Exploring links between pop culture and spirituality has been my thing for a few years now. And most of the time, it’s sort of a one-way street. I look at a piece of entertainment and try to find a little hint of God or faith at work in them. But it can go the other way, too. Pop culture can sneak into church—sometimes quite literally.
Take the Bethlehem Chapel (Chapelle de Bethleem), a church built in Brittany in the Middle Ages and declared a historical monument in 1911.
Looks like a pretty typical, pretty old church, right? But despite the chapel’s antiquity, it boasts some rather unusual, eye-catching gargoyles on its corners. For example, this one.
What, were the original builders time travelers with an affection for 1980s American cinema? If only. No, the explanation is a little more pedestrian (but still pretty interesting). When the chapel was being restored in 1993, there was some question as to how to replace the missing pinnacles at the corners. So sculpture Jean-Louis Boistel proposed to craft gargoyles (or, more correctly, the chimeras) that blended mythological, Christian and contemporary references into a solid whole.
So, in addition to Adam and Eve and symbols of the Four Evangelists, Boistel incorporated the alien from Alien (representing the biblical Leviathan), the gremlins from Gremlins (symbolizing the good and evil in ourselves) and Goldorak—a manga knight that was apparently super-popular in France back in the mid 1990s (representing righteousness). You can see the Boistel’s Goldorak here.
But the Bethlehem Chapel isn’t the only place you can find pop culture iconography on the outside of a church. Take a look at this picture from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and you might see a certain Sith Lord staring down at you.
Maybe to some, these entertainment figurines seem like a strange fit with the eternal truth held inside the church. The idea of Gizmo gracing a centuries-old sanctuary might feel a little too flip.
But I don’t think so. Throughout its history, the Christian Church has shown a remarkable ability to adapt what’s popular and translate it into something holy. It co-opted pagan holidays and made them sacred. It adopted popular drinking songs and made them hymns. To me, these carvings are simply another example of the Christian ability to sanctify the less-than-pure stuff in our culture. Which, when you think about it, is really core to the faith itself. After all, we less-than-perfect Christians also believe we’ve been redeemed. Kinda nifty, that.