El Consejo Internacional de Monumentos y Sitios surgió como un cuerpo colegiado, brazo coordinador del esfuerzo internacional para preservar y valorizar el patrimonio de la humanidad. Se crea como un organismo Clase A, asesor de la Unesco, cuyos orígenes se remontan a 1964, en el marco de la Asamblea General del II Congreso Internacional de Arquitectos y Técnicos de Monumentos Históricos. El comité venezolano se formaliza en 1981.
lunes, 22 de julio de 2013
The monastic dwelling and the spirit of the place as determinant values in the construction of the Benedictine Abbey of San José
Autor: Arquitecta Debby Avendaño S.
Ponencia presentada en la XVI Asambla General de ICOMOS,
celebrada en Quebec, Canadá, Octubre de 2008
This study aims to determine the
existing relationship between architecture and the Benedictine tradition from
the notions of dwelling of Martin Heidegger and the spirit of place of
Christian Norberg-Schultz, embodied in the Benedictine Abbey of San José (Güigüe,
Venezuela), designed in the eighties by the Venezuelan architect Jesus Tenreiro
This work, considered as a National
Cultural Property, is an evidence of both the transmission of a heritage
(tangible and intangible) and a continuous process of its own transformation.
Thus, the building is presented as a synthesis of the historical and
traditional relations, materialized in the contemporary condition of
architecture; manifesting as the witness and the result of a process largely
determined by the nature of the Benedictine coenobitical practice. Regarding
this, we will deal with a conception of space linked to the tradition and life
of its inhabitants as well as the historical and geographical characteristics
of the place.
The religious and monastic
architecture has been one of the main interpreters in the dynamic of the
historic and cultural development of towns. In it, the principles of tradition
are filtered and synthesized in architectonic systems which prove both the transmission
of a heritage and the constant process of transformation (innovation) of itself
To this effect, the Benedictine
Abbey of San José (Guigue, Carabobo State, Venezuela) appears to be the
synthesis of historic and traditional relations, materialized under the
contemporary condition of the architecture of the eighties, designed by the
Venezuelan architect Jesús Tenreiro Degwitz.
To approach this work, we want to
determine the relations existing between architecture and the Benedictine tradition
from the philosophical reflections of dwelling and architecture as a place
derived from the text Build, Dwell and think by Martin Heidegger and about the
notion of spirit of the place or genius loci by Christian Norberg- Schultz.
The monastic culture of Dwelling
The study of the interaction of the
subjects in the architectonic space obeys to a kind of anthropological research
(which is also part of architecture), it points out psychological, social and
cultural features present in the location, conception, building and use of a
In this study we claim to examine
“how dwelling can determine and be expressed in the dwelled object” (Enciso,
2006), due to the fact that in the architectonic field, “when people talk about
living unseparately they refer to dwelling and we think indissolubly about a
dwelled spaciality for this use.” (Enciso, 2006).
The approach of the anthropologist
Francisco Sánchez in his work La Liturgia del Espacio (The Liturgy of Space)
(1990) and that of the Benedictine philosopher Frederic Debuyst, entitled Il
genius loci cristiano (2000) were very useful to explain this idea.
Sanchez deals with the unavoidable
relationship existing between space and culture. Debuyst examines the
contemporary monastic space from the notions of Heidegger’s dwelling and
Norberg-Schultz’ genius loci.
Dwelling is expressed through all
kinds of acts or ways of proceeding which imply all the senses, in this way,
“the space dwelled can be identified, used and imagined as the scenario of man’s
social and individual behaviour” (Enciso 2006).
Related to this, the specific way
the Benedictine Order has to organize and understand the monastic life is
present in its conceptions of privacy, meditation, discipline, hierarchy,
hospitality, among others; which are materialized in the space constructing,
shaping, giving a connotation to it (Sánchez, 1990). By doing this, we find the
building as the witness and result of a process, determined mainly by the
character of the Benedictine coenobitical practice, that is (paraphrasing
Heidegger), through “the way the Benedictine monks are in earth”.
