By John Blase
Jean de Chelles is a name not many were familiar with until April 15, 2019. On that day, due to the interconnectedness that social media allows, the watching world held its breath as a structure fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the 850-year-old Gothic structure that is one of France’s most famous landmarks. Although any aspect of that architectural marvel that burned would constitute a loss, many were focused on the famed rose windows. The North Rose Window was constructed around 1270, and the architect was one Jean de Chelles.
While interest in his name has resurfaced, it will no doubt fade again as restoration begins on the Cathedral and people return to their everyday lives. And this is okay. The legacy the artist left is not his name—it is the window.
When’s the last time you heard a sermon, attended a Bible study, or sat in on a Christian conference session where the subject of discussion was a man named Bezalel? Yeah, me either. I think the answer is “never.” But the book of Exodus reminds us of this craftsman who God commissioned to bring his talents and skills to bear in the construction of the tabernacle. According to the text, Bezalel was quite the artisan, working in mediums of gold, silver, bronze, the cutting of stone, and the carving of wood. In other words, this guy was good, and understandably so, as God Himself “filled Bezalel with [His] Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every craft” (Exodus 31:3).
These facts, plus a little family history—“the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah”—are all we know of this man. He did have a partner in this artistic endeavor, a man named “Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan,” but we know nothing beyond that. But when it comes to the tabernacle, this physical dwelling place for God’s Spirit? Well, we know quite a bit, and this structure looms large in an understanding of God’s work in the Old Testament. Somewhat like de Chelles, Bezalel’s name is important, but the more important aspect is the work of art he was commissioned to contribute to the tabernacle.
Should anyone think God doesn’t care about art and architecture, and furthermore about excellence in such matters, there are pages of Scripture which mention rather forgettable men who worked on unforgettable wonders. Bezalel is one of those men, a man filled with God’s Spirit and gifted with skills that would draw attention to the majesty and glory of God.
Written by John Blase