A visit to Chapelle Ste Thérèse, Antibes

As a teenager I saw modern stained glass windows for the first time in the Burgers Park Reformed Church in Pretoria.  It struck me that this art work in a Protestant tradition almost entirely without art was a turning-point.  It was the beginning of my interest in artes sacrés.

Chapelle Ste Thérèse

Chapelle interior

The Chapelle Ste Thérèse, about 20 minutes’ walk from where I live, was probably built in the last thirty years.  The simple architecture is engaging — artificial stone cladding and the interior with Romanesque arches.  But it was the stained glass windows and the paintings of the Stations of the Cross that will remain with me.

An ascension scene

St George and the dragon

Mother and Child

The Good Shepherd

Two paintings of the Stations of the Cross

Station of the Cross – Veronica

Station of the Cross – Deposition

This Deposition is different from the tradition of showing the right arm as the first to leave the cross.  Here it is the left arm. arrowing downwards.   The figure of Mary (?) makes me think of an angel.

Altar niche mural

It is believed that when Thérèse was a child she was miraculously saved from death by Mary.  This painting expresses this.

The art in this Chapelle acquires a further depth when one knows the history of Thérèse.  She was born in Normandy.  In her mere 24 years she attained a summit of spirituality that has had some regarding her as the greatest saint of the modern era.  The Basilica de Lisieux in northern France, that celebrates her life, draws the second largest number of pilgrims after Lourdes in France.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

June, 2018



Wikipedia St Thérèse


My photographs

See also

Modern Stained Glass 8.4.2018







I looked over the Bosphorus at the cityscape of Istanbul and I admit that it took some years after that before I understood more fully what it was that I had seen — one of the pivotal points of global history.  The Hagia Sophia mosque/museum was at the heart of it.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

This immense building was constructed from 532 to 537 c.e. under the rule of Justinian I. Designed by Greek architects, the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in Europe for 1000 years.  Its dome, damaged by earthquakes through the years, but repaired, has been describing as changing the history of architecture.  In the year 1453, after historical upheavals, Hagia Sophia which had been a Greek Orthodox cathedral, now became a Muslim mosque.  In 1935 it was opened as a museum, though when I visited the place forty years later I saw people in prayerful activities with a few of the 3.3 million tourists per annum filing past.

Hagia Sophia interior

I stood in the vast encompassed space looking at the huge Koranic texts suspended from the high roof.  I believe that since 1935 Byzantine mosaics have been uncovered from certain walls.  These predate the mosque era from as early as 800 c.e.  and probably served as models for the mosaics at Ravenna.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Later I visited the Blue Mosque, another memorable experience.  It is Hagia Sophia though, that remains vivid for me.  I remember how the filtered light made the high roof of that dome seem slightly unreal, lending a sense of the sacred.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Hagia Sophia



Hagia Sophia – lonelyplanet.com

Interior – avasofyanmuuzesi.gov.fr

Blue Mosque – source lost






Founded in 1089, the Melk Abbey or Stift had been a castle given to the Benedictine order by Leopold II.  The baroque character came in the early years of the 18th-century.   The Abbey, perched majestically on a high outcrop,  overlooks the Danube.  The onion spires on the twin towers are characteristic of many churches in Austria.

High up on a hill

In its history, we were told by the tour guide, there were serious threats to its continuation as an abbey in the Napoleonic wars and in World War Two.   It is known as one of the great monuments to baroque architecture.

An interior of magnificence

After the baroque splendour, the painting, the architecture, and Austrian baroque has a characteristic beauty,  I remember after many years the tour guide’s closing words to us.  He spoke with deep feeling, probably too, because this elderly man might well have been a child during the war:   “So much magnificent European patrimony was destroyed in the war.  I thank God that what I have shown you was preserved for us – the Melk Abbey.”

Melk Abbey and the Danube


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Melk Abbey



Abbey  –  themuseumtimes.com

Abbey interior  –  travelsfinders.com

Abbey and Danube  –  stiftmelk.at




Sagrada Familia – from another world

The first time I prayed in a car, was when the mad Persian (a.k.a. Iranian) sardined the four of us onto the backseat of his plush Mercedes and in full tilt chased through the dense traffic of Barcelona to the cathedral of Sagrada Familia.  On arrival I was still at the Amen, when the mad Persian hounded us up one of ornamental towers of the still-under-construction cathedral.  I didn’t count the steps, but I suspect it must have been over three hundred.  The view of the city was misty and magnificent.

Sagrada Familia, with construction cranes

The building of this cathedral began in 1882, when Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect, was thirty.  For various reasons building was slow.  By the time Gaudi died in 1926, it had not been completed.  The story is that building plans had been lost and Gaudi’s concepts were not viable.  This is how I saw it more than forty years later.  Yet the main portals and the towers held an unforgettable fascination.

The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is like nothing I have seen.  The art critic Rainer Zerbst says, “It is probably impossible to find anything like it in the entire history of art.”

The main portals have been modified in recent years with expressive gothic frames in front of the original entrances.

Sagrada Familia, with gothic frames

And these original entrances – they riveted me.  They look like the entrances of salagtite caves, with brown cement still dripping from the arcs.  The colour texture of the whole façade of the church looks as if it has risen out of the ground.  Yet the towers, striking rounded forms, come across as playful even artificial.

Figures in the cathedral

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

It is a pity that I did not see more of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona and Madrid.  From images I can say that the organic character, strange and dreamlike, is true to the eccentric spirit of Catalonia and has yielded some of the most original art in history.

