Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cavaillon Cathedral

Cavaillon CathedralThe whole interior of the church at Cavillion, at whose consecration no less a prelate than Pope Innocent IV had presided, is small and its plan is essentially of the Provençal type. The high tunnel vault rests, like that of Orange, on double arches; and as the nave is very narrow and its light very dim, the church seems lofty, sombre, and impressive, with a very serious dignity which its detail fails to carry out. The chapels, which lie between the heavy buttresses, are dim recesses which increase the darkened effect of the interior. Of the ten, only three differ essentially from the general plan; and although of the XVII century, their style is so severe and they are so ill-lighted that they do not greatly debase the church. The choir is entered from under a rounded archway, and its dome is loftier than the nave and much more beautiful than the semi-dome of the apse, whose roof, in these practical modern times, has been windowed.

That which almost destroys the effect of the church's fine lines and would be intolerable in a stronger light, is the mass of gilt and polychrome with which the interior is covered. The altars are monstrously showy, the walls and buttresses are coloured, and even the interesting, sculptured figures beneath the corbels have been carefully tinted. The dead arise with appropriate mortuary pallor, the halo of Christ is pure gold, and all the draperies of God and His saints are in true, primary shadings.

From the contemplation of this misuse of paint, and of a sadly misplaced inner porch of the XVII century, the traveller's attention was recalled to the old priest. His hand was raised, the eye of every little girl was fixed on him and instantly, in their soft, shrill voices, they began the verse of a hymn. The traveller glanced down the nave. Every boy was on his feet, white ribbons hanging bravely from the right arm, the Crown of Thorns correctly held in one white-gloved hand, a Crucifix fastened with a bow of ribbon to the coat lapel. Every eye was on the young priest, who also raised his hand. Then they sang, as the girls had sung, and with a right lusty will. And then, under the guiding hands, both boys and girls sang together. There was a silence when their voices died away, and from the altar a deep voice slowly chanted “Ite; missa est,” and the High Mass of the First Communion Day was over.

Outside, little country carts stood near the church, and fathers and brothers in blue blouses were waiting for the little communicants who had had so long and so exciting a morning. Walking about with the crowds, the traveller saw an exterior whose façade was plainly commonplace and whose bare lateral walls were patched, and crowded by other walls. Finally he came upon the apse, the most interesting part of the church's exterior; and he leaned against a café wall and looked across the little square.

Externally, the apse of Saint-Véran has five sides, and each side seems supported by a channelled column. The capitals of these columns are carved with leaves or with leaves and grotesques; on them round arches rest; and above is a narrow foliated cornice. In relieving contrast to the artificial classicism of the Renaissance of the interior, the feeling of this apse is quite truly ancient and pagan, and it is not less unique nor less charming because it is placed against a plain, uninteresting wall. The eye travelling upward, above the choir-dome, meets the lantern with its rounded windows and pointed roof, and by its side the high little bell-turret which completes a curious exterior; an exterior which is interesting and even beautiful in detail, but irregular and heterogeneous as a whole.

The Cathedral of Cavaillon is one of many possibilities. Although small like those of its Provençal kindred, it has more dignity than Orange, more simplicity of interior line than the present Avignon, and it is to be regretted that it should have suffered no less from restoration than from old age.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Orange Cathedral

Lying on the Rhone, and almost surrounded by the papal Venaissin, is a tiny principality of less than forty thousand acres. This small state has given title to more than one distinguished European who never entered its borders, and who was alien to it not only in birth, but in language and family. So great was the fame of its rulers that this small, isolated strip of land suffered for their principles, and probably owes to them much of its devastation in the terrible Wars of Religion. From the well-known convictions of the Princes of Orange, the country was always counted a refuge for heretics of all shades, and in 1338 they were in sufficient force to demolish the tower of the Cathedral. Later in history, Charles IX declared William of Nassau “an outlaw” and his principality “confiscate”; and in 1571, there was a three days' massacre of Protestants. In spite of this horrid orgy the Reformers rose again in might and soon prevented all celebration of Catholic rites. Refugees fleeing from the Dragonnades of Dauphiné and of the Cévennes poured into the principality; and when the Princes of Orange were strong enough to protect their state, its Catholics lived restricted lives; but when the Protestant power waned, Kings and Captains of France raided the land in the name of the Church. And at the death of William of Orange, King of England, Louis XIV seized the capital of the state, razed its great palace and its walls, and after the Treaty of Utrecht had awarded the principality to the French crown, treated the defenceless Huguenots with the same impartial cruelty he had meted to their fellow-believers in other parts of the kingdom. Orange's changes in religious fate are not unlike those of Nîmes, with this essential difference, that here Catholicism has conquered triumphantly. Where ten worship in the little Protestant temple, a thousand throng to the Mass.

Both in history and its monumental Roman ruins, the capital of this province, Orange, is one of the richest cities of the Southland, but its Cathedral is very poor and mean. The plan is one of the simplest of the Provençal conceptions, a “hall basilica,” archæologically interesting, but in its present state of patch and repair, architecturally commonplace and un-beautiful. In spite of Protestant attacks and Catholic restorations, the XI century type has been maintained, a rectangle whose plain double arches support a tunnel vault and divide the interior into four bays. The piers are heavy and severe; and between them are alcoves, used as chapels. The choir, narrower than the nave, is preceded by the usual dome, and beyond it is a little unused apse, concealed from the rest of the interior by a wall. Unimportant windows built with distinctly utilitarian purpose successfully light this small, simple room, and no kindly shadow hides its bareness or diminishes the unhappy effect of the paintings which disfigure the walls. The Cathedral's exterior is so surrounded by irregular old houses that the traveller had discovered it with some difficulty. It has little that is worthy of description, and after having entered by a conspicuously poor Renaissance portal only to go out under an uninteresting modern one, he found himself lost in wonder that the Cathedral-builders of Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth should have utterly failed in a town which offered them such inspiring suggestions as the great Arch of Triumph and the still greater Imperial Theatre, besides all the other remains of Roman antiquity which, long after the building of Notre-Dame, the practical Maurice of Orange demolished for the making of his mediæval castle.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sisteron Cathedral

French CathedralsThe traveller is curious,—frankly curious. Almost every time that he enters a Cathedral, his memory recalls the words of Renan, “these splendid marvels are almost always the blossoming of some little deceit,” and after he has feasted his eye, he thinks of history and of details, and of Renan, prejudiced but well-informed, and wonders what was here the “little deceit.” At Grasse, he had longed for the papers a certain lawyer has, which tell much of the city's life a hundred and fifty years ago, and at Sisteron, he sat by the Durance, wondering how he could induce a kind and good old lady of a remote corner of Provence to lend him an ancient manuscript, which even the gentle Curé said she “obstinately” refused to “impart.” Blessed are they who can be satisfied with guide-books, as his friends who had visited Avignon and Arles, Tarascon and the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and had seen Provence to their entire edification while he was merely peering about Notre-Dame-des-Doms and the Fort Saint-André. Of a more indolent and leisurely turn of mind, he suffers—and perhaps justly—the penalty of his joyous idleness, for even lawyers and good ladies with hidden papers are rare. Revolutionary sieges, fires, and a wise discretion have led to the destroying of many a fine old page, and it is often in vain one goes to these decaying cities of Provence. “We see,” he said, gesticulating dejectedly, “we see their towers and their walls, but if we say we know that place, how many times do we deceive ourselves. It is too often as though we claimed to know the life and thought and passions of a man from looking on his grave.”

But—to consider what we may know. Sisteron is an old Roman city, most strongly and picturesquely built in a narrow defile of the Durance. On one side the river is the high, bare rock of La Baume; on the other, a higher rock where houses, supporting each other by outstretched buttresses, seem to cling to the sheer hillside as shrubs in mountain crevasses, and are dominated and protected by a large and formidable fortress-castle that crowns the very top of the peak. The town walls are almost gone; the fortress is abandoned; since the Revolution there are no longer Bishops in Sisteron; but the old town has lost little of its war-like and romantic atmosphere of days when it commanded an important pass, and when the way across the Durance was guarded by a drawbridge, and a big portcullis that now stands in rusty idleness.

