During a recent family tour of colleges in the Carolinas, it became clear that Duke University isn’t exactly a center of Catholic culture. The interdenominational chapel at this university founded by Methodists features statues (I found that deliciously ironic), including one of John Wyclif, who, in 1380 attacked the Eucharist by calling it merely “an effectual sign.” The chapel crypt is where they bury dead university presidents and their wives. The God worshiped here feels distinctly different to me.
During the same visit of Duke, we stumbled on a lovely trove of medieval art at the Nasher Art Museum. The Duke University Art Museum began in 1969 when members of the Brummer family donated their extensive collection of medieval art to the university. The Nasher Art Museum, an architectural showpiece which opened in 2005, is a great place to explore. I was particularly provoked by the beauty of the medieval art in the collection. (Such as the statue of martyr Saint Sebastian, pictured here.)
Among the collection’s treasures are portions of the abbey of Saint Martin, Savigny. The Huguenots sacked this abbey in 1562, destroying or removing many valuable manuscripts. The abbey once was the largest church in the world and was destroyed in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Statues were scattered or mutilated.
More grievous than the destruction of Christian art, it is almost overwhelming for me to reflect on the millions of Christians throughout history who have willingly separated themselves from the Real Presence of Our Lord.
As I strolled through the Nasher Art Museum, I was at once saddened and reassured to see pieces of the abbey and other medieval Catholic churches displayed on the wall in fragments – part of a statue here, an altar piece there. How distressing to reflect on how the Church has been broken – both spiritually and physically – by so-called reformers and by the relentless secularization of Western culture. Taking another view, however, I meditated that people had seen it important to preserve these fragments. This made me consider that Christ’s body is everywhere. No matter what physically happens or happened to our churches, the Body of Christ and His Real Presence cannot be destroyed.
And then, after our visit to Durham, I was profoundly moved to learn the Duke Catholic Center is located in the basement of this very same chapel and that priests and students celebrate Mass upstairs every Sunday night.