic heritage. Catholic churches and symbols dominate the scenery, such as the crucifix in the featured photo above, in Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis, founded in 1851 by settlers moving north from New Mexico.

     My photos represent a small selection of these peaceful places of worship where the Virgin Mary reigns supreme, and is often bedecked with flowers and additional tokens of adoration. As alienating as this adulation appears to this skeptic, I can’t help but respect the sincere faith in and hope for a better world – even though I desire it for the present, and not just for a future life.

San Miguel Church, Santa Fe, New Mexico, circa 1610, considered the oldest church structure in the United States

Interior of San Miguel with altar and wooden ceiling, typical of many churches

Ruins of the former church and “convento” at Pecos National Historic Park, New Mexico, circa 1717, replaced an older structure destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680

San Jose de Gracia, Las Trampas, New Mexico, circa 1760

San Miguel del Vado, near Villanueva, New Mexico, circa 1806

Mosaic on the wall surrounding San Miguel del Vado

Santuario de Chimayó, near Taos, New Mexico, circa 1816

Mary statues at Chimayó

Santo Tomas El Apostol, Abiquiú, New Mexico, circa 1935

La Capilla de Todos los Santos, San Luis, Colorado, circa 1997, the culmination of a trail lined with bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross

A small shrine inside this chapel

Stained-glass window inside this chapel

Click her for the German version/klicken sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/11/22/auf-den-spuren-von-neuspanien/

My Favorite Windows

Whenever I am in Germany a journey to Mainz is a personal necessity, for nostalgia’s sake, and always includes a few must sees. From my father’s house I travel about 22 miles by train, profiting from the expedient public transportation system, and disembark at the station named Römisches Theater, on account of the surviving ruins of an ancient theater, one of many relics in this erstwhile Roman hub and present-day capital of Rhineland-Palatinate.

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The proximity of the railroad tracks to the urban center facilitates sightseeing. Through the Augustinerstraße with its eminent rococo church and its half-timbered, centuries-old houses, I reach the core of downtown Mainz.

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Its central plaza becomes the picturesque stage for a farmer’s market on three days each week throughout the year. My eyes feast on the color spectrum of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, on countless appetizing breads and cheeses.

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The square is flanked by ornately decorated villas and one of three Romanesque Catholic Cathedrals along the Rhine River, along with Speyer and Worms (see previous post). Each Saturday at noon, an organ matinée invites visitors to take a contemplative pause. In Colorado I miss this widespread availability of free music in one venue or another, and gladly make use of the opportunity.

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Adjoining the market place opposite the cathedral is a museum, named after Johannes Gutenberg. The city’s most famous son also lent his name to the local university, my alma mater, where I met the love of my life nearly 27 years ago. In the 1400s, Gutenberg invented printing by moveable type, at least in the Western hemisphere (the Chinese preceded Europeans in this technique by hundreds of years). This revolutionized the printing process and resulted in the supreme rule of books which lasted for centuries and has only recently been slowed by the advent of digital letters. I am happy that my re-exploration after many years shows the museum as informative and interesting as I had hoped (more about the spellbinding history of paper and printing in a future post).

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Following a 10 minutes’ walk, I reach St. Stephan’s Church which towers over the hilly southeastern flank of Mainz. Originally dating back to the year 990, the current incarnation rose from the rubble of bomber attacks in World War II.

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Its shattered crystal was replaced with spectacular stained-glass windows after the resident pastor had the brilliant idea to commission them from artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Fortunately, he agreed. Russian-born, he left the Soviet Union a few years after the Revolution and moved to Paris. When German troops invaded their western neighbor, he went into exile in the United States until his return to France after the war, where he made his home until his death at the age of 97. Mainz is among the fortunate recipients of his inspired art. He designed 9 windows and oversaw their completion at a studio in Reims, France, during his lifetime. After his passing, his fellow artist and friend, Charles Marq (1923-2006), continued the task, using similar colors and techniques but realizing his own style nonetheless. The collection of 28 windows of varying size which run the gamut of concrete biblical scenes to more abstract motifs was concluded in 2000.

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Regardless of how often I enter the unpretentious church building, I am never prepared for the cobalt splendor about to embrace me.

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A deep blue suffuses the interior and it feels as though I am diving into a profound, calm pool. The short wavelengths emanating from the glass create the illusion of depth and contrast magnificently with bright and cheerful golds, reds, greens, and purples.