It is claimed that the Bishopric of this stronghold was founded in the IV century, and grew and flourished mightily, until the Bishop dwelt securely on his rock, his Brother of Gap had a “box” on the opposite bank, the Convent of the little Dominican Sisters was further up the river, and, besides this busy ecclesiastical life, there was the world of burghers in the town and its Convent of Ursulines. Here came once upon a time a sprightly lady who added a thousand lively interests. This was Louise de Cabris, sister of the great Mirabeau, “who, when a mere girl, had been married to the Marquis de Cabris. Part knave, part fool, the vices of de Cabris sometimes ended in attacks of insanity. His marriage with one who united the violence of the Mirabeaus to the license of the Vassans was unfortunate; ... and after Louise began to reign in the big dark house of the Cours of Grasse, life never lacked for incidents.” Matters were not mended by the arrival of her brother, twenty-four and wild, and supposed to be living under a “lettre de cachet” in the sleepy little town of Manosque. The two were soon embroiled in so outrageous a scandal that their father, who loved a quarrel for its own sake, sided with the prosecution; and declaring that “no children like his had ever been seen under the sun,” took out a “lettre de cachet” for Louise, who was sent up to Sisteron, where he requested her to “repent of her sins at leisure in the Convent of the Ursulines.” Inheriting a brilliant, restless wit and unbridled morals, her life with the stupid, vicious Marquis had not improved her natural disposition, and she soon set Sisteron agog. On pretence of business all the lawyers flocked to see her; and with no pretence at all the garrison flocked in their train. When the Ursulines ventured to remonstrate, she diverted them with such anecdotes of gay adventure as were never found between the pages of their prayer-books. Finally the whole town was divided into two camps; her foes called her “a viper,” and many an eye peered into the dark streets, many a head was judiciously hidden behind bowed shutters, to see who went toward the Convent; till by wit and scheming and after some months of most surprising incident, Louise carried her point, left the good Ursulines to a well-merited repose, and returned to the Castle of Mirabeau,—to laugh at the townsfolk of Sisteron.

When in the city, the prelates occupied their Castle of the Citadel with the high lookouts and defences, far from their Cathedral, which is in the lower town near the heavy, round towers of the ramparts. This church, which has been very slightly and very judiciously restored, is of unknown date, probably of the XII century, it is faithful to the native architectural tradition, and in some details more interesting than many of the Provençal Cathedrals. Its exterior is small and low. There are the familiar, friendly little apses of the Romanesque; near them, above the east end of the north aisle, the squat tower with a modest, modern spire; and at its side, above the roof-line, is the octagon that stands over the dome. All this structure is unaffectedly simple. The walls and buttresses which enclose the aisles are plain, and it is only by comparison with this architectural Puritanism that the façade may be considered ornate. Near the top of its wall, which is supported by sturdy piers, are three round windows, with deep, splayed frames. The largest of them is directly above the high, slender portal that is somewhat reminiscent of the Italian influence, so elaborately marked further up the valley, at Embrun. The rounded arch of the door-way and its pointed gable are repeated, on either side, in a half-arch and half-gable. An allegorical animal, in relief, stands above the central arch, and a few columns with delicate capitals complete the adornment of the entrance-way, which, in spite of being the most decorative part of the church, is most discreet.

Nine steps lead down into an interior that is small, very usually planned, and much defaced by XVII century gilt—yet is essentially dignified and impressive. Eliminate the tawdry altars, take away the stucco Saints and painted Virgins, let the chapels be mere shadowy corners in the dark perspective, and the little church appears like the meeting-place of the Faithful of an early Christianity. Its nave and each of the narrow side aisles rise to round tunnel-vaults; there are but five bays, and the last is covered by a small, octagonal dome. The whole church is built of a dark stone that is almost black, its lighting is very dim, and centres in the little apses where the holiest statues stand and the most sacred rites are celebrated; and the worshippers, shrouded in twilight, have more of the atmosphere of mystery than is usual in the Cathedrals of Provence, the subtle influence of quiet shadowy darkness that is so potent in the churches of the Spanish borderland.

Many will pass through Sisteron and enjoy its rugged strength, its sun-lit days, its narrow streets, and the peaks that stand out in solemn sternness against the dark blue sky at night. Notre-Dame-de-Pomeriis has none of the salient beauty of any of these, and to appreciate its ancient charm, it must not be forgotten that the Provençal Cathedral has not the distinction of size or the elaboration of the greater Cathedrals of Gascony, that it is far removed from the fine originalities of Languedoc, that it is conventional, and, as it were, clannish, and that its highest dignity is in a simple quiet that is never awe-full. There is, in truth, more than one church of this country that needs the embellishment of its history to make it truly interesting. But Notre-Dame of Sisteron is not of these. It is not the big, empty shell of Carpentras, nor the little rough Cathedral of Orange. It is the smaller, more perfect one, of finer inspiration, which the many will pass by, the few enjoy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Entrevaux Cathedral

Entrevaux CathedralThe most celebrated fortified town in France is the Cité of Carcassonne, yet, even in the days of its practical strength, it was scarcely a type. It was rather a marvel, a wonder,—the “fairest Maid of Languedoc,” “the Invincible.” And now the citadel is almost deserted. The inhabitants are so few that weeds grow in their streets, and one who walks there in the still mid-day feels that all this completion of architecture, these walls, perfect in every stone, may be an enchanted vision, a mirage; he more than half believes that the cool of the sunset will dispel the illusion, and he will find himself on a pleasant little hill of Languedoc, looking down upon the commonplace “Lower City” of Carcassonne.

At Entrevaux there is no suggestion of illusion. This is not a show-place that once was real; it is one of a hundred little agglomerations of the French Middle Ages. They had no great name to uphold; no riches to expend in impregnable walls and towers. They clung fearfully together for self-preservation, built ramparts that were as strong as might be, and dared not laugh at the “fortunes of war.” Except that there is safety outside the walls, and a tiny post and telegraph office within, they are now as they were in those dangerous days. The fortress of Carcassonne is dead; but in the back country of Provence, Entrevaux is living, and scarcely a jot or tittle of its Mediævalism is lost. Among high rocks that close around it on every side, where, according to the season, the Chalvagne trickles or plunges into the river Var, and dominated by a fort that perches on a sharp peak, is the strangest of old Provençal towns.

The founding of the tiny episcopal city was after this wise. Toward the close of the XIV century, in a time of plagues, Jewish persecutions, the growth of heresies, and the uncurbed ravages of free-booters, the city of Glandèves, seat of an ancient Bishopric, was destroyed. The living remnant abandoned its desolate ruins. Searching for a stronger, safer home, they chose a site on the left bank of the Var, and commenced the building of Entrevaux. The Bishop accompanied his flock, and although he retained the old title of Glandèves, in memory of the antiquity of the See and its lost city, the Cathedral-church was established at Entrevaux.

The first edifice, Saint-Martin's, built shortly after the founding of the town, has long been destroyed; and the second, begun in 1610, to the honour of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, held episcopal rank until the See was disestablished by the great Concordat. Although this Cathedral was built in the XVII century, a date perilously near that of decadence in French ecclesiastical architecture, it was situated in so obscure a corner of Provence that its plan was unaffected by innovating ideas; it is of the old native type, a building of stout walls and heavy buttresses, a single tower, square and straight, and a tunnel-vaulted room, the place of congregation. This interior, with no beautiful details that may not be found in other churches, has as many of the defects of the Italian school as the treasury could afford,—marble columns, frescoes, gilding, and other rococo decorations which show that the people of Entrevaux had no higher and no better tastes than those of Nice; and that the old, simple purity of the church's form was rather a matter of ignorance or necessity than of choice. The attraction of the episcopal church pales before the quaint delight of the episcopal city, and it is as part of the general civic defence that it shares in the interest of Entrevaux.

Leaving the train at the nearest railroad station, the traveller followed the winding Var, and he had scarcely walked four miles when he saw, across the river, the sharp peak with its fort, and the long lines of walls that zigzag down the hillside till they reach the crowded roofs that are clustered closely, in charming irregularity, near the bank.

Along the water's edge, the only part of the town that is not protected by rocks and hills, there is another line of stout walls and two heavy, jutting bastions. From a mediæval point of view Entrevaux looks strong indeed. The only means of entrance, now as in those olden days, is by one of three small drawbridges, and so narrow is every street of the town that no wagon is allowed to cross, for if it made the passage of the bridge it would be caught hard and fast between the houses. As the traveller put foot on the drawbridge he felt as though he were a petty trader or wandering minstrel, or some other figure of the Middle Ages, entering for a few hours' traffic or a noon-day's rest, and when he paused under the low arch of the portcullis-gate, people stared at him as they do at a stranger in little far-off towns.

Once inside, he turned into a street, and was immediately obliged to step into a door-way, for a man leading a horse was approaching, and they needed all its breadth. Houses, several stories high, bordered these incredibly dark, narrow ways, and some of the upper windows had the diminutive balconies so dear to the South. It was a bright, hot day, but the sun seldom peeped into these streets; and in the shops the light was dull at mid-day. As he thought of the men and women of Mediævalism, who did not dare to wander in the fields beyond the town, because their safety lay within its ramparts, suddenly, the little public squares of walled towns appeared in all the real significance of their light and breadth and sunshine.

