FR. MICHAEL WRITES:-
A fortnight ago today I was spending Sunday afternoon exploring the exquisite sixteenth century renaissance masterpiece in Granada, the Monastery of St Jerome. From one of the old city’s grander and busier streets, one steps into the cool and calm of the ancient gate lodge, and from there, after eyes have adjusted and euros have been dispensed, one steps into the first of the two sublime cloisters around which the monastery is fashioned. Being a royal foundation the architecture is grand, certainly, but with a magnanimity about it as well as a restraint appropriate to the building’s sacred purpose. The silence of the cloister, but for the trickling water in the central fountain, is powerful. Proceeding towards the monastic chapel, the scent from the orange and lemon trees of the cloister garden sensuously elevates the spirit, while also refreshing it and recollecting it. Stepping over the chapel threshold the spirit soars as the eye is transported through the length of the nave under towering arches up to the high altar which itself surmounts a flight of about twenty steps. Behind the altar is the tabernacle around and above which is a five-storey decorative reredos which stretches to the height of the apse. The ornamentation and decoration not only of the sanctuary but of the whole interior is breath-taking in its magnificence. The point of thus waxing lyrical about the visit is to contextualise one feature of the decoration of the nave which I hadn’t seen before but which bore considerable spiritual fruit. There were normal large heavily-framed oil paintings hanging on the central panels of the walls, but then the artist had painted frescos on the wall for meters around the painting, providing the supernatural context for the subject of the painting. So, for instance, there was a framed painting of St Jerome working at his desk in his hermitage with, as usual, his companionable lion close by, whose wounded paw the saint had healed. But outside of the framed picture, on the walls as fresco around the paining and taking the same lines of the composition of the paining as the starting point of the fresco, the artist had painted the angels attending St Jerome and above them a great vista towards the court of heaven which emitted a pure and generous light. Our Lady, enthroned close to the source of this celestial light, was also surrounded by angels. Other angels were ministering what were clearly heavenly inspirations down to St Jerome at his desk. The effect created in the compositional unity between the fresco and the frame was that the observer recognised what was within the framed picture as the subject, the event in time and space, as reality as we commonly perceive it, but that this reality was taking place within an inestimably greater reality, unconstrained by time and space and, in a sense, outside it but also present within it. The veil between this world and eternity seemed especially thin in this experience as, indeed, is manifestly the case, and with the same point, in Jesus’ transfiguration in today’s Gospel. The fullness of the divinity was always present in Jesus, but only in this moment did it serve His mission to reveal it. It wasn’t wonderful only for Peter, James and John to reflect on what they had just experienced, but also for us, and what it means for where and within what reality we actually live our very graced lives.