Sunday, February 14, 2010

Melk: whoa, now that's a Catholic church!

I'm not a religious person at all, and I don't pretend to know much about the Catholic church, but here in Austria you see a whole lot from Catholic culture. We drove to Melk, a Benedict monestary. The church was in a word: stupendous. So much gold, so many serpent tailed figures painted on the ceiling, so many pictures of Jesus getting pummeled on his way to the cross, and strangest of all the reliquaries: splinters of the cross, a jaw bone (with one tooth still in it!) of a saint, a skeleton (real of not?) half clothed resting in a glass vitrene in a church apse. All of it displayed in the most ornate golden frame. The opposition of jewels, gold, fine design and beautifully colored paintings, with the basic guts and gore of a finger bone, or the macabre details of Jesus's torture just leave me kind of dumb founded. I have a hard time holding the two together in my head without either laughing at the frivolity of all the golden snorchels compared to the frightening immediacy of a jaw bone, or despising that dirty little half rotten finger bone resting in such a finely crafted ornate golden box. A weird opposition. I know the way I feel about is not at all how the monks or artists felt about it. So how exactly did they experience/feel these objects? Beats me.

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