And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 6. juni 2014

The Monk and the Mason

Last weekend a friend and I took a couple of guided tours around Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim to see some of the less accessible sights in the church. The second tour took us up to the parapet of the west front where we came face to face with some of the stone carvings, executed by stone mason Gustav Vigeland around the turn of the 19th century. It was about this time that the cathedral was under a grand programme of restoration and reconstruction, and Gustav Vigeland started his work in 1898. In the course of this programme the west front with its two towers and its array of medieval saints were raised, which means that despite its medieval appearance, everything from this part of the cathedral is a modern imagination of what the late medieval front must have looked like. 

There are many stories surrounding the great reconstruction of the early 20th century, a programme that began only few years before Norway gained its independence from Sweden in 1905. One of these stories have been commemorated in the stone work up at the parapet and can be seen below. I can not say for certain whether these are Vigeland's creations or whether they came later.

The two figures, the monk and the mason, are found on the right tower and the left tower respectively. As can be seen in the pictures, their faces are very life-like and they were modelled on two workmen who took part in the reconstruction programme. The one rendered as a monk was a political conservative, while the one portrayed as a mason was a Communist. They would spend their hours working up by the parapet, and in the lunches they were known for their ideological discussions and bickering. Due to their difference of opinion - which seems to have cast no shadows on their relationship as fellow workers - they have been set on separate towers, each tower corresponding with their political persuasions.

The mason is significant for an additional reason. According to a prophecy of uncertain provenance, the cathedral will fall upon its completion. To avert such a brutal consummation of the long and arduous process of restoration and reconstruction, the petrified mason now holds the last brick in his hand, forever preventing the cathedral from being completed and thus - as the legend goes - keeping doomsday at a halt.

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