Zumthor’s San Benedetg ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Two small structures are looming large above the elongated alpine Rhine valley up from the Raeto-romanian village of Sumvigt: one dates back over a millennium featuring a stout (almost castle-like but for its size) chapel ruin now roofless and open towards the skies yet striking in its simple rectangular proportions: focusing the visitor on a round open window with now almost vanished triplet wave spike pattern above the massive though elegant altar, which is framed by hints of a pair of nearly completely eroded upward stretching column-shaped stands – the view extending along the seemingly endless valley towards the eternal snow of distant peaks. 

Carrying on along the road up the mountain and passing through the hamlet of San Benedetg a few hundred meters higher up a different thing comes in sight. This one as recent as it defies a historic categorization of any kind. Zumthor’s oval meditation mound one might call it so as to set the blackened wood shingles structure apart from what is commonly understood by ‘chapel’. Next to it stands what from afar looks like a telephone pole – coming near it reveals itself to be the slimmest bell ‘tower’ ever made, consisting of two long planks held together by ladder type rungs and bending in concave swing towards the top where two bells hang underneath each other covered by a simply arched roof board.  Entering the place is pure poetry:

Oval ship of wooden floor and ashen benches straight aligned in simple rows.

The walls’ matt shimmer of surrounding metal skin

Light belt of glass beneath the arched roof high above

Carried and structured by 2 x 18 rafters

Extending from its central ridge across and down

The buildings entirety

The light and shadow play herein

White prayer vase of alabaster

Aside the altar’s icon to the left

And invisible it seems

A tiny iron cross

At center stage

Move and rest

Awakening

Photo: Tom Amatt

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