Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is only a short distance from Notre Dame. This Gothic Cathedral was commissioned by King Louis IX to house relics such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns and completed in 1248. Upstairs, the architecture and the stained glass in particular is awe-inspiring, somehow managing to be commanding and delicate at the same time. The stained glass tells a story, starting with Genesis and culminating in the story of the king bringing the relics to this very Cathedral. Even today – seven centuries later – a visitor standing in the midst of this magnificent space is awe-struck by the art, the beauty, and this story. But what the modern visitor knows is that this exquisite space does not depict the end of history but is instead just another chapter.
Someone worshipping in this space in the 13th century would have found it difficult to ever imagine how the future – at least any future on this earth – might be more impressive than this instant in time. The king bringing the relics to this place represented the final panel of the story, everything else just afterword while they awaited the judgment day. The idea of men walking on the moon or women starting high-tech companies would simply have too many layers of incredible to imagine, much less believe.
Our own time is just another step in the evolution of civilization, our skyscrapers, Internet, democracies and multinational corporations not the final chapter but instead just another chapter in the story of what it means to be human. Our inventions will change and so will we. Social evolution is not done yet.