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Taize Brother Uses Local Symbols To Beautify Ulaanbaatar Cathedral

Updated: January 06, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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"Snow leopard, eagle, angel and yak -- the four Gospel watchmen!" Taize Brother Marc exclaims as he points to his design for stained-glass windows to be installed in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

To get clues and ideas on how to convey Christian messages to Mongolians through visual art, Brother Marc has made notes on what he has seen of the country and has spoken with local artists, scholars and musicians. He wants his design to reflect what is familiar to local people.

"We can find symbolism in Christian tradition that has very strong meaning for Mongolians," he told UCA News, "so my designs include the thirsting deer of the Psalms, one of the most ancient symbols of Christian iconography."

His concept incorporates the archaic symbols of the four Evangelists. John is an eagle and Matthew an angel. Mark, traditionally represented by a lion, now is a snow leopard, and a yak represents Luke, traditionally a bull.

"I never created such animals before, but I want to bring the beauty of Mongolia´s countryside and the powers of life around the city into the cathedral," the 73-year-old Taize brother said. "After all, Mongolia is more than just Ulaanbaatar. It has vast steppes, great mountains and all those wild animals -- wolves, yaks, leopards and eagles."

Bishop Wenceslao Padilla of Ulaanbaatar invited Brother Marc, a South Korea resident, to beautify the cathedral. Fashioning 36 semi-circular stained glass windows and a window for the skylight was the first step in that process.

Brother Marc is working on the windows in Seoul with a Korean artist named Cho and hopes to install them in Ulaanbaatar in August. "In my view," he said, "the cathedral will be a space for prayer, where every visual experience will be meaningful and inspiring for every Mongolian who enters it."

His vision typifies Taize, a small ecumenical group of 120 members from 30 countries. It is based in France but has outposts in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Like many of the first Taize members, Brother Marc came from a Swiss Protestant family. He joined the group led by Brother Roger Schutz in 1954.

Taize regularly conducts prayer meetings with Christians of all denominations around the globe. "Our mission is prayer and life for the unity of the Church," Brother Marc elaborated. "We cannot imagine prayer space without beauty. We often have just a few days to transform an empty exhibition hall or sports stadium into a space for prayer."

The brothers refuse donations, so they engage themselves in handicrafts and the arts, and earn their living by making pottery, paintings and other creative products. Brother Marc himself was trained as an artist in Zurich and Paris before he entered the Taize community.

In the 1980s, Asian churches invited Taize to open an outpost in Asia and five brothers came. Brother Marc first went to Japan but moved to Korea eight years later. Now the only expatriate member of the Association of Catholic Artists in Korea, he has received prizes for his stained-glass window designs.

That is how Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, former apostolic nuncio to Korea and Mongolia, came to know of him. The archbishop introduced Brother Marc to Bishop Padilla in February 2003, before Archbishop Morandini was named apostolic nuncio to Syria, and Brother Marc soon felt he should work on the new cathedral. Last May, he visited Ulanbaatar with fellow artist Cho, who will put together the stained glass pieces in his Seoul workshop.

As designer, Brother Marc went on to explain, he is like a composer, and Cho interprets the music. Brother Marc also spoke of stained glass as a metamorphosis of light, much more than just colorful pictures in a window.

"We need to use meaningful symbols when we want to create space for prayer," he added. The whole interior of the cathedral, he maintains, will be changed by the light filtered through his new windows.

When the Taize brother met Mongolian artists and saw how they work, he began to realize they were trying to revive their Mongolian artistic heritage while simultaneously opening themselves to other, especially European, influences.

"My contact with them showed me European art has had a great influence on people´s tastes in art here," he said. "People look for their own heritage and also to Europe for inspiration and beauty. This is something we must take into account as we work on the cathedral´s interior."


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