The Precious Gift of Light
We traveled to the Azores Islands on a late January day. This is the time of the year when the islands, four hours flight from Boston and two hours from Porto, are well lit by the southern sun and frequently washed by showers of rain that bring the contrast between the rich lush green botany and the shimmering light coming off the dark lava rocks and earth into a dramatic contrast.
Ponta Garça, on São Miguel Island, is a modest village on the higher ground, away from the sea, which can be seen below but not heard. The Capela de Luz Eterna (Chapel of Eternal Light) is situated in the midst of a newly developed part of the village, which includes a school, on the slope facing the sea. The entry to the Capela de Luz Eterna is on the north side of the upside down pyramid. As soon as one enters, one is struck by the quality of light in the interior. By framing the openings so precisely, something like the quality of a camera obscura is invoked. It is not an invitation for a contemporary confused observer. It is an invitation for the purist’s eye who will not confuse his own sensations with what is unfolded in front of his eyes. The interior follows clearly the contours of the external envelope.
The horizon is the sea in the distance. The ground below us, the vertical, is in our erect body and mind.
It is as rare as it is difficult to be offered the gift of presence, and the possibility of light, a beam of light that is free from any other duty, from any other meaning or any other subordinated role. Light is framed as it enters, when it penetrates a prismatic dark Capela, the interior of a modest upside down pyramid, clad outside in dark green Guatemalan marble slabs. In this place of departure and arrival on earth, the significance of this color cannot be lost. Indeed, in ancient Egypt the color green was already associated with the green vegetation from which papyrus was made, signifying the round of death and resurrection - the cycle of life and decay. There is much promise in turquoise colored stone.
Above all else, the light in the green prism is precisely what Bernardo Rodrigues has achieved in this Capela de Luz Eterna. A geometry that invites the visitors to focus on the ray of light above all. Of course, no human being has ever witnessed Luz Eterna. The attempt of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Ecstasy of Saint Teresa) and Francesco Borromini (Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza church) to create such moments always ended in a dramatic display unlike the cool geometry of Bernardo Rodrigues here on the hills of the Azores.
Mathematician and theological writer Blaise Pascal thought that human beings are nothing but thinking reeds; he would have been more accurate had he called them optical reeds. We do not have any other way to make our ideal of a just and harmonious world visible than in making it so in our painting and architecture. This is above all else why we search to see stains of colors as if we had regained our eyesight just a moment earlier. This is the reason why the idea of eternal light never ceases to exercise its fascination on our minds, like the siren song; unless you are tied to the mast, you will never return to tell us what it is like to hear the siren song. In the Capela de Luz Eterna Bernardo Rodrigues and his team have presented us with such a moment. They constructed a magic cabinet to allow us, if only for a fragment of time, to capture the moment in which the only movement is the almost imperceptible movement of the sun, just as when we were children watching the movement of the shadow on the grounds of our cities.
Eternity is in the passing moment of light; time now and time always are conjugated. What more could we ask of a work of art? What more could we ask of a work of architecture that has given us all it could?