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Legerich ’15 Ponders Cathedral’s Symbolism

Clay Lengerich ’15 – After a day filled with studying St. Julien’s cathedral, one theme remained prominent among the group and myself.  This theme stems mostly from the reading Dr.Hoerl provided us with – which was a segment of The Golden Legend.  This piece argued many different ideas about who Saint Julien actually was.  But, I will be focusing on the beginning of the piece and how it forensically picked apart the name “Julian.”  The section reads, “Julian, Julianus, begins like jubilus, jubilant, and ana means upward: so Julian is close to Jubilans, one who strives upward toward heaven with jubilation” (Pg. 126).  This prominent quotation was looked at from many different angles throughout today.  But, most of these viewpoints were structured around the idea of “striving upward.” We found that the church itself was “striving upward” in many different ways, much like Saint Julian himself.

Cathedral1The class noted that one could look at this quotation from a geographical standpoint.  This had to do with the positioning of the cathedral on a certain area of land and also with how the rest of the community was situated in regards to it.  First, Saint Julian’s cathedral is placed on the highest peak visible in Le Mans.  The class talked about this largely.  It seemed that we all believed that it was a depiction of how mankind, like Saint Julien, was striving ever upward towards the heavens – which could also be seen as salvation. Second, St. Julien’s cathedral is placed at the very epicenter of Le Mans proper, or what would have been the city limits during its medieval use. By it being in the center, and also being at the peak, the cathedral was visible at almost all times in the Le Mans proper area.  In this theme’s context, some of the class thought that it was a symbol for the residents of Le Mans to witness at all times.  When one looked skyward they would see the cathedral and their minds could then turn to that need for striving upward towards salvation – continuously providing existential purpose for all citizens.

This quote was also deeply analyzed from an architectural standpoint.  The outer architecture displayed the idea that was brought forth above.  From the earth, this enormous cathedral was reaching higher than any other manmade structure could.  But, I believe that the most prominent architectural correlations with this quote were found inside the cathedral.  The class reinforced this idea during discussion.  When one enters Saint Julien’s cathedral, there are not really any important or prominent symbolic ornaments at eye level.  One had to look up!  When one looked up, he could see a ridiculous amount of stained glass with different symbols – each representing a different story.  These windows rose up so high that many were impossible to actually comprehend with the naked eye.  But, architecturally this made sense if those building had this theme in mind.  With all of the beauty being upward, it would inspire the congregation to gaze upward.  By gazing upward they could feel that close connection with God, the church, and the community that had provided this cathedral.