A lull is a temporary suspension of activity. A lull is a fleeting, fickle, and tenuous gift. The last week of December, before the New Year, is a time where we often feel a lack of activity as compared to the weeks leading up to this time. For some, the lull has been longer this year than in years past given the restrictions due to the pandemic in some parts of the world. Many of us have been programmed to respond to a lull with action in an effort to fill the discomfort of the unfamiliar calm. But filling the lull is, in a sense, throwing away an unopened gift.
When we lived in Portugal, during this last week of the year, we were lucky enough to amble thoughtfully through the UNESCO World Heritage site of The Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitoria in Batalha. This remarkable example of Portuguese Gothic and Manueline architecture is breathtaking. The way in which it resonated with us most was unexpected.
It was not the soaring stone latticework, the pyramidal pinnacles, or the ogee arch over the portal window that stopped us in our tracks.
It was not the skyward flying buttresses, rose windows, or main cloister vaulted walkways that caused us to linger.
It was not the buttery lanterns illuminating the cool stone path to the altar or the smell of wax and wood that perfumed the nave.
It was not the original stained glass from the 1400s framed with perfection by the ornate window tracery that gave us reason to pause.
The place that captured our hearts was none other than The Unfinished Chapels. Commissioned by King Duarte in 1434, the architect Huguet was responsible for the design and construction. The project was abandoned many times and never finished after the two visionaries died, in 1438 and 1439 respectively, taking their passion for the chapels with them.
After entering through an arch too ornate to even hang doors, we found ourselves in a fairytale rotunda. The perfectly positioned octagonal building remains, to this day, without a roof. The dome was never reimagined. When we walked into the center of the chapel and looked up to the sky, with the heavenly feeling of the sun on our faces, there was a radiance that overwhelmed us with warmth. The passing clouds were reflected in the clay-filled puddles and moss-covered stones where we stood watching the pigeons nest in the sumptuousness of the triumphal arches.
The Unfinished Chapels are a monument to the beauty of imperfection. Standing there we felt sadness and joy, a damp chill and radiating warmth, frustration and hope, desolation and wonder, angst and reflection. This year has been like no other for our family, our country, and our global community. There are too many loose ends to count as the imperfections of 2020 stack up and we look back over our shoulders waiting for a new dawn. We are remembering the mystery of the unfinished chapels this week, as it was the place where the baffling hush taught us to welcome the lull with all of life’s imperfections and loose ends outstanding. As one year draws to a close and another commences, we find ourselves in this moment of peace to honor the transition from all that has come before to all that is yet to be.
In the words of Christina Rossetti, “Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes, work never begun.”
Today’s Tweetable: Welcome the Lull this Week!