The guide on our visit to the Black Forest in Germany a few weeks ago said it was the Romans who called it “black” because it seemed such a forbidding, dark land. Now, of course, it’s one of the loveliest spots in Europe, where visitors come to enjoy nature and its farms provide some of the best produce on the continent. The Black Forest has also become a model for environmental planning for the people of northern Europe.
Monks settled here first, our guide said, after fleeing from dangerous conditions in the towns along the Rhine River.
Maybe so, but I don’t think it was the only reason the monks came. In the Benedictine tradition, they chose to live in places like the Black Forest because they sought the harmony God intended for creation. Their goal was to create a Garden of Paradise like that in the Book of Genesis, lost but now to be restored in Christ, and so they chose to live close to the earth, their buildings and lifestyle taking on the rhythms of nature.
“Let all the earth, praise the Lord.”
Do the many small chapels found in the Black Forest today (see above) suggest that the people coming after the monks were attracted to and absorbed that same ideal?
Europe and North America have become increasingly secularized. It’s not just that people aren’t going to church; it’s evident also in a way people today see and understand things– past, present and future– without reference to the spiritual.
I noticed this in the explanations given by our guides on our trip along the Rhine a few weeks ago. They were polished, informed, personable presenters, but spiritual realities didn’t have much of a place in their explanations.
An example? Our guide in Strasbourg on the way to the cathedral through the maze of shops and colorful streets suggested that the great cathedral with its exquisite spire was a beacon drawing shoppers to the city’s abundant bazaars. A medieval version of MacDonald’s Golden Arches?
Medieval planners of the cathedral would be jolted by a suggestion like that. They built their great churches as places of splendor to relieve the monotony, squalor and hardships people experienced in their cities. Entering them, they saw a beauty pointing to the heavens and promising a glory beyond this world. The cathedral directs your eyes, not to the shops that surround it, but to the Heavenly Jerusalem.