Antoni Gaudi in 1880

The journey back to the campsite with the mad Persian was more sedate.


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



Wikipedia – Sagrada Familia



Sagrada Familia, with construction cranes – archdaily.com

Sagrada Familia, with gothic frames – travelandfilm.com

Figures – Pinterest

Sagrada Familia, with trees – globaltickets.com

Antoni Gaudi – Basilica de la Sagrada Familia






ROMANESQUE AND GOTHIC – the human figure

 The human figure in a Romanesque church is small, stylized and, if you look, you see they are busy with something specific in their lives – they drive out demons or flee to Egypt on the back of a donkey.  Bernwards Portal, Hildesheim, Germany, illustrates this memorably.

Bernwards Portal: God gives Eve to Adam

The intention of the sculptor, probably prescribed by the church, is educational and illustrative.  Incidents from the Bible are portrayed.  What strikes me, is how childlike the figures are, almost as if the communities they were intended for, were childlike, eight, nine centuries after Christ.  It is a Europe rising from the shadows of the Dark Ages.  It is as if the search for form is breaking from the post-Roman world, from the world of Byzantine (400 – 600 a.d.).

Romanesque capital: the strange and the charming

There is Eastern influence in the form of the Romanesque figure of the human – monsters, devils and decorative motifs.  Some of the scenes portrayed in Romanesque are deliberately dramatic.  An example is Judas hanging himself.  The incredible variety of figures and forms suggest that sculptors were often left to their own devices.  The world of Romanesque figures is one of surprises.


Romanesque – a world of surprises

The churches with their rounded arches are to a human scale.  What they built, was houses of God, not cathedrals.  The pillars, the panels of art, everything is within easy reach, with you.

The wind changes direction from the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Western culture.  It is a renewal that would, in the centuries to come, be reborn in different forms.  The need to make a greater statement with churches yielded to the concept of cathedrals of monumental dimensions.

Notre Dame de Paris – monument to Gothic

This is Gothic.  Even today contemporary architects stand amazed by what was achieved.  So too, the form of human figure changed.

Chartres Cathedral Portal

I am referring specifically to the portals of Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres Cathedral.  Here the human figures lose their caprice.  Now the figures, as part of the new architecture, form a uniform community of believers, rather than individual figures busy with something specific.  The figures stand formally next to one another.  The vertical line dominates in the design.  The figures are static in their ecstasy.  They are focused on the coming life, a choir of figures untroubled by this world.  My interest comes from limited experience, but I will not forget the figures of the portals of Chartres – stone that radiates.

A radiance from stone


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017




Bernwards Portal – studyblue.com

Romanesque capitals 1, 2  –  Pinterest

Notre Dame de Paris – sacred-destination.com

Chartres Portal and detail – chartrescathedral.net




France, Germany  



Coventry Cathedral – contemporary sacred art

Coventry Cathedral, a 14th-century gothic church, was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  For me, it was an unusual experience to stand in those ruins which they have preserved.  I can’t express the many emotions I experienced, from anger to sadness, from wonder to inspiration.  The modern cathedral abuts these ruins, almost as if the new has grown out of the old and the building began from 1950.  Amongst the engineers was a team of young Germans.  

                          Cathedral ruins


      Cathedral ruins with reconstructed cross

The modern cathedral, remarkable architecture, is a treasury of contemporary sacred art.  Everything has been carefully considered.  The baptism font is a hollow rock from the hills near Bethlehem.  One chapel is approached through a crown of thorns.  A moving likeness of Christ was made from the torn metal of a car accident.

                               Baptism font


Above the nave is the tapestry Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  In every aspect there is majesty, except, for me, in one, which has left me uneasy over the years.  It is the expression on the face of the Christ visage.  Perhaps it is my Rorschach, but for me there is a creeping cynicism in the faint smile.

               The Cathedral nave with tapestry

                              Detail of tapestry

Amongst these art works in the cathedral there is a figure of Christ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the old cathedral, sculpture of the 1950s. (Observe to the far right against the wall in the photograph of the ruins.)  This work is a radical departure from the usual portrayal of Christ as a wrung out, vulnerable figure on the cross.

    The Epstein Christ figure

What came up for me was the word primitive, with exclusively positive connotations.  This mode, it seemed to me, takes its cue from the jungle cultures – the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and even Easter Island.  I grapple for words to contain this – winter clouds over night mountain ranges; the deep voice of a coming volcano … This prehistoric figure, I feel, will burst through his bonds and stride the curve of the earth in thunder.  It is sacred art that stirs much in me.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

July , 2016






Cathedral ruins – mapio.net

Altar with nail cross – cathedrallicking.wordpress.com

Baptism font – tripadvisor.co.uk

Chapel with crown of thorns  –  stopprocrastinatingandjustdoit.blogspot.com

Cathedral nave – lovelyoldtree.wordpress.com

Detail of tapestry  –  blog.arthistoryabroad.com

Epstein Christ figure  –  source lost


Dedicated to my niece Dawn Denton for the support she has given me. 



Reflecting on Buildings at L’Arenas, Nice

Returning to L’Arenas, the showcase of post-modern architecture, I was struck again by the achievements of the place.  And the reflections in the acres of glass cladding.   I share some of what I saw.

( I didn’t note what the buildings are, so there are no captions.)

L'Arenas 113.jpg


L'Arenas 112.jpg

L'Arenas 115.jpg

L'Arenas 114.jpg

L'Arenas 116.jpg

L'Arenas 117.jpg

L'Arenas 118.jpg

© Will v.d. Walt

Vendredi  1 Fevrier 2013


Images: Will



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