The Views of a Sometimes Bishop

Last night we were catching up with the BBC4 programme – ‘How to Build a Cathedral’, and no I am not planning on building one before you ask and in the process was reminded of book by a ‘sometimes bishop’.  The programme itself I found interesting with some great camera work.  In fact my shutter finger spent most of the programme twitching especially with the spectacular views of Ely Cathedral’s Octagon and the flooded light of Saint-Denis Basilica, Paris.  Which reminds me, if anyone knows someone who can get me permission to get up into the octagon at Ely, I would be forever grateful.  Anyway enough of that and onward to tell you about the book.

William Durandus the 13th Century liturgist and Bishop of Mende had a theroy as to why churches are built as they are?  This was how it was expressed in the programme:

The height representeth courage.  The long length of the nave long-suffering.  The breadth is Christian charity.  As the stones of the walls without mortar would fall so man can not be set in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem without love which the Holy Spirit brings.

This was a very very condensed version of his part of his work which in English is titled:- ‘The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments: A Translation of the First Book of the Rationale Dibinorum Officiorum written by William Durand sometime bishop of Mende.’  (Got to like that title ‘sometime bishop’.)  Within its fascinating pages it has a rational behind every bit of the building including a rather bizarre section linking the proportional size and holiness of sanctuaries (compared to the chancel and nave) to virgins!  You don’t need to spend money on the book if you fancy having a wee read of it, it is available for free on google play, you might want to skip the first 152 pages however and start reading from page 153 which is entitled Chapter 1 of a church and its parts.  Although some of you might wish to read from page 139 which is his rationale on Divine offices, and still others might want to read the lot.

As for the programme, it doesn’t appear to be on BBC iplayer yet, although it does say it will be coming shortly.

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