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I am overcome with an immediate sense of calm and arrested time, and when my eyes adjust to the ambient light, the contrast of the colors deepens. On a sunny day, the tones sparkle and dance, but even under cloudy skies they luminesce with a strength of their own. This is not a destination to hurry through. Rather, it welcomes the viewer to decelerate, take a seat and a deep breath, and contemplate the glory.

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Chagall, having escaped the threat of deportation and death by the Nazi regime because of his Jewish heritage, graciously contributed to reconciliation between Germany and France, Christians and Jews, with his exceptional bequest. What a wonderful way to propagate his pacifist ideals, and to let the visitor participate in his beautiful vision.

Click here for the German Version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/meine-lieblingsfenster/

A Walk through Worms

Multiple trips to Worms are par for the course whenever I have occasion to visit Germany. It is my birthplace and even though I grew up in two nearby villages, I spent nine formative years there, attending high school from grades 5 to 13, inextricably linking my memories with this city built adjacent to the Rhine River.

It is well-nigh impossible to stroll through Worms without stumbling across clues of its long history, with archeologic digs proving human settlement as early as 5000 BC. After the passing of the Celts and the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century the area was the purported realm of the King of Burgundy and the Nibelungen, fabled Germanic peoples known for the all-too-human-traits of love, envy, greed, revenge, leading to murder and mayhem. Their trials and tribulations were immortalized in a great epic, the Nibelungenlied, recorded in the 13th century in Middle High German, and multiple monuments in present-day Worms depict its protagonists. Since 2002, the drama is re-enacted in an annual open-air festival attracting spectators from near and far.

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Fountain with Siegfried, hero of the Nibelungenlied, dragon slayer

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Hagen, villain of the epic, about to drown the treasure of the Nibelungen in the Rhine River

The Roman Catholic Church erected its own monument. The Cathedral St. Peter was begun in the 11th century, on the site of a basilica from the year 600. It is one of a trio of Romanesque Imperial Cathedrals, including those of Speyer and Mainz, located south and north along the river, respectively.

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West towers of St. Peter

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St. Peter’s nave with view of apse and altar

The seismic event that rent the Christian church asunder also happened here: the Diet of Worms of 1521, in which Martin Luther was summoned before the Emperor and ecclesiastic hierarchy, in order to withdraw his criticism of the church which he had propounded in his 95 Theses in 1517. He did not renounce his beliefs, and Reformation and the foundation of the Protestant denomination were the consequence. Luther himself was rendered in stone for the ages and continues to proclaim from his pedestal, “ I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, it can’t be helped. So help me God. Amen.

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Luther Monument

Not far from the reformer rises the Church of the Holy Trinity, marriage chapel of my paternal grandparents. As was the case for many nearby buildings, it was bombed by the Allies in February 1945 and rebuilt with modifications in the 1950s.

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Holy Trinity Church

Another victim of the most egregious chapter of Germany’s history was the Jewish synagogue. Originally built in 1034, it was destroyed in a conflagration in the so-called Night of the Broken Glass between November 9 and 10, 1938. It, too, was reconstructed and serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed, and a hopeful beacon to tolerance and peace. Miraculously, the Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands, with its oldest documented grave stone from 1076, survived the Nazi regime and continues to draw pilgrims.

Exterior of Jewish Synagogue

Exterior of Synagogue

Interior of Jewish Synagogue

Interior of Men’s Synagogue

Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands

Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sands

As I amble through familiar, yet altered pedestrian zones with new storefronts, I am heartened to find my favorite book shop, displaced and downsized as a result of our Amazonized universe, but thriving nonetheless, having just celebrated its 100th birthday. As a teenager, I spent many hours here, and most of my allowance. I wend through parks, past benches that invite to linger under the canopy of stately trees, and in the presence of fragrant floral creations. I get lost in narrow residential streets endowed with their own character, find myself next to the former town wall which has been enlarged numerous times to protect the ever-growing community.

Residential area of Worms with its old town wall

Often I let my gaze follow the current of the Rhine on its way to the North Sea. The flood of nostalgic recollections tastes sweet, but is laced with the inevitable melancholy which comes from the realization that I will have to leave again soon, that I am neither completely here, nor there — the problem of straddling two worlds.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/ein-spaziergang-durch-worms/