I was in Provence in the south of France last week and visited the Abbey of Silvacane, founded by the Cistercians in the late 12th century but long since abandoned. I thought it one of the loveliest churches I’ve seen. The church, cloister, garden, chapter house, refectory, dormitory, scriptorium and so on presented one delightful prospect after another. Light poured in, making the honey-coloured stone even more radiant.
The guidebook said, ‘The architecture style was both functional and devoid of all ornament, such as sculpture, stained glass or illuminated work that might distract the monks from prayer …Like the layout, the architecture is simple and stark. It was not designed to please and its simplicity makes no concessions. Its beauty results from the vigour of the proportions alone, from the harmony of forms, from the perfection of its stonework and the way light falls through the rare openings.’
I was very surprised to read the phrase, ‘it was not designed to please’. To me, nothing could have been more deeply pleasing to look at. Its pure lines, shapes and spaces and the way they related to one another seemed masterly and illuminating, as though the building was carrying on the work of the monks all by itself.