This monastic dwelling is signed by
the ideal of being a monk (the one, the solitary), and by the particularly ora
et labora monastic binomial. These two dimensions of the monastic dwelling are
expressed in movements, in ritual acts. These acts are specified in the Rule
San Benito redacted in the fifth century and they are presented as useful
doctrinal lineaments for the realization of the monastic life. The practical
character of the Rule ranges from the interior organization of the monastery
and the monks’ activities to the time division of the liturgy celebration. It
can be said then that the Rule activates and strengthens a particularly
This dwelling which has as
fundamental feature the action of guarding, rests in the being of men, in their
way of being in the earth, under the sky and in front of the divinities.
This union has been named Cuaternity
and human beings enter it through the dwelling. Hence, “the mortals dwell in
the way they take care of the Cuaternity in its essence.” (Heidegger, 1994).
THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE
This dwelling is present in the
monastic life experience as “a dwelling in front of the divine” (Crippa in
Debuyst, 2000, p.1), which discipline of monastic state comprises a way of
guarding and preserving the pureness of the heart to reach the ideal of surrender
oneself to the Lord, to become one with Him. To do this, the monk remains in a
community in which “he will reach his personal integration –human and
spiritual- (or he will constantly try it at least), in the daily sharing with
his brothers, through the brotherly living together and the conscious and
attentive collaboration with them” (Weidner and Martínez, s/f, p.20). We can
also add that the monk dwells the earth, cultivate it and build in it, paying
attention to the signals of the nature and the state of the weather; this
monastic disposition is determined also by the Rule.
Heidegger reveals that this dwelling
is preserved while it takes its essence to things and these things guarantee
the Cuaternity in themselves, as things are, let them be. The mortals protect
and take care of the things that grow up, erect properly the things that do not
grow. Guarding and erecting is building in the strict sense. Dwelling while it
guards (truly) the Cuaternity in things, is, in this sense (truly), a building.”
(Heidegger, 1994). From this monastic dwelling the builder receives the
direction to erect places – monastery, and at the same time, the buildings
erected this way mark the monk’s dwelling taking him to his essence and giving
a house to it. This is confirmed by the architectonic relevance which the
monastic edifications have shown through the centuries.
The existential meanings reveal and
make concrete as “characters”, these characters are materialized as things, and
these things being themselves as place, guard the Cuaternity.
The concept of genius loci developed
by Christian Norberg-Schultz shows that all the places – natural or built ones-
have their spirit and that it is forged in the historic course of the place.
To the relation between man and construction
previously mentioned, we add now the surrounding, and from its mutual
correspondence, we can refer to the concept of existential space and to its
qualitative and vital character which is not determined in purely physical
terms (Norberg-Schultz, 1999, p. 225).
This existential space is
constituted by existential meanings which “are inherent to life itself and
emerge from the relation between natural human properties, processes and
actions” (Norberg-Schultz, 1999, p. 225); to experience these meanings in the
environment surrounding him is one of the essential needs of man. When this
happens “the space becomes an ensemble of “places”. The term “place” then
determines something known and “concrete” while “space” indicates the most
abstract relations among places” (Norberg- Schultz, 1999, p. 223).
The places “are focus where the
meaningful events of existence are experienced, but they are also starting
points, orientation and conquest bases of the environment” (Norberg- Schultz
1999, p. 226). Respect to this, “being in a place” constitutes something
further than a location event, thus it implies the identification if the
inhabitant with the specific character of the places, the journeys and the
Respect to the environment
character, it has been considered as the spirit of the place which as we
mentioned at the beginning refers to the genius which is forged in the historic
course of the place or which emerges from nature itself.
For this reason it can be understood
that “when a character is made concrete through the formal articulation, the
world becomes closer” (Norberg-Schultz, 1999, p. 227), making the existence
meaningful through architecture.
This concept leads us to two more
meaningful aspects of the tradition of the religious and monastic architecture;
first of all, the concretion of culture of the cristian dwelling in the most
antique constructions (the house-church and the primitive Constantine
churches), indicating the original conception of the Christian life and its
communitarian dimension, revealed in the orientation notion and the feeling of
identity among the faithful; second, we have the particular sensibility of the
monks in the election of the appropriate zones to settle the monasteries.
Taking into account these two aspects, Debuyst (2000) poses the specific
existence of a christian genius loci.
The essence of this christian place
spirit is present also in the monasteries, but catalyzed by the determinations
of a Rule and an abbot. In this way, the monastic road included new meanings
that made their way of living more complex, which is present in their
To Debuyst, the monastery is a
“complete human and Christian place”, the majority of the examples built
present a genius loci derived from its complex and at the same time singular
character; its particular presences make almost all of them, inique (2000, p.