Space is precious in Entrevaux, and open places are few. There is one where the hotels and cafés are found, another across the drawbridge behind the Cathedral-tower, and a tiny one before the church itself. This is the most curious of them all; for, far from being a “Place de la Cathédrale,” it is a true “Place d'Armes.” Near the portals, on whose wooden doors the mitre and insignia of papal favour are carved, a few steps lead to a narrow ledge where archers could stand and shoot from the loop-holes in the walls. As the traveller sat on this ledge and wondered what scenes had been enacted here, how many deadly shots had sped from out the holes, what crowds of excited townsfolk had gathered in the church, what grave words of exhortation and of blessing had been spoken from the altar or the threshold by anxious prelate, robed and mitred for the Mass of Supplication to a God of Battles, an humble funeral appeared,—a priest, a peasant bearing a black wooden Cross with the name of the deceased painted on it, a rope-bound coffin carried by hot and sorrowing women, and a little procession of friends. The pomps and vanities of the past disappeared as a mist from the traveller's mind, and he saw Entrevaux as it really is, without the comforts of this world's goods, without the greatness of a Bishopric, a small Provençal village whose perfection of quaintness—so charming to him who passes on—means hardship and discomfort to those who have been born and must live and die there.

And yet so potent is that charm, when the traveller re-crossed the drawbridge and looked up at the sharp teeth of the portcullis that may still fall and bite, when he had passed out on the high-road and turned again and again to watch the fading sunlight on the tangled mass of roofs, the illusion had returned. The bastions stood out in bold relief, the church tower with its crenellated top stood out against the rocky peaks, the sun fell suddenly behind the hill, and the traveller felt himself again a minstrel wandering in a mediæval night.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vaison Cathedral

Vaison CathedralOn the banks of a pleasant little river among the Provençal hills is Vaison, one of the ancient Gallic towns which became entirely romanised; and many illustrious families of the Empire had summer villas there as at Arles and Orange. Barbarians of one epoch or another have devastated Vaison of all her antique treasures, except the remains of an Amphitheatre on the Puymin Hill. Germanic tribes who swooped down in early centuries destroyed her villas and her greater buildings; and vandals of a later day have scattered her sculptures and her tablets here and there. Some are in the galleries of Avignon; a Belus, the only one found in France, was sent to the Museum of Saint-Germain; and in the multitude of treasures in the British Museum, the most beautiful of all her statues, a Diadumenus, is artistically lost. In the days when it still adorned the city, during the reign of the Emperor Gallienus, Vaison was christianised by Saint Ruf, her Bishopric was founded, and in 337 the first General Council of the Church held in Gaul assembled here. Another Council in the V century, and still another in the VI, are proof of her continued importance.

Among the first of Gallo-Roman cities, she was also among the first to suffer. Chrocus and his horde who sacked Orange, seized her Bishop and murdered him; and Alains, Vandals, and Burgundians, following in their wake, brought disaster after disaster to the cities lying near the Rhone. Vaison, by miracle, did not lose her prestige. In the X and XI centuries she built her fine Cathedral with its Cloisters, and in 1179 she was still great enough to excite the covetousness of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. This magnificent and ambitious prince built a castle on a height above the city, and as he had before terrorised my Lord Bishop of Carpentras, so now he seized the anointed person of Bérenger de Reilhane, who was not only Vaison's Bishop, but her temporal prince as well. Bérenger was a sufficiently powerful personage to make an outcry which re-echoed throughout Christendom; the Pope and the Emperor came to his aid; and in the Abbey Church of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, Raymond VI did solemn penance, and, before receiving absolution, was publicly struck by the Papal Legate with a bundle of birch rods. Above the Bishop's Palace the great castle still loomed in menace, but on that day Bérenger de Reilhane triumphed and Vaison was at peace.

It was a peace which presaged her quiet, uneventful downfall. For other interests were growing stronger in the country, other cities grew where she stood still, and in the XIV century, when Avignon became the seat of papal power, Vaison had passed from the world's history. Her Bishopric endured till 1801, but her doings are worthy only of provincial chronicles and to-day she is but a little country town, served by the stage-coach. She still lies on both banks of the river; the “high city,” with long rows of deserted houses, climbs the side of the steep hill and is dominated by the ruins of the great castle, which Richelieu destroyed. The “lower city,” which is the busier of the two, lies on the opposite bank; and on its outskirts, in a little garden-close, almost surrounded by the fields, is the Cathedral,—solitary, lonely, and old.

The decoration of the exterior is slight, a dentiled cornice and a graceful foliated frieze extend along the top of the side-walls, which although most plainly built, are far from being severely angular or gaunt and have a quaint and pleasing harmony of line. The west front is so featureless that it scarcely deserves the title of façade. The south wall, which is clearly seen from the road, has a small portal and plain buttresses that slope at the top. The central apse is rectangular and heavy, the little southern apse is short and round, and that of the north is tall and thin as a pepper-box. Behind them rise the pointed roof of the nave and the heavy tower. The whole apse-end is constructed in most picturesque irregularity, and the new red of the roof-tiles and sombre grey of the old stone add greatly to its charm.

Unlike many churches of its period Notre-Dame of Vaison is three-aisled. Slender, narrow naves, whose tunnel vaults are not extremely lofty, end in small circular apses. The nave is a short one of three irregular bays, and over the last, which precedes the choir, is the little eight-sided dome, which instead of projecting above the roof is curiously placed a little lower than the tunnel vaulting of the other bays. The High Altar, which originally belonged to an older church, is well placed in the simple choir; for it belongs in style, if not in actual fact, to the first centuries of the Faith; and in the semi-darkness behind the altar, the old episcopal throne still stands against the apse's wall, in memory of the custom of the Church's early days. The low arches of the aisles, the dim lighting of the church, its simple ornaments of classic bands and little capitals, its slight irregularities of form and carvings, make an interior of fine and strong antique simplicity.

A little door in the north wall leads to the Cloisters, which are happily in a state of complete restoration, and not as a modern writer has described them, “practically a ruin.” The wall which overlooks them has an inscription that adjures the Canons to “bear with patience the north aspect of their cells.” The short walks have tunnel vaults with cross-vaults in the corners and in parts of the north aisle. Great piers and small, firm columns support the outer arches; and on the exterior of the Cloister the little arches of the columns are enclosed in a large round arch. Many of the capitals are uncarved, some of the piers have applied columns, but many are ornamented in straight cut lines. On one side, two bays open to the ground, forming an entrance-way into the pretty close, where the bushy tops of a few tall trees cast flickering shadows on the surrounding walls and the little grassy square.

The Cloister is small and simple in its rather heavy grace. Noise and unrest seem far from it, and underneath its solid rounded vault is peace and shelter from the world. And in its firm solidity of architecture there is the spirit of a perfect quiet, a tranquil charm which must insensibly have calmed many a restless spirit that chafed beneath the churchly frock, and fled within its walls for refuge and for helpful meditation.

Few Provençal Cathedrals have the interest of Vaison and its Cloister. Lying in the forgotten valley of the Ouvèze, in an old-fashioned town, all its surroundings speak of the past and its atmosphere is quite unspoiled. The church itself has been spared degenerating restorations; and although it has no sumptuousness as at Marseilles, no grandeur as at Arles, no stirring history as the churches that lay near the sea, although it is one of the smallest and most venerable of them all, no Cathedral of the Southland has so great an architectural dignity and merit with so ancient and so quaint a charm.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Forcalquier Cathedral

Forcalquier CathedralIf it is difficult to picture sleepy, stately Aix as one of the most brilliant centres of mediæval Europe, and the garrisoned castle of Tarascon filled with the gay courtiers and fair ladies of King René's Court, it will be almost impossible to walk in the smaller Provençal “cities,” and see in imagination the cavalcades of mailed soldiers who clattered through the streets on their way to the castle of some near-by hill-top, my lord proudly distinguishable by his mount or the length of his plume, a delicate Countess languishing between the curtains of her litter, or a more sprightly one who rode her palfrey and smiled on the staring townsfolk. It is almost impossible to conceive that the four daughters of Raymond Bérenger, a Queen of the Romans, of France, of Naples, and of England, were brought up in the castle of the little hillside hamlet of Saint-Maime Dauphin. Provence is quiet, rural, provincial; a land of markets, busy country inns, and farms; not of modern greatness nor of modern renown. Its children are a fine and busy race, no less strong and fine than in the land's more stirring times, but they live their years of greatness in other, “more progressive” parts of France, and the Provençal genius, which remains very native to the soil, is broadly known to fame as “French.” Like some rich old wine hidden in the cellars of the few, Provence lies safely ensconced behind Avignon and Arles, and only the epicures of history penetrate her hills.

Her mediæval ruins seem to belong to a past almost as dead and ghostly as her Roman days, and to realise her Middle Ages, one must leave the busy people in the town below, climb one of the hills, and sitting beside the crumbling walls of some great tower or castle, watch the hot sun setting behind the low mountains and lighting in a glow the bare walls of some other ruined stronghold on a neighbouring height. The shadows creep into the valleys, the rocks grow grey and cold, and the clusters of trees beside them become darkly mysterious. Then far beneath a white thread seems to appear, beginning at the valley's entrance and twisting along its length until it disappears behind another hill. This is the road; and by the time the eye has followed its long course, daylight has grown fainter. Then Provence takes on a long-lost splendour. To those who care to see, cavalcades of soldiers or of hunters come home along the road, castles become whole and frowning, the dying sun casts its light through their gaping window-holes, as light of nightly revels used to shine, and a phantom Mediævalism appears.

One of the powerful families of the country, the Counts of Forcalquier, sprang from the House of Bérenger in the XI century, and a hundred and fifty years later, grown too great, were crushed by the haughty parent house. More than one hill of Eastern Provence has borne their tall watchtowers, more than one village owed them allegiance, and a large town in the hills was their capital and bore their name. And yet not a ruined tower that overlooks the Provençal mountains, not a village, gate, or castle—Manosque or old Saint-Maime,—but speaks more vividly of the old Counts than does Forcalquier, formerly their city, now a mere country town which has lost prestige with its increasing isolation, many of its inhabitants by plagues and wars, and almost all of its picturesque Mediævalism through the destructiveness of sieges.

Long before this day of contented stagnancy, in 1061, when Forcalquier, fortified, growing, and important, claimed many honours, Bishop Gérard Caprérius of Sisteron had given the city a Provost and a Chapter, and created the Church of Saint-Mary, co-cathedral with that of Notre-Dame of Sisteron. Not contented with this honour, Forcalquier demanded and received a Bishopric of her own. Her hill was then crowned by a Citadel, her Cathedral stood near-by, her walls were intact. Now the Citadel is replaced by a peaceful pilgrims' chapel, the walls are gone, Saint-Mary, ruined in the siege of 1486, is recalled only by a few weed-covered stumps and bits of wall, and its title was given to Notre-Dame in the lower part of the town.

No Cathedral is a sadder example of architectural failure than Notre-Dame of Forcalquier because it has so many of the beginnings of real beauty and dignity, so many parts of real worthiness that have been unfortunately combined in a confused and discordant whole. If, of all little cities of Provence, Forcalquier is one of the least unique and least holding, its Cathedral is also one of the least satisfying. It is not beautiful in situation nor in its own essential harmony, and the fine but tantalising perspectives of its interior may be found again in happier churches.

The exterior shows to a superlative degree that general tendency of Provençal exteriors to be without definite or logical proportions. A large, square tower, heavier than that of Grasse, served as a lookout, a tall, thin little turret served as a belfry. In the façade there is a Gothic portal which notwithstanding its entire mediocrity is the chief adornment of the outer walls. They are irregular and uncouth to a degree and their only interesting features are at the eastern end. Here the smaller, older apses on either side betray the church's early origin. The central apse, evidently of the same dimensions as the Romanesque one originally designed, was re-built in severe, rudimentary Gothic. Looking at this shallow apse alone, and following its plain lines until they meet those of the big tower, there is a straight simplicity that is almost fine,—but this is one mere detail in a large and barren whole, and the Cathedral-seeker turns to the nearest entrance.

The first glimpse of the interior is so relieving that one is not quick to notice its lack of architectural unity. The few windows give a soft light, and the brown of the stone has a mellowness that is both rich and reposeful. If the Cathedral could have been finished in the style of the first bays of the nave, it would have been a nobly dignified example of the Romanesque. Could it have been re-built in the slender Gothic of the last bay, it would have been an exquisite example of Provençal Gothic. Rather largely planned, its old form of tunnel vaulting and the fine curve of its nave arches and heavy piers are in violent contrast to the Gothic bay, with its pointed arch, its clustered columns and carved capitals, which, even with the shallow choir and its long, slim windows, is too slight a portion of the Cathedral to have independence or real beauty. From its ritualistic position, it is the culminating point of the church, and its discord with the Romanesque is unpleasantly insistent. The side aisles, which were built in the XVII century, are low, agreeable walks ending in the chapels of the smaller apses. They are neither very regular nor very significant; but they give the church pleasant size and perspectives, and by avoiding the unduly large and shining modern chandeliers which hang between the nave arches, one gets from these side aisles the suggestive views which show only too well what true and good architectural ideas were brought to confusion in the re-building, the additions, and the restorations of the centuries. In painting, anachronisms may be quaint or even amusing; but in architecture, they are either grotesque or tragic, and in a church of such fine suggestiveness as Notre-Dame at Forcalquier, one is haunted by lingering regrets for what might and should have been.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aix-en-Provence Cathedral

Aix-en-Provence CathedralThe old Cathedral of Saint-Sauveur at Aix is not one of those rarely beautiful churches where a complete and restful homogeneity delights the eye, nor is it a church of crude and shocking transitions. It is rather a well-arranged museum of ecclesiastical architecture, where, in sufficient historical continuity and harmony, many Provençal conceptions are found, and the evolution of Provençal architecture may be very completely followed. As in all collections, the beauty of Saint-Sauveur is not in a general view or in any glance into a long perspective, but in a close and loving study of the details it encloses; and so charming, so really beautiful are many of the diverse little treasures of Aix, that such study is better repaid here than in any other Provençal Cathedral. For this is one of the largest Cathedrals of the province, and the buildings which form the ecclesiastical group are most complete. With its baptistery, Cloister, church, and arch-episcopal Palace, it is not only of many epochs and styles, but of many historical uncertainties, and the hypotheses of its construction are enough to daze the most hardened archæologist.

The oldest part of the Cathedral is the baptistery, and the date of its origin is unknown. Much of its character was lost in a restoration of the XVII century, but its old round form, the magnificent Roman columns of granite and green marble said to have been part of the Temple to Apollo, give it an atmosphere of dignity and an ancient charm that even the XVII century—so potent in architectural evil—was unable to destroy.

In 1060, after the destructive vicissitudes of the early centuries, Archbishop Rostaing d'Hyères issued a pastoral letter appealing to the Faithful to aid him in the re-building of a new Cathedral; and it may be reasonably supposed that the nave which is at present the south aisle, the baptistery, and the Cloisters were the buildings that were dedicated less than fifty years later. They are the only portions of the church which can be ascribed to so early a period, and with the low door of entrance, the single nave and the adjoining cloister-walk, they constitute the usual plan of XI century Romanesque. Considering this as the early church, in almost original form, it will be seen that the portal is a very interesting example of the Provençal use not only of Roman suggestion, but of the actual fragments of Roman art which had escaped the invader; that the south aisle, in itself a completed interior, bears a close resemblance to Avignon; and that the Cloister, although now very worn and even defaced, must have been one of the quaintest and most delicate, as it is one of the tiniest, in Provence. Three sides of its arcades support plain buildings of a later date; the fourth stands free, as if in ruin. Little coupled columns, some slenderly circular, some twisted, and some polygonal, rest on a low wall; piers, very finely and differently carved, are at each of the arcade angles; the little capitals of the columns were once beautifully cut, and even the surfaces of the arches have small foliated disks and rosettes and are finished in roll and hollow. Unfortunately, a very large part of this detail-work is so defaced that its subjects are barely suggested, some are so eaten away that they are as desolate of beauty as the barren little quadrangle; and the whole Cloister seems to have reached the brink of that pathetic old age which Shakespeare has described, and that another step in the march of time would leave it “sans everything.”

About two hundred years later, in 1285, the Archbishop of Aix found the Cathedral too unpretending for the rank and dignity of the See, and he began the Gothic additions. Like many another prelate his ambitions were larger than his means; and the history of Saint-Sauveur from the XIII to the XIX century, is that oft-told tale of new indulgences offered for new contributions, halts and delays in construction, emptied treasuries, and again, appeals and fresh efforts. The beginnings of the enlarged Cathedral were architecturally abrupt. The old nave, becoming the south aisle, was connected with the new by two small openings; it retained much of its separateness and in spite of added chapels much actual isolation. The Gothic nave, the north aisle and its many chapels, the apse, and the transepts, whose building and re-construction stretched over the long period between the XIII and XVII centuries, are comparatively regular, uniform, and uninteresting. The most ambitious view is that of the central nave, whose whole length is so little broken by entrances to the side aisles, that it seems almost solidly enclosed by its massive walls. Here in Gothic bays, are found those rounded, longitudinal arches which belong to the Romanesque and to some structure whose identity is buried in the mysterious past. The choir, with its long, narrow windows, and clusters of columnettes, is very pleasing, and its seven sides, foreign to Provence, remind one of Italian and Spanish constructive forms and take one's memory on strange jaunts, to the far-away Frari in Venice and the colder Abbey of London. From the choir of Saint-Sauveur two chapels open; and one of them is a charming bit of architecture, a replica in miniature of the mother-apse itself. The paintings of this mother-apse are neutral, its glass has no claim to sumptuousness, and the stalls are very unpretending; but above them hang tapestries ascribed to Matsys, splendid hangings of the Flemish school that were once in old Saint Paul's.

