The Joining of Heaven and Earth is a constantly expanding online gazetteer and interactive resource on the Romanesque sculpture of the medieval pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela.
It currently features over 50 originally produced short films and more the 200 illustrated articles.
The medieval world considered itself to be a continuation of the Roman Empire. That empire was now in its fading stages and its golden age belonged to the remote past.
The cult of the saints thrived and as the end times approached, pilgrimage to their shrines was a necessary precondition not only for redemption of the individual but for all of mankind.
The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was the most significant of all, for it included the most prestigious shrines of Western Christendom in a journey to what was geographically and spiritually, the end of the world.
The content of the site draws upon two fascinating medieval texts, the so-called Pilgrim’s Guide and the History of Charlemagne and Roland both of which were part of a larger collection devoted to the cult of Santiago de Compostela. Essentially, the first purports to be a guide for the prospective pilgrim, while the second creates a pseudo historical setting for it.
But in the Romanesque world nothing should be taken at face value and everything has a symbolic value.
The site is divided into four sections. The first covers Compostela and the pilgrimage. The second under the heading of Heaven details those aspects to do with what lay beyond the physical world. The third section deals with the Earth and where the metaphysical connected with the world. The fourth, entitled Cinematograph is divided in two and is the repository of original short films, on the one hand of Romanesque sculpture and on the other of the Pilgrimage Roads.
Time passed more slowly a thousand years ago. Ideas and stories which, with the passage of centuries would have lost any sense of contemporaneity in our modern world, still retained a vital hold on the imaginations of men in medieval times.
The essential subject of this site is not easy to define but it has a lot to do with the culture of the Romanesque world and its expression in the form of the profusion of stone carved images which date largely from the late eleventh to the mid twelfth centuries and which still can be seen to this day around western mainland Europe.
The Romanesque itself is a term which is hard to define. Apparently only in existence for a relatively short time frame of about a century before being superceded by the seemingly more long lasting Gothic period, I harbour the perhaps romantic notion that it could be said to define a continuous culture which dates back as far Late Antiquity but is marked by the explosion of large scale sculpted imagery which was created between roughly 1080 and 1150.
A large part of this sentiment includes the notion that it was sensibility which was cut short by the economic prosperity of the twelfth century which brought a new urbanisation to Western Europe and consequently gave rise to an emerging bourgeoisie whose coming destroyed the society on which the Romanesque world was predicated.
That is the idea of society which was expressed in the formulation, “There are those who pray, those who fight and those who labour”. The justification for that division was an eschatological one in that the three orders of society were engaged in a symbiotic relationship whose aim was the best way to prepare humanity for the coming Apocalypse. The introduction of the bourgeoisie into that equation rendered it meaningless and led inexorably to the requirement for Purgatory and all the complications that ensued.
In other words, Romanesque culture was a more authentic expression of man’s primitive soul
To look at a Romanesque sculpted image on a twelfth century church is surely to be stirred by conflicting impulses. On the one hand, there is the profound sense of the otherness of the culture being expressed, while at the same time there is an equally profound sense of connection to it.
Vézelay, Arles, Saint Gilles, León, Moissac, Conques, Toulouse and Santiago de Compostela are just the most illustrious names of places where one can be transported back to another time.
Amongst numerous others, they are the locations of twelfth century pilgrimage churches featuring large scale stone sculpture, bound together by being stations on the great pilgrimage roads across France and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
The imposing stone carvings which can still be seen at these churches throw a light on a world as far removed from our own as it is possible to imagine. A world whose dominant cultural force was religious.
Any opinions presented are mine, however they have been formulated after extensive reading, particularly in the copious body of academic work which is provided by the journals Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa and other sources.
This reading has been supplemented with several courses held at London’s Courtauld Institute, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Highgate Scientific and Literary Institute.