Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gutenberg, Tinguely and la Crèche d'Hauterive


We travelled over to Fribourg for lunch today, then visited the Gutenberg Museum, housed in a 13-15th century building overhanging a 30 metre outcrop bordering the River Sarine. It's tucked in behind two churches of similar date - l'église des cordeliers and the basilica of Notre Dame, which are separated by a small museum (which used to be a posh auto garage) dedicated to Jean Tinguely, the Swiss mechanical sculptor. The museum is dedicated to the 15th century founder of modern printing. As well as housing a priceless original Gutenberg printed page, it has displays of early printed books, and a huge collection of printing presses and other machines spanning the centuries down to a 21st century electronic book. In the basement is a working print-shop using mechanical equipment of the 19th and 20th centuries. It wasn't operational today, but I imagine it's busy with school parties in term-time.

In the great variety of visually complex machine designs displayed in the museum, it's possible to see how the remarkable Mr Tinguely may have got some of his inspiration. I noticed a Tinguely-esque mechanical mobile spanning three floors, suspended in the central open space of the Migros Centre Commercial where we lunched. No wonder really, Wikipedia informs me that he was born in Fribourg in 1925. Lucky chap. It's a beautiful small university town of 37,000, stuffed with culture and nice bookshops, a bi-lingual French and German town. This year it's celebrating the 850th anniversary of its foundation.

On the way back, we stopped off briefly to take a look at Hauterive Cistercian Monastery, on a secluded verdant bend in the Sarine River valley about 10km from the centre of town. The church is 12th century for the most part, with a wall painting of Christ being accompanied by Simon the Cyrenian to Golgotha which dates from 1572, while the reformation was in full swing, though not in the Canton de Friburg I suspect. Most of the rest of the monastic buildings are austere dignified 17-18th century, well spaced out.

We didn't see the 15th century cloister, but we did see an extraordinary exhibition in a vestibule next to the Abbey's west entrance. A plaque on the door simply said Crèche, and indeed, within there was a beautifully constructed nativity scene set behind glass in the wall, all small figures 10-15cm high, in a rustic Palestinian setting. However, this was only one of the dozen such windows set into the walls of the room, each was a depiction of one of the biblical events in the childhood of Christ. The rest were all half the size of the main one, but all exquisitely observed and executed, like three dimensional picture postcards, except that none had a title. If you knew your bible, it was easy to work out which was which, beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the losing/finding of Jesus in the Temple. It was indeed a beautiful surprise. The artist? Unknown, undeclared, probably a monk with an artistic hobby. What a gift to visitors with children.

It reminded me of the Crèche that adorns the welcome area of the Beit Gimel Monastery of the Soeurs de Bethlèhem in Palestine, which I stayed at for a weekend in December 2000, during my last sabbatical. There, the greater number of visitors to the Crèche are Muslim Arabs and Jews from the nearby settlement, all admiring and curious. Silent witnessing by communities living the silent life.

By sheer coincidence, when we got back to Baulmes, there was a review in the local newspaper of a photographic exhibition of monastic life at Hauterive, by Paul Joos from which I learned that the community numbers twenty monks, aged between 30 and 80+. They support themselves by high quality dairy farming.

All in all, a fascinating afternoon's excursion.

No comments: