Looking Up in Geras (May 26, 2015)

Written by John Watters

_MG_4314Our tour of Geras Abbey on Tuesday included visits to the abbey’s original refectory (dining area) and library. As in the other abbeys we’ve visited, both rooms featured beautiful frescoes on the ceilings. Also consistent with those abbeys, the frescoes at Geras were themed – philosophers and scholar-saints adorning the libraries, and in the refectories, New Testament stories centered around food and drink – including the wedding at Cana and the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

In each case at Geras, though, there was something a bit different about the frescoes. The one in the library, being rebuilt in the late Baroque period, made a post-Enlightenment reassertion of God’s place in the order of things. Forming a ring around the edges of the ceiling were mythological and fantastical creatures representing “primitive” beliefs. A level above them – both literally and symbolically – came the philosophers and great thinkers, celebrating the ascendance of reason. And above them, heavenly hosts showered blessings (represented in one case by coins and jewels spilling from a cornucopia) down upon those thinkers, reminding them of the higher power who granted them the gift of reason.

In the refectory, the ceilings featured the work of a noted artist of the period, Paul Troger, especially renowned for the light colors in his frescoes, including a trademark shade of blue the Abbot referred to as “Troger blau.”

The fresco depicted the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Ringing the outside were people not only receiving, but sharing the bounty – a reminder of our obligation to care for one another. Then, toward the center, the painting seemed to rise to a higher point, as if in a dome rather than on a flat surface. There, “above” the rest, was Jesus, and above him a heavenly host. An elaborate work, with a succinct message the abbot expressed as “caritas” – love of God and neighbor.

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