cover image Monastic Realm

Monastic Realm

Rizzoli, Gregoire, Reginald Gregoire. Rizzoli International Publications, $75 (287pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-0664-5

No Christian monastic order ever proclaimed arts and letters to be a path to spirituality. Yet the monks of the early Middle Ages created enduring architecture, invented literary forms, transmitted ancient pagan culture and kept alive learning that waves of barbaric invasions nearly extinguished. This paradox is the theme of a rewarding volume whose intimate photographs lead the reader into abbeys and cloisters, where one feels the serenity and scans frescoes and carvings on walls and ceilings. Nearly 80 color plates and over 200 duotones show astonishingly beautiful mosaics, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, enamelwork and related treasures. How the carefully planned architecture mirrored a spiritual process of searching within the self is analyzed in scholarly yet engaging essays. Benedictine monks, less prejudiced and far less sedentary than the peasants, were agents of innovation and culture. The authors probe the present-day relevance of the Benedictine world-view, which emphasizes free will, the possibility of improving society and the need for civility. January