Sunday, June 15, 2014

Color blast

The walls of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, San Diego are bathed in blue, purple and red bursts and swirls. Shimmering jello-colors wash the gothic window thicknesses and the round rose window projects a fuzzy, traveling oval. When I am a docent at the cathedral, often alone, the sun’s movement causes an ever-changing color display. The kaleidoscopic effects change minute by minute throughout the day. They reach their most dramatic moment late in the afternoon, when the golden sun streams in at a horizontal angle.

From childhood I was fascinated with colored light passing over worshiper’s faces, momentarily creating purple noses and blue hair.

“Mommy, look at that ladies face. It was blue, now it’s red!” I uttered during morning pray to her shushes.

This otherworldly sensation was just what the builders of medieval cathedrals intended. Not only did the windows depict biblical stories for the illiterate, but the church interiors were designed to give a taste of heaven’s magnificence.

Great painters have manipulated our perception of depth and internal light with their skilled use of perspective and pigments. Theatre lighting designers create a perception of day and night, interior and exterior, through the use of artificial light sources and color. The medieval masons produced heavenly illumination through the contrast of brilliant hues filtered through dark grids of lead and stone. At night much of the magic of gothic churches is absent.

Daily these light shows takes place in the nave of St. Paul’s, as it does in churches all over the world. I am confident that these light shows happen when no one is there to experience them? Why wouldn’t they?

Todd Muffatti

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