France Archives - St. Stephen's University

Saint Judas

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

An afternoon stop in Colmar, France led our group to see Grunewald’s beautiful rare altar pieces, which featured (among other things) a diseased crucified Jesus, and a tormented Saint Anthony.

What I was far more interested in, upon taking notice of them, were a series of panels done by Martin Schongauer on the life, betrayal, and death of Jesus. In his portrayal of the last supper, I noticed that the disciples were adorned with golden halos of sainthood- all except Judas. Of course, that would seem initially reasonable. We recognize Judas as a traitor, somehow worse in his sin than the others. His betrayal was perhaps more tangible to us. So why does Peter get a halo?

The bible says we all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Maybe we need to take a step back and reevaluate how we look at Judas.



By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I stood on Canadian ground yesterday.

France dedicated the Vimy Ridge land to Canada to erect a monument to Canadian soldiers who fell in the Great War. The monument itself is beautiful, and how Veteran’s Affairs Canada chose to arrange the park and historical site was very tasteful.

Informative, interesting, very respectful of the events that took place there.

The rolling green grass from exploded ammunition; grazing sheep; damp errie tunnels and sun soaked trenches. The Austrian pines covered the once barren battlefield with a cool shade and brought to mind an idyllic Sunday afternoon scene. Hard to image the horrors that took place here along the 20km front.

Every part of  the experience called out to that portion of my soul that I believe makes me Canadian.

But, I’m a pacifist. And, discussing with others later I realized it wasn’t the glory for country (dulce et decorum est) but the sympathy for my neighbour that drew me into the history. Vimy defined our country. It robbed us of so many brave and determined men. We took the front and the front took our sons, our brothers, our future fathers/bankers/farmers/Prime Ministers…etc.

I don’t want a war to define my country. I don’t want to fall into the belief that it brings honour. I respect the men and boys who fought but…there is a French quote from the Protestant Museums that says when you kill a man you don’t kill an ideology you simply kill a man.

What did WWI accomplish, and even WWII? Land was gained, but to what avail? Nazism is still alive in Germany, did we truly defeat it?

In fact, what is ever truly accomplished by war? But, the words, the poetry, the names from those who went. They stir my heart with pride more than any victory. Men, who in the face of fear and death, gave so much more than they could or ever intended to give.

Our country lacks a unity of identities. We have no national name to call ourselves to. I’d challenge every Canadian to come to Vimy, to stare our dead in the eyes and ask them who they want us to be.


Contained on Walls

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

All the best artists in the world traveled to Europe. They traveled by boat, horse and car. During the Renaissance such artists as Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci called Italy their artistic home. A week ago I sat by the river in the South of France. I saw the landscape of people walking their dogs, people sprawled out on blankets. Up until this moment art was an idea, something contained on walls and canvas. The real beauty of Western Europe is found on long bus rides and hot hot days traveling the urban and rural sprawl of Spain and France.

For me these past few weeks have been an actualization of inspiration. I now understand the desire to express the beauty of this land. The passion behind their art whether it was politics, religion, or human beauty makes my experience of their art more savory.

The beginning of this trip has been a realization of abstract ideas. While traveling to France I have stood where thousands of protestants hid during their prosecution. I have stood on the outskirts of the Coliseum, where martyrs of my faith stood and triumphantly died for their beliefs. I have been able to taste the fresh French croissant, smell the handmade Italian leather bags, and see the marble beauty of the David statue. These concepts have shed their fictional facade and have become real life experiences. These experiences have become a part of my history. My journeys are now intertwined with those historical figures from my history textbook.

The writer craves experiences, similarly the artists craves new landscapes. Understanding the vast geographical beauty of Western Europe has made my experience of art, architecture and food a daily exercise of thought and reflection.  I can not wait to experience all that Europe has to offer.


Where’d the Bad Guys Go?

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

The past few weeks, the carnage and slaughter and senselessness of the World Wars have been a common theme for our program days.  It began with our stay in Dresden, a cultural mecca of pre-war Germany that was levelled ruthlessly during WWII without precedent, literally disintegrating thousands of civilians in the middle of the night as they huddled in their bomb shelters; it is now a city alive with a sense of restoration and commemoration of the past.  Next was Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp that became the model and training centre for the running of all other camps during Hitler’s dictatorship, where thousands of lives were worked away, and tonnes of innocent blood soaked into the ground that is now a garden.  This past week, we’ve seen the front lines of WWI–Vimy Ridge and Hill 60, and Ypres–where men threw themselves headlong into the work of killing and dying; where men suffered and slogged witlessly in the trenches and tunnels of bloody, muddy, otherwise insignificant kilometres.

A few days ago, we visited a museum focusing specifically on the battles around Ypres in Belgium, called the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ in recognition of John McCray’s famous poem.  Here I learned that Belgium had been promised the ability to remain neutral but found itself overrun with the armies of its neighbours, forced to fight or fall, because of its bad luck to be in between the two great enemies, France and Germany.  Poor, unfortunate Belgium!  The entirety of Ypres was reduced to rubble after three battles meant to defend it, and is now surrounded by over a hundred cemetaries, many of the gravestones marking the graves of soldiers “known only to God.”

