Catholicism - Creative Heritage

This GCSE RE quiz on Catholicism takes a look at creative heritage. The Catholic Church has been a huge patron of the creative arts down the ages: we have a fine heritage of ecclesiastical buildings from Roman times, through the Renaissance and since, many of which have been fervently decorated with masterpieces of art and sculpture, and which have resonated with beautiful music from plainchant to the great polyphonic Masses and the sumptuous works of the Romantic composers. The Reformation (500 years ago as of 2017) produced its own, generally more modest, Protestant traditions in music and has tended to shun whatever might smack of ‘worldly extravagance’ in the decorative arts.

Catholicism and its tenets have meanwhile left their mark on other aspects of cultural life ~ such as through the Hays Code, which dominated moral standards in the US film industry between the heyday of Hollywood and the ‘swinging sixties’ period of Vietnam angst when ‘anything went’.

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Meanwhile it is almost certainly safe to claim that in anyone's reckoning of the world's most iconic &/or impressive buildings (certainly from prior to the coming of skyscrapers, within about the past century), it would be surprising not to find Catholic religious examples bubbling well up into the Top Ten: great European cathedrals such as Cologne, Notre-Dame and Salisbury …

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  1. Many practising Catholics regard it as part of their life's duty to take, and express, a clear moral stance on a range of issues such as public and private ethics. The Hays Code, which dominated Hollywood film-making during its formative years (1930-66 usually being quoted), was principally the outworking of concerns from which pressure group?
    There is quite a history to this, which you might be interested to investigate (carefully) since this was such a culturally influential measure in remarkably volatile times. The Hays Code's list of 'Dont's or Be Careful's' may seem almost comically quaint in itself, getting on for a century later; but one is bound to ask, from the point of view of traditionalists concerned with family values: at what such point might the rot set in? Breen and the PCA (the follow-up administrators; Answer 3) certainly had a tough time of it, but they might be shuddering in their beyond to see and hear what comes through people's screens in these early years of the 21st century
  2. To evoke the setting of a monastery (or similar institution) onscreen, it seems almost obligatory to play the sound of monks chanting in Plainsong as they have done since time almost immemorial. Another more formal label for this simple style of music comes from the name of the Pope under whom it was (supposedly) codified: who was he?
    Gregory (whence the label 'Gregorian chant') was active around AD 600, though subsequent scholarship suggests the style was not in fact codified directly under him nor even during his lifetime. Francis and Benedict were each founders of monastic orders, but St Cecilia (patroness of Music though she was and is), by virtue of having been female, could unfortunately never have been a Pope
  3. In which part of a traditional monastery would the beautiful hand-written copies of books be made, before the days of movable-type printing (which came in as powerful 'new technology' around the same time as the Reformation, and indeed was instrumental in spreading its ideas)?
    The 'scriptorium' was the place set aside for writing
  4. What artist from the Low Countries, who died in 1516, remains deservedly famous for his extraordinary pictures such as the triptych altarpieces on 'The Last Judgment' and 'The Garden of Earthly Delights', that feature proto-surrealist and deformed people and animals?
    There is nothing else quite like the extraordinary visions of Bosch, which in their way reference Mediaeval ideas about the meaning and nature of life and divine judgment. Piranesi (Ans.2) was fairly obviously an Italian rather than from the Low Countries, but who specialised in dystopias of his own, usually involving fathomless prisons. Escher (Ans.4) was a much later Dutchman whose experiments with tricks of perspective were perhaps equally graphically astonishing, but in different (and generally less distressing) ways
  5. How did the mediaeval craftsmen at Chartres Cathedral (in France) achieve the spectacular blue tint in their stained-glass which is known as 'bleu de Chartres'?
    Colour photography does not range back reliably far enough for even this theory to be proved. It may seem surprising that anything so emblematic can remain inscrutable to modern science; but there it stands!
  6. Europe's largest Gothic cathedral is at Ulm in Germany: built in 1890 (with the benefit of what we might call Victorian technology: steam-cranes, rail freighting of stone etc.) but by the Protestants. Its spire deliberately surpasses that of the world's tallest Catholic cathedral, also in Germany and built just 10 years earlier. In which city does this second cathedral stand?
    The Kölner Dom is, by any reckoning, a most remarkable architectural achievement
  7. Probably the most famous single example of Renaissance religious art is the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican ... done by whom?
    The chapel's name derives from Pope Sixtus who commissioned the work, most famous among which is Michaelangelo's 'Last Judgment', though some years passed before the whole project was complete. The chapel remains significant in the Church's life since this is where the cardinals go into conclave to elect each new Pope
  8. For non-Catholic British people, the 'nearest English-speaking Catholics' (apart from those living amongst them) are probably the Irish, some of whom have certainly had cultural influence through the world of entertainment. Which of the following popular series tells of the activities of a trio of disgraced priests and their housekeeper?
    Probably not very representative of more than a 'splinter' of the Catholic community, but this show does seem to have a strong following!
  9. To complement the visual arts, the Church has a magnificent repertoire of music to enrich worship and encourage religious contemplation. All the following composers wrote settings of the Mass, but we have intercalated one Protestant (Lutheran) composer among the Catholics. Who was this odd one out?
    Bach is famous (among much else) for his towering B Minor Mass, two surviving settings of the Passion story (in the St Mark and St John versions) and enough church cantatas to provide at least one each Sunday over the whole liturgical year. His work is often texturally and symbolically rich (he was, after all, writing in the Baroque period and style) ... but he wasn't a Catholic (nor indeed was Handel, who wrote 'The Messiah' ~ the world's first oratorio, which your present writer fairly recently had the experience of directing in a major Catholic church in Oxford)!
  10. An easy enough, but hopefully thought-provoking question: which of the following mechanical aids were available to the builders of mediaeval abbeys and cathedrals?
    All such great works were translated from paper (or parchment) designs into what we might now call 'concrete' reality thanks to the work of master masons and their assistants, and a host of other craftsmen, and using nothing but human and animal muscle-power to assemble precise yet bulky components at great heights. Not infrequently, such people worked and died without seeing their project through to completion. As exercises in faith and devotion and perseverance, this alone must count for something!

Author: Ian Miles

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