The complex character is given by an
internal complexity that corresponds to the numerous and varied activities the
monks have developed through the time. Besides, this complex character is
evident in a spirit of the place that expresses completeness, totality and
synthesis that strengthens from an own interiority that guards the liturgy,
seeks for loneliness and protects the closure of the community.
This tendency to the introversion
reaches its balance with other of the monastic principles previously mentioned,
the dialogue with nature and landscape.
It is known the discernment made by
the monks in the search of an appropriate location for the practice of the
monastic life; as a consequence, its foundations reveal a particular
sensibility towards the genius of the place and their admiration of nature as a
creation of God, placing them frequently to zones with a marked geographical
and natural seal. The monasteries were usually established as relatively
isolated units, and in general, it is there where they build and transformed
the space generating a place. The historic relationship of the christian
monastery constructions with the natural surrounding has had a double slope
which distinguishes between the western monastic architecture from the eastern
monastic architecture. In both cases, the most of the constructions have been
made with an inner character, turned to the interior but allowing the visuals
occupy a meaningful position in front of a panorama with its own beauty. The
difference is in how they are implanted in the land, with a morphology of
geometric tendency in the first case and organic in the second case.
The geometric disposition considers
a general domain of the relation form function meaning in any implantation
(Conenna , s/f). The rigidity of its straight angles contrast with the
landscape, imposing itself to the surroundings. However, this has not implied a
total ignorance of the properties of the place, taking into account climatic
factors, sunning, wind direction, among other factors.
On the other hand, the organic
tendency presents particular solutions for each case, since it depends mostly
on the land where it is placed, adapting itself to the particularities and
topographic variants, what makes it more natural and autonomous (Conenna, s/f).
The rigidity which can be attributed to the Benedictine constructive tradition
respect to the natural surrounding has varied in the last decades. Debuyst
denotes a growing attention towards the specificities of the surroundings,
becoming apart from a narrow closure and manifesting a great liberty in the relation
with the nature and landscape (2000, p. 75).
The implications of coupling of the
millenary Benedictine tradition of life, work and praying to the present
demands of the community of San José and to the place of implantation,
generated a very particular configuration of the building which is not
registered totally, in typologies constructed previously to this objective.
From this particular configuration
we can point out firstly, the totalizing condition of the edification from the
organizing element which makes possible the organization. Such condition
becomes in a deep Benedictine conviction: the institution of an order, based on
the Christian values, order created in the Rule by San Benito.
We observe this sense of order (as
human character), in the general configuration of the Abbey and particularly
from the cloister, like the expression of a community of monks who live in
cloister, under the Rule and an abbot.
On other side, the orientation of
the edification has in its existence a cosmological sense of natural character
comprised from the disposition of its wings respect to the cardinal points.
Even though it is necessary to remember the practical character present in such
orientation, it cannot be denied its cosmological pretension, that is, the
intention to relate the part-the Abbey- with all in the universe.
In this total dimension of the
edification, we point out its condition of unitariedad and completeness, which
we perceive from a theological point of view, that is, supernatural character.
Thus, we come in front of a superior plane, understood from the cosmological
relation previously mentioned, that is, the relation of the universe and its
parts (represented in this case by the Abbey) with the divine world. These
relations show the colligation of the Cuaternity, the spirit of a community
which in the search of God longs for becoming one with Him, and the
construction that it dwells, reveals it this way.
Debuyst, F. (2000). Il genius loci
cristiano. Milán: Sinaí.
Conenna, C. “Morfología Monasterial en el espacio griego.
Monasterio y Contexto (una jeraquía orgánica)”. Avaible from
Enciso, E. “Las formas de vida, del habitar y de la
espacialidad. Una aproximación desde las Humanidades.” Avaible from http://www.architecthum.edu.mx/Architecthumtemp/ensayos/eenciso/eenciso1.html;
Fitzpatrick, Gail. “El claustro o la soledad del corazón, o,
cómo custodiar el corazón.” Avaible from http://www.cistercianfamily.org./s-documento02.asp;
Heidegger, M. (1994). Conferencia y artículos. Barcelona:
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