Here in New York, where we never lack for things to do, last weekend I went to both the spring Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and then to the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan, where the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses its most spectacular works of Medieval art. On subsequent days, I alternately joined the throngs under the cherry trees – in what was supposed to be an ecstatic worship of springtime blooms but whose purpose was rather marred by the sheer number of people trampling over the lawns of the Garden and sprawling out among the narcissi and tulips – and walked the intimate stone halls and tidy garden pathways of the medieval museum.
As I mentioned, these were weekend activities, planned for in advance and set aside from the more ordinary chores that I spend my days doing. It is still an effort for me, when there are pages to write and articles to summarize, to let the folders sit under my desk and get myself out, out of the house and out of my small self, to celebrate the few cordoned hours that separate Saturday and Sunday from the rest of the week. But this is exactly what I did last weekend, when I was purposeful about finding the time for these other activities, in hours that stood out from the ordered movement of the rest of the week.
We tend to think of the Middle Ages as a dark time when superstition reigned, human knowledge was scant, and death came easily with plagues and crop failures. But it helps me to remind myself that, whatever else it was or was not, this was a pre-Cartesian age, and that the divisions that we have since learned to place over the world – civilized and barbarous, advanced and primitive, heaven and hell – had not the same power or meaning to the medievals. God was tremendous, yet intimately close – far closer to men and women than after Calvin placed him so far up in the heavens and declared his decisions so intractable, that our actions were, really, almost beside the point. No, the medieval God was found in earth’s very order: in the sacred topography of the monastery and the mount, in the holy rituals that governed daily life, and in the hierarchy of kings and popes, barons and bishops, that were earthly replicas of divine rule.
These photos were taken by wallyg and Henry Roxas and were accessed on flickr.com on May 10, 2008, by avidalegria. The Book of Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux was taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website.