I think the hardest thing about all of these experiences is having to acknowledge and coming face to face with the conviction that Canada, the “good’ side, also slaughtered and rejoiced over fields of battle strewn with snuffed out lives and spread the myth of the glory of war.  Admitting that there was no “good” side in these horrific events, realizing that all that really mattered were the lives that ended and the lives that only half continued and the lives that were left behind, has definitely been a challenge for such a determined believer in the romanticism and heroism in everyday life as I am.  Why is it so easy to glorify the victory of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge–the troops who didn’t even have their own country yet, idealized with wonderful comraderie and determination–after all, we did what the powerful French and British couldn’t!  Why is it so unpleasant to see the shell ravaged territory, to hear of the Allies, the “good guys”, creating killing fields, deliberately trapping the young, hapless “enemy” into several crossfires at once?  Why is it so easy to make a monster of another people, and not realize that this tactic is one of the most dangerous enabler of that sequel to the Great War that was to end all wars??

The In Flanders Fields Museum brought this home in a new and poignant way with its indiscriminate display of both sides, any nationality involved in the war, from any “side”.  Here’s a few of the quotes they had:

I caught sight of a German the day before yesterday. He was building fortifications 50 metres away from me. I had to kill him, didn’t I? I took a rifle, quite calmly I took aim, and he fell. And yet I can see the features of that man with perfect clarity.  I think it’s very much like a murder. Horrible!” -Maurice Laurentin

They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks.  What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.” -Count Gleichen, Christmas 1914

The night of Christmas Eve, 24.12.14, it was my privilege to play Father Christmas and to carry a Christmas tree to my company commander in the trenches at the very front.  There was a new moon, and the bright starlit sky was lit even more brightly by the tracer bullets from the two front lines.  For me, they were beautiful Christmas illuminations.  Nothing was heard, except machine gun fire from time to time, or a short burst of shots.  Sometimes an infrantryman would shoot to the left or to the right of me, but I knew that the enemy would not use me as a target, despite the light which was as strong as day, because I was Father Christmas, and I was carrying the decorated tree.” -Carl Muhlegg

“All sorts of stories have been circulated regarding the meeting of the enemy and British troops between the trenches.  Luckily the troops holding our immediate line of trenches just waited until the Germans got out of the trenches, then they let them have it, rapid fire; it stopped any of this ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ sort of nonsense.” -Bryden McKinnell

I for one see no accusable monster here. I’m ashamed to have ever believed in “the enemy”.

celeberity like star struck awe

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

In this short time since our departure we have seen Spain, France and Italy. Our travels have taken us to many museums, basilicas and to view beautiful architecture, but I find myself having trouble keeping track of which country Michelangelo’s “David” was in, or Dalai’s “Persistence of Memory”, because it is all happening so fast.  I know for sure I am still in Italy because I am never hungry, I find myself with at least a second serving of gelato by noon and you can find wine for 1 Euro at the grocery store. Bottom line, I never want to leave. Regardless of what country we find ourselves in there is always plenty of art (and food) to be inspired by. I’m constantly finding myself in a celebrity like star struck awe when I come across a well known piece of art that I have seen many times in a textbook, now staring me in the face. A few have given me chills and caused me to pause longer to take in what I thought I would never see in “real life”.  Among these pieces of art I found myself taking extra time with Donatello’s Mary  Magdalene statue. Even now, days later I cannot get this image out of my mind. She seemed worn out and used in every way possible, it broke my heart how sad she looked. It got me thinking about her story and her own sense of value. I would imagine that the culture and church during her time was less than inviting to someone of her profession. It made me wonder if she ever felt loved. It’s always the story behind the art that causes me to pause and think of the lives of the characters or the painter. Now that I have seen Donatello’s “Mary Magdalene” and was deeply impacted by her body language and expression, I will remember her story. I cannot wait to see more inspiring pieces of art, we have plenty of countries ahead of us and with those come new characters, artists and stories to learn about.

Cara Lehocki

Europe is a whirlwind kaleidoscope

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

I guess the predominant thought on my mind recently is that I’m currently a skipping stone across the enormous ocean that is Europe. I’ve realized that in every city we’ve visited, there is enough history, culture and just stuff to do that we could probably spend the entire trip in that one location. In Barcelona there’s the Sagrada Familia, the Barcelona cathedral and a whole Catalan culture to be explored and learned. In Carcassonne, there’s the fortified city (I wanted a horse and a suit of armour to fill out the experience). Florence: the Santa Maria del Fiore, the leather market and hey, it’s Italy! Rome…ha. It’s Rome.

Therefore, this entire trip so far has consisted of me agonizing over which places to visit. I’ve had to pick and choose in order to adequately (not properly) experience a location and get even a basic understanding of something I have never experienced before. This is not the Asia trip at all, which was like being dumped into the deep end of a really unusual pool (with a life jacket, but it was still challenging). This is Europe, and I’m just skimming along, making notes in my journal about where I want to go again, when I’m all grown up and not paying off student loans.

By the way…as cool as Rome is, I don’t know if I want to go back. There is waaay too much traffic, too many vendors and too many kitschy tour guides demanding my attention. Wait, I fib. I do want to go back…way back, like 2000 years. In that sense, I’m a little sorry we’re not going to Pompeii. I’d forgotten that Rome was a modern day city with real people still living in it. And there are a lot of people in Rome, although St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican (totally crowded), the Forum, Pantheon and the Coliseum were all awesome experiences.

Europe is a whirlwind kaleidoscope with me hanging onto the edge, taking a zillion pictures and marvelling that all these people can live in such close proximity and not drive each other all insane. Divine intervention, I think that’s what it is.

Oh, and no matter which way you slice it, the traffic circles were scary. We’re not even in France yet!

Katie A.