With these beautiful details the rich treasure-trove of the interior is exhausted, and one passes out to study the details of the exterior. The Cathedral's single tower, which rises behind the façade line, was one of the parts that was longest neglected,—perhaps because a tower is less essential to the ritual than any other portion of an ecclesiastical building. Begun in 1323, the work dragged along with many periods of absolute idleness, until 1880, when a balustrade with pinnacles at each angle was added to the upper octagonal stage, and the building of the tower was thus ended. The octagon with its narrow windows rests on a plain, square base that is massively buttressed. It is a pleasant, rather than a remarkable tower, and one's eye wanders to the more beautiful façade. Here, encased by severely plain supports, is one of the most charming portals of Provençal Gothic. Decorated buttresses stand on either side of a large, shallow recess which has a high and pointed arch, and in the centre, a slim pier divides the entrance-way into two parts, pre-figuring the final division of the Just and the Unjust. A multitude of finely sculptured statues were formerly hidden in niches, under graceful canopies, and in the hundred little nooks and corners which lurk about true Gothic portals. Standing Apostles and seated Patriarchs, baby cherubs peering out, and the more dramatic composition of the tympanum—the Transfiguration,—all lent a dignity and wealth to Saint-Sauveur. Unfortunately many of these sculptures were torn from their crannies in the great Revolution; and it is only a few of the heavenly hosts,—the gracious Madonna, Saint Michael, and the Prophets,—that remain as types of those that were so wantonly destroyed. The low, empty gables that sheltered lost statues, their slender, tapering turrets, and the delicate outer curve of the arch, are of admirable, if not imposing, composition. The portal's wooden doors, protected by plain casings, abound in carvings partly Renaissance, partly Gothic. The Sibyls and Prophets stand under canopies, surrounded by foliage, fruits, and flowers, or isolated from each other by little buttresses or pilasters. This Gothic portal quite outshines, in its graceful elaboration, the smaller door which stands near it, in the simpler and not less potent charm of the Romanesque. And side by side, these portals offer a curiously interesting comparison of the essential differences and qualities of their two great styles. If the Romanesque of Saint-Sauveur is far surpassed at Arles and Digne and Sisteron, nowhere in Provence has Gothic richer details; and if the noblest of Provençal creations must be sought in other little cities, the lover of architectural comparisons, of details, of the many lesser things rather than of the harmony of a single whole, will linger long in Aix.

The old city itself shows scarcely a trace of the many historic dramas of which it has been the scene,—the lowering tragedy of the Vaudois time,—the bright, gay comedy of good king René's Court,—the shorter scenes of Charles V's occupation,—the Parliament's struggle with Richelieu and Mazarin,—the day of the fiery Mirabeau,—the grim melodrama of the Revolution,—all have passed, and time has destroyed their monuments almost as completely as the Saracens destroyed those of the earlier Roman days. Only a few, unformed fragments of the great Temple of Apollo remain in the walls of Saint-Sauveur. The earliest Cathedral, Sainte-Marie-de-la-Seds, has entirely disappeared, the old thermal springs are enclosed by modern buildings, and only the statue of “the good King René” and the Church of the Knights of Malta give to Aix a faint atmosphere of its past distinction. Who would dream that here were the homes of the elegant and lettered courtiers of King René's brilliant capital, who would think that this town was the earliest Roman settlement in Gaul, the Aquæ Sextiæ of Baths, Temples, Theatres, and great wealth? Aix is a stately town, a provincial capital which Balzac might well have described—with old, quiet streets that are a little dreary, with a fine avenue shaded by great trees in whose shadows a few fountains trickle, with lines of little stages that come each day from the country,—a city whose life is as far in spirit from the near-by modernity of Marseilles as it is from that of Paris, as quaintly and delightfully provincial as that other little Provençal city, the Tarascon of King René and of Tartarin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vence Cathedral

Vence CathedralA founder of the French Academy and one of its first immortal forty was Antoine Godeau, “the idol of the Hôtel Rambouillet.” His mind was formed, as it were, by one of the most clever women of that brilliantly foolish coterie, he sang frivolous sonnets to a beautiful red-haired mistress whom he sincerely admired, and when he entered Holy Church, none of his charming friends believed that he would do more than modify the proper and agreeable conventionalities of his former life. They thought that he would add to the grace of his worldly manner the suavity of the ecclesiastic, that he would choose a pulpit of Paris, and that, sitting at his feet, they could enjoy the elegant phrases with which he would embellish a refined and delicately attenuated religion. But an aged prelate of the far South judged the new priest differently, he had sounded the heart of the man who, at the age of thirty, had quietly renounced a flattering, admiring world; and his dying prayer to Richelieu was that Godeau should succeed him in the See of Vence. The keen worldly wisdom of the Cardinal confirmed the old Bishop's more spiritual insight, and Godeau was named Bishop of the neighbouring Grasse.

Far away in his mountain-city of flower gardens and sweet odours, the new Bishop wrote to his Parisian friends that, for his part, he “found more thorns than orange-blossoms.” The Calvinists, from the rock of Antibes, openly defied him; in spite of the vehement opposition of their Chapters and against his will, the Bishoprics of Grasse and Vence were united, and he was made the Bishop of the two warring, discontented Sees. He was stoned at Vence; and even his colleague in temporal power, the Marquis of Villeneuve, showed himself as insolent as he dared. At length the King came to his aid, and being given his choice of the Sees, Godeau immediately left “the perfumed wench,” as he called Grasse, and chose to live and work among his one-time enemies of Vence. This gentle and courageous prelate is typical of the long line of wise men who ruled the Church in the tight little city of the Provençal hills. From Saint Véran the wonder-worker, and Saint Lambert the tender nurse of lepers, to the end, they were men noted for bravery, goodness, and learning, and it was not till the Revolution that one was found — and fittingly the last—who, hating the “Oath” and fearing the guillotine, fled his See.

This city of good Bishops was founded in the dim, pagan past of Gaul. From a rocky hill-top, its inhabitants had watched the burning of their first valley-town and they founded the second Vence on that height of safety to which they had escaped with their lives. Here, far above the Aurelian road, the Gallic tribes had a strong and isolated camp. Then the prying Romans found them out, and priests of Mars and Cybele replaced those of the cruder native gods, and they, in turn, gave way to the apostle of the Christians. Where a temple stood, a church was built; and unlike many early saints who looked upon old pagan images as homes of devils and broke them into a thousand pieces with holy wrath and words of exorcism, the prelate of Vence buried an image of a vanquished god under each and every pillar of his church, in sign of Christian triumph.

These early days of the Faith were days of growth for the little city, and she prospered in her Mediævalism. High on her hill, she was too difficult of access to suffer greatly from marauding foes, and hidden from the sea, she did not excite the cupidity of the Mediterranean rovers. When Antibes and Nice were sacked, her little ledge of rock was safe; and people crowded thick and fast behind her walls, until no bee-hive swarmed so thick with bees as her few streets with citizens. Here were arts and occupations, burghers and charters, riches and liberties. Here came the Renaissance, and Vence had eager, if not famous sculptors, painters, and organ-builders, and a family of artists whom even the dilettante Francis I deigned to patronise.

Such memories of a busy, energetic past seem fairy-tales to those who walk to-day about the dark and narrow streets of Vence. She scarcely has outgrown her ancient walls, her civic life is dead, and in her virtual isolation from the modern world she lives a dreary, quiet old age.

The old Cathedral, Notre-Dame, lies in the heart of the town; and takes one back along the years, far past the Renaissance, to those grim mediæval days when even churches were places of defence. It is a low, unimpressive building, said to have been built on the site of the Roman Temple in the IV century. Enlarged or re-built in the X century, it was then long and narrow, a Latin cross. But in the XII century, deep, dark bays were added; in the XV, tribunes were built, the form of the apse was changed to an oval and it was decorated in an inharmonious style; and a hundred years ago the nave vault was re-built in an ellipse.

In the side wall there is a low portal of a late, decadent style, which opens on the little square, but there is no real façade; and to see the church, the traveller passed under the old round arch of the Bishop's Palace, through a small, damp street to another tinier square where the apse and tower stand. The little Cathedral-churches of Provence are always simply built, but here a rectangle, a low gabled roof, a small, round-headed window in the wall, would have been architectural bareness if a high, straight tower had not crowned it all. This crenellated tower is a true type of its time, square, yet slim and strong, and crudely graceful as some tall young poplar of the plains beneath. In the XI and XII centuries, its early days, it was the city's lookout. Families lived high up in its walls, and the traveller could imagine, in this little old, deserted square, the crowds who gathered round the tower's base, and called for news of enemies and battle as moderns gather about the more prosaic bulletin of printed news. He could see them surging, peering up; and from above he almost heard the watcher's cry, “They're coming on,”—with the great answering howl beneath, and the rush to arms. Or, “They pass us by,” and then what breaking into little laughing groups, what joy, what dancing, and what praying, that lasted far into the evening hours.

The traveller came back in thought to modern times and went into the church, that church of five low naves and many restorations, that product of most diverse fancies. It is painted in lugubrious white, and its pillars have false bases in a palpable imitation of veined red marble. Its pure and early form, the Latin cross, is gone, its fine old stalls are hidden in a gallery, and at the altar Corinthian columns desecrate its ancient Romanesque. Yet in spite of the incongruities the atmosphere of the church is truly that of its dim past. There are the low broad arches, the great, supporting pillars that are massive buttresses; there is the simple practicality of a style that aimed at a protecting strength rather than at any art of beauty; there is the semi-darkness of the small, safe windows, and the little, guarded space where the praying few increased a thousand-fold in times of danger. This is, in spite of all defects, the small Provençal church where in days of peace cloudy incense slowly circled round the shadowy forms of chanting priests, and where in times of war a crowd of frightened women and their children prayed in safety for the men who sallied forth to fight in their defence.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Perpignan Cathedral

Perpignan CathedralPerpignan, like Elne, is in Rousillon. The period of her most brilliant prosperity was that of the Majorcan dominion in the XII century. Later she reverted to Aragon, and was still so fine a city that for two hundred years France coveted and sought her, until she finally yielded to the greedy astuteness of Richelieu and became formally annexed to the kingdom of Louis XIII. Perpignan is a gay little town, much affected by the genius and indolence of the Spanish race. Morning is work-time, noon-tide is siesta, but afternoon and evening were made for pleasure; and every bright day, when the sun begins to cast shadows, people fill the narrow, shady streets and walk along the promenade by the shallow river, under the beautiful plane-trees. The pavements in front of the cafés are filled with little round tables, and here and there small groups of men idle cheerfully over tiny glasses of liqueur and cups of cool, black coffee; perhaps they talk a little business, certainly they gossip a great deal. Noisy little teams filled with merry people run down from the Promenade to the sea-shore; and after an hour's dip, almost in the shadow of the tall Pyrénées, the same merry people return, laughing, to a cooler Perpignan. In the evening, they seek the bright cafés and the waiters run busily to and fro among the crowded little tables; the narrow streets, imperfectly lighted, are full of moving shadows, and through the open church-doors, candles waver in the fitful draught, and quiet worshippers pass from altar to altar in penance or in supplication.

All the old buildings of the city are of Spanish origin. The prison is the brick, battlemented castle of a Majorcan Sancho, the Citadel is as old, and the Aragonese Bourse is divided between the town-hall and the city's most popular café.

The Cathedral of Saint-Jean, which faces a desolate, little square, was also begun in Majorcan days and under that Sancho who ruled in 1324. At first it was merely a church; for Elne had always been the seat of the Bishopric of Rousillon, and although the town had suffered from many wars and had long been declining, it was not shorn of its episcopal glory until there was sufficient political reason for the act. This arose in 1692, and was based on the old-time French and Spanish claims to the same county to which these two cities belonged.

Over a hundred years before Charles VIII had plenarily ceded to Ferdinand and Isabella all power in Rousillon, even that shadowy feudal Suzerainty with which, in default of actual possession, many a former French king had consoled himself and irritated a royal Spanish brother. Ferdinand and Isabella promptly visited their new possessions, and made solemn entry into Perpignan. Unfortunately the Inquisition came in their train, and the unbounded zeal of the Holy Office brought the Spanish rule which protected it into ever-increasing disfavour. In vain Philip III again bestowed on Perpignan the title of “faithful city,” which she had first received from John of Aragon for her loyal resistance to Louis XI; in vain he ennobled several of her inhabitants and transferred to her, from Elne, the episcopal power. The city was ready for new and kinder masters than the Most Catholic Kings, and in 1642 the French were received as liberators.

During all these years the Cathedral had grown very slowly. Commenced in 1324, over a century elapsed before the choir was finished and the building of the nave was not begun until a hundred years later. The High Altar, a Porch, and the iron cage of the tower were added with equal deliberation, and even to-day it is still unfinished. The most beautiful part is the strongly buttressed apse; the poorest, the unfinished façade, which has been very fitly described as “plain and mean.” Looking disconsolately at it from the deserted square, scarcely tempted to go nearer, the traveller was astounded at the thought that for several centuries this unsightly wall had stared on generations of worshippers without goading them into any frenzy of action,—either destructive or constructive. His only comfort lay in the scaffolding which was building around it, and which seemed to promise better things.

The interior of the Cathedral is very large and lofty. It is without aisles and the chapels are discreetly hidden between the piers. Far above one's head curves the ribbed Gothic vaulting, and all around is unbroken space that ends in darkness or the vague outline of an altar, dimly lighted by a flickering candle. The walls are painted in rich, sombre colours, and the light comes very gently through the good old stained-glass windows. It is a southern church, dark, cool, and somewhat mysterious; quite foreign to the glare and heat of reality. People are lost in its solemn vastness, and even with many worshippers it is a solitude where most holy vigils could be kept, a mystic place where the southern imagination might well lose itself in such sacred ardours as Saint Theresa felt. The traveller liked to linger here; in the day-time when he peered vainly at the re-redos of Soler de Barcelona, at Mass-time, when the lighted altar-candles glimmered over its fine old marble, but best of all he liked to come at night. Those summer nights in Rousillon were hot and full of the murmur of voices. The Cathedral was the only silent place; more full than ever of the mysterious—the felt and the unseen. As one entered, the sanctuary light shone as a star out of a night of darkness; in a near-by chapel, a candle sputtered itself away, and a woman—whether old or young one could not see—lighted a fresh taper. Sometimes a man knelt and told his beads, sometimes two women entered and separated for their differing needs and prayers. Sometimes one sat in meditation, or knelt, unmoving, for a space of time; once a child brought a new candle to Saint Antony; always some one came or some one went, until the hour of closing. Then, the bell was rung, the door shut by a hand but dimly seen, and the last few watchers went out—across the little square, down this street or that, until they were lost in the darkness of the summer's night.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Béziers Cathedral

Bezier CathedralYou have only to look from a distance at any old-fashioned Cathedral-city and you will see in a moment the mediæval relations between Church and State. The Cathedral is the city. The first object you catch sight of as you approach is the spire tapering into the sky, or the huge towers holding possession of the centre of the landscape—majestically beautiful—imposing by mere size. As you go nearer, the pinnacles are glittering in the tints of the sunset, when down below among the streets and lanes twilight is darkening. And even now, when the towns are thrice their ancient size, ... the Cathedral is still the governing force in the picture, the one object which possesses the imagination, and refuses to be eclipsed.” These words are the description of Béziers as it is best and most impressively seen. From the distance, the Cathedral and its ramparts rise in imposing mass, a fine example of the strength, pride, and supremacy of the Church.

As we approach, the Cathedral grows much less imposing, and its façade gives the impression of an unpleasant conglomeration of styles. It is not a fortress church, yet it was evidently built for defence; it is Gothic, yet the lightness and grace of that art are sacrificed to the massiveness and resistive strength, imperatively required by southern Cathedrals in times of wars and bellicose heretics. The whole building seems a compromise between necessity and art.

It is, however, a notable example of the Gothic of the South, and of the modifications which that style invariably underwent, through the artistic caprice of its builders, or the political fore-sight of their patrons, the Bishops.

The façade of Saint-Nazaire of Béziers has a Gothic portal of good but not notable proportions, and a large and beautiful rose-window. As if to protect these weaker and decorative attempts, the builder flanked them with two square towers, whose crenelated tops and solid, heavy walls could serve as strongholds. Perhaps to reconcile the irreconcilable, crenelations joining the towers were placed over the rose-window, and at either end of the portal, a few inches of Gothic carving were cut in the tower-wall. The result is frank incongruity. And the traveler left without regret, to look at the apse. It cannot be denied that the clock-tower which comes into view is very square and thick; but in spite of that it has a simple dignity, and as the apse itself is not florid, this proved to be the really pleasing detailed view of the Cathedral. The open square behind the church is tiny, and there one can best see the curious grilled iron-work, which in the times of mediæval outbreaks protected the fine windows of the choir and preserved them for future generations of worshippers and admirers. It was after noon when the traveller finished his investigations of Saint-Nazaire; and as the southern churches close between twelve and two, he took déjeuner at a little café near-by and patiently waited for the hour of re-opening. Had there been nothing but the interior to explore, he could not have spent two hours in such contented waiting. But there was a Cloister,—and on the stroke of two he and the sacristan met before the portal.

In the Cloister-close stands a Gothic fountain; but the days when its waters dropped and tinkled in the stillness, when their sound mingled with the murmured prayers and slow steps of the priests,—those days are long forgotten. The quaint and pretty fountain is now dry and dust-covered; while about it trees and plants and weeds grow as they may, and bits of the Cloister columns have fallen off, and niches are without their guarding Saints.

By contrast, the Cathedral itself seems full of life. Its interior is an aisle-less Gothic room, whose fine height and emptiness of column or detail give it an appearance of vast and well-conceived proportions. Except the really beautiful windows of the choir, which are a study in themselves, there is very little in this interior to hold the mind; one is lost in a pleasant sense of general symmetry. As the traveller was sitting in the nave, a few priests filed into the choir, and began, in quavering voices, to intone their prayers, and in the peacefulness of the church, in the trembling monotony of the weak, old voices, his thoughts wandered to the stirring history which had been lived about the Cathedral, and within its very walls. For Béziers was and had always been a hot-bed of heretics. Here in the IV century, long before the building of the Cathedral, the Emperor Constantius II forced the unwilling Catholic Bishops of Gaul to join their heretical Aryan brethren in Council; here the equally heretical Visigoths gave new strength to the dissenters; and here, again, after centuries of orthodoxy which Clovis had imposed, a new centre of religious storm was formed. It was about this period, the XII and XIV centuries, that the Cathedral was built; and it is perhaps because of the strength of those French protestants against the Church of Rome, the Albigenses, that its essentially Gothic style was so confused by military additions. At the beginning of the troublous times of which these towers are reminders, Raymond-Roger of Trencavel, the gallant and romantic Lord of Carcassonne, was also Viscount of Béziers; and contrary to the fanatical enthusiasm of his day, was much disposed toward religious toleration; therefore in the early wars of Catholics and Protestants the city of Béziers became the refuge not only for the terrified Faithful of the surrounding country, but for many hunted Protestants. In the XIII century, the zeal of the Catholic party, reinforced by the political interests of its members, grew most hot and dangerous. Saint Dominic had come into the South; and in his fearful, fiery sermons, he not only prophesied that the Albigenses would swell the number of the damned at the Day of Judgment, but also advocated that, living, they should know the hell of Inquisition. Partisans of the Catholic Faith were solemnly consecrated “Crusaders” by Pope Innocent III, and wore the cross in these Wars of Extermination as they had worn it in the Holy Wars of Palestine. In 1209 their army advanced against Béziers, and from out their Councils the leaders sent the Bishop of the city to admonish his flock.

All the inhabitants were summoned to meet him, and they gathered in the choir and transepts of the Cathedral,—the only parts which were finished at that time. One can imagine the anxious citizens crowding into the church, the coming of the angered prelate, whose state and frown were well calculated to intimidate the wavering, and the tense silence as he passed, with grave blessing, to the altar. In a few words, he advised them of their peril, spiritual and material; he told them he knew well who was true and who false to the Church, that he had, in written list, the very names of the heretics they seemed to harbour. Then he begged them to deliver those traitors into his hands, and their city to the Legate of the Holy Father. In fewer words came their answer; “Venerable Father, all that are here are Christians, and we see amongst us only our brethren.” Such words were a refusal, a heinous sin, and dread must have been written on every face, as without a word or sign of blessing, the outraged Bishop swept from the church and returned to the camp of their enemy.

The Crusaders' Councils were stormy; for some of the nobles wished to save the Catholics, others cried out for the extermination of the whole rebellious place, and finally the choleric Legate, Armand-Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux, could stand it no longer, and cried out fiercely, “Kill them all! God will know His own.” The words of their Legate were final, the army attacked the city, and—as Henri Martin finely writes,—“neither funeral tollings nor bell-ringings, nor Canons in all their priestly robes could avail, all were put to the sword; not one was saved, and it was the saddest pity ever seen or heard.” The city was pillaged, was fired, was devastated and burned “till no living thing remained."

“No living thing remained” to tell the awful tale, and yet with time and industry, a new and forgetful Béziers has risen to all its old prestige and many times its former size; the Cathedral alone was left, and its most memorable tale to our day is not that of the abiding peace of the Faith, but that of the terrible travesty of religion of the twenty-second of July, hundreds of years ago.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Montpellier Cathedral

Montpellier CathedralMontpellier is “an agreeable city, clean, well-built, intersected by open squares with wide-spread horizons, and fine, broad boulevards, a city whose distinctive characteristics would appear to be wealth, and a taste for art, leisure, and study.” The “taste” and the “art” are principally those of the pseudo-classic style, an imitation of “ancient Greece and imperial Rome,” which the French of the XVIII century carried to such unpleasant excess. The general characteristics of the imitation, size and bombast, are well epitomised in the principal statue of Montpellier's fine Champ de Mars, which represents the high-heeled and luxurious Louis XIV in the unfitting armour of a Roman Imperator, mounted on a huge and restive charger. Such affectation in architectural subjects is the death-blow to all real beauty and originality, and Montpellier has gained little from its Bourbon patrons except a series of fine broad vistas. No city could offer greater contrast to the ancient and dignified classicism of Nîmes.

If the mediæval origin of Montpellier were not well known, one would believe it the creation of the Renaissance, and the few narrow, tortuous streets of the older days recall little of its intense past, when the city grew as never before nor since, when scholars of the genius of Petrarch and the wit of Rabelais sought her out, when she belonged to Aragon or Navarre and not to the King of France. This is the interesting Montpellier.

In the XIII century, she had a University which the Pope formally sanctioned, and a school of medicine founded by Arabian physicians which rivalled that of Paris. More significant still to Languedoc, her prosperity had begun to overshadow that of the neighbouring Bishopric of Maguelonne, and a bitter rivalry sprang up between the two cities. From the first Maguelonne was doomed. She had no schools that could rival those of Montpellier; she ceased to grow as the younger city increased in fame and size, till even history passed her by, and the stirring events of the times took place in the streets of her larger and more prosperous neighbour. Finally she was deserted by her Bishops, and no longer upheld by their episcopal dignity, her fall was so overwhelming that to-day her mediæval walls have crumbled to the last stone and only a lonely old Cathedral remains to mark her greatness. In 1536 my Lord Bishop, with much appropriate pomp and ceremony, rode out of her gates and entered those of Montpellier as titular Bishop for the first time.

He did not find the townsmen so elated by the new dignity of the city as to have broken ground for a new Cathedral, nor did he himself seem ambitious, as his predecessors of Maguelonne had been, to build a church worthy of his rank. However, as a Bishop must have a Cathedral-church, the chapel of the Benedictine monastery was chosen for this honour and solemnly consecrated the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre of Montpellier. This chapel had been built in the XIV century, and at the time of these episcopal changes, only the nave was finished. It was, however, Gothic; and as this style had become much favoured by the South at this late period, the Bishop must have believed that he had the beginning of a very fine and admirable Cathedral. In the religious wars which followed 1536, succeeding prelates found much to distract them from any further building; the Cathedral itself was so injured that such attention as could be spared from heretics to mere architectural details was devoted to necessary restorations and reconstructions, and the finished Saint-Pierre of to-day is an edifice of surprising modernity.

In the interior, the nave and aisles are partially of old construction, but the beautiful choir is the XIX century building of Révoil. Of the exterior, the entire apse is his also, and as the portal of the south wall was built in 1884 and the northern side of the Cathedral is incorporated in that of the Bishop's Palace, only the tower and the façade are mediæval.

None of the towers have much architectural significance, either of beauty or originality. In comparison with the decoration of the façade they make but little impression. This decoration has more original incongruity than any detail ever applied to façade, Gothic or Romanesque, and is an extreme example of the license which southern builders allowed themselves in their adaptation of the northern style. It is a vagary, and has appealed to some Anglo-Saxon[Pg 245] travellers, but French authorities, almost without dissent, allude to it apologetically as “unpardonable.” Its general effect is somewhat that of a porte-cochère, whose roofing, directly attached to the front wall, is gothically pointed, and supported by two immense pillars. The pillars end in cones that resemble nothing in the world so much as sugar-loaves, and the whole structure is marvellously unique. Yet strange to say, the effect of the façade, with the smoothness and roundness of its pillars and the uncompromising squareness of its towers, while altogether bad, is not altogether unpleasing. Standing before it the traveller was both bewildered and fascinated as he saw that even in the extravagance of their combinations, the builders, with true southern finesse, had avoided both the grotesque and the monstrous.

As a whole, Saint-Pierre is a fine Cathedral; through many stages of building, enlarging, and re-constructing, its style has remained consonant; but the general impression is not altogether harmonious. The perspective of the western front, which should be imposing, is destroyed by a hill which slopes sharply up before the very portal. The façade is attached to the immense, unbroken wall of the old episcopal Palace, and the majesty, which is a Cathedral's by very virtue of its height alone, is entirely destroyed by a seemingly interminable breadth of wall. Reversing the natural order of things, the finest view is that of the apse. And this modern part is, in reality, the chief architectural glory of this comparatively new Cathedral and its comparatively modern town.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Digne Cathedral

Digne CathedralWell outside the Alpine city of Digne, and almost surrounded by graves, stands a small and ancient church which is seldom opened except for the celebration of Masses for the Dead. Coffin-rests stand always before the altar, and enough chairs for the few that mourn. There are old candlesticks for the tapers of the church's poor, and hidden in the shadows of the doors, a few broken crosses that once marked graves, placed, tenderly perhaps, above those who were alive some years ago and who now rest forgotten; on battered wood, one can still read a baby's age, an old man's record, and the letters R. I. P.

In this strange, melancholy destiny of Notre-Dame-du-Bourg there seems to be a peculiar fitness. The mutability of time, forgetfulness, and at length neglect, which death suggests, are brought to mind by this old church. Once the Cathedral of Digne, but no longer Cathedral, it stands almost alone in spite of its honours and its venerable age. After the desecration by the Huguenots, its episcopal birthright was given to a younger and a larger church; the city has moved away and clusters about its new Cathedral, Saint-Jérome; and Notre-Dame-du-Bourg is no longer on a busy street, but near the dusty high-road, amid the quiet of the country and the hills.

Parts of its crypt and tower may antedate 900, but the church itself was re-built in the XII and XIII centuries. The course of time has brought none of the incongruities which have ruined many churches by the so-called restorations of the last three hundred years, and although its simple Romanesque is sadly unrepaired, it is a delight to come into the solitude and find an unspoiled example of this stanch old style.

The Romanesque shows forth its great solidity in the exterior of its churches, and nowhere more than in Digne's deserted Cathedral. Flat buttresses line the walls, the transepts are square and plain, and on either side the façade wall is upheld by a formidable support. This severity of line is not greatly modified by the deep recesses of a few windows; nor is the tower—which lost its spire three hundred years ago—of less sober construction, less solidly built. Below the overhanging eaves of a miserable roof and the curious line of the nave vault which projects through the wall, is a round window with a frame of massive rolls and hollows; and below this again, under a narrow sloping covering, is the deep arch of the Cathedral's porch. This, in its prime, must have been the church's ornamental glory. Beneath the outer arch, which is continued to the buttresses by half-arches, are the great roll-mouldings that twist backward to a plain tympanum. Capitals still support these massive curves of stone, but the niches in which the columns formerly stood are empty, and grinning lions, lying on the ground, no longer support the larger columns of the plain arch. All stands in solemn decay.

The traveller entered a battered, brass-nailed door and saw before him the stretch of a single, empty nave, a choir beneath whose lower vault are three small windows, and on either side the archways which he knew must lead to narrow transepts. In the south side, plain, rounded windows give a glimmering light, and over each projects an arch, the modest decoration of the walls. Far above rises the tunnel-vault, whose sheer height is grandly dignified; the arches rest on roughly carved capitals, and the outer rectangle of the piers is displaced for half a column. The rehearsal of these most simple details seems but the writing of “the letter which killeth,” and not the portrayal of the spirit that seems to live within these walls. Details which seem so poorly few when read, are nobly so when seen. This small old church has a true religious stateliness, and it seemed as if a priest should bring the Sanctuary-light which says, “The Lord is in His holy temple.”

Saint-Jérome was built between 1490 and 1500, a hundred years before its episcopal elevation, and forms a most complete antithesis to Notre-Dame-du-Bourg which it supplanted in 1591. Where Notre-Dame is small, Saint-Jérome is large, where the old church is simple, the newer one is either pretentious or sumptuous, and where the one is Romanesque, the other is Gothic.

The present Cathedral stands on the heights of the city; and from one side or another its clean, straight walls can be seen in all their large angularity and absence of architectural significance. Towers rise conventionally above the façade; and a big broad flight of white stone steps leads to three modern portals that have been built in an economical imitation of the sculptured richness of the XIII century.

The interior, also Gothic, has neither clerestory nor triforium, and its naves are covered by a vaulting which springs broadly from the round, supporting piers. The conception is not noble, it has no simplicity, and no more of spiritual suggestion than a Madonna of Titian; but the space of the nave is so largely generous and the new polychrome so richly toned that the church has majesty of space and harmony, deep lights and subdued colourings; it is large and sumptuous with the munificence of a Veronese canvas, a singular and most curious contrast to the cold severity of its outer walls.

Before the High Altar of this Church lies buried one whose spirit suggests the Christ, a Bishop, yet a simple priest, whose life deserves more words than does the whole of Saint-Jérome, once his Cathedral-church. He was a Curé of Brignoles, one of those keen, yet simple-hearted and hard-working priests who often bless Provençal towns. He had no great ambitions, no patronage, no ties except a far-off brother who was an upstart general of that most upstart Emperor, Napoleon. One day while the priest was pottering in his little garden,—as Provençal Curés love to dig and work,—a letter was handed him, marked “thirty sous of postage due.” He was outraged. His shining old soutane fell from the folds in which he had prudently tucked it, he shrugged his shoulders and protested,—“A great expense indeed for a trivial purpose. Where should he find another thirty sous for his poor? He never wrote letters. Therefore by no argument of any school of logic could he be compelled to receive them. Obviously this was not for him.” The unexpected letter was one for which his brother had asked and which Napoleon had signed, a decree which made him Bishop.

Long afterwards this simple, saintly prelate saved a man from crime, and history relates that this same man died at Waterloo as a good and faithful soldier fighting for the fatherland. His benefactor, that loyal servant of Christ and His Church, soon followed him in death, and unlike many a Saint whom this earth forgets his memory lives on, not only in the little city of the snow-clad Alps, but in the hearts of those who read of his good deeds. For Monseigneur Miollis of Digne is truly Monseigneur Bienvenu of “Les Misérables,” and only the soldier of Waterloo was glorified in Jean Valjean.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Arles Cathedral

Arles CathedralIn the midst of the wealth of antique ruins, near the Theatre, the Coliseum, and the Forum of this “little Rome of the Gauls,” stands a noble monument of the ruder ages of Christianity, the Cathedral, Saint-Trophime. Here Saint Augustine, apostle to England, was consecrated; here three General Councils of the Church were held, here the Donatists were doomed to everlasting fire, and here the Emperor Constantine, from his summer palace on the Rhone, must have come to “assist” at Mass. The building in which these solemn scenes of the early Church were enacted soon disappeared and was replaced by the present one whose older walls Révoil attributes to the IX century. The present Cathedral's first documentary date is 1152, in the era of the Republic of Arles. The name of Saint-Etienne was changed, and the body of Saint-Trophime, carried in state from the ruined Church of the Aliscamps, was buried under a new altar and he was solemnly proclaimed the Patron of the richest and most majestic church in all Provence.

The portal is one of the noblest works of Mediævalism, the richest and most beautiful portal of the South of France; and no others in the Midi, except those of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard and Moissac, are worthy of comparison with it. In boldness and intellectuality of conception it excels many of the northern works and equals the finest of them. For the builder of the northern portal seems to have held closely to one architectural form, the beautiful convention of the Gothic style; and within that door he placed, in a more or less usual way, the subjects which the Church had sanctioned. In nearly every case the treatment of the subject is subordinated to the general architectural plan and symmetry. At Saint-Trophime there was the limit of space, the axiom that a door must be a door, and doubtless many allowable subjects. But within these necessary bounds the unknown sculptor recognised few conventionalities. The usual place for the portrayal of the Last Judgment, the tympanum, was too small for his conception of the scene; the pier that divides his door-way was not built to support the statue of the church's patron saint; he had a multitude of fancies, and instead of curbing them in some beautiful conventionality of form, as one feels great northern builders often did, this artist made a frame within which his ideas found free play, and, forcing conventionality to its will, his genius justified itself. For not only is the portal as a whole, full of dignity and true symmetry, but its details are thoughtfully worked out. They show, with the old scholastic form of his Faith, the grasp of the unknown master's mind, the intellectuality of his symbolism, and few portals grow in fascination as this one, few have so interesting an originality.

French Cathedrals
French Cathedrals

Detail of Left and Right Portals

In design it is simple, in execution incomparably rich. The principal theme of the Last Judgment has Christ seated on a throne as the central figure, and about him are the symbols of the four Evangelists. This is the treatment of the tympanum. Underneath, Patriarchs, Saints, Just, and Condemned form the beautiful frieze. The Apostles are seated; and to their left is an angel guarding the gates of Paradise against two Bishops and a crowd of laymen who have yet to fully expiate their sins in Purgatory. Behind them, naked, with their feet in the flames, are those condemned to everlasting Hell; and still beyond is a lower depth where souls are already half-consumed in hideous fires. On the Apostles' extreme right is the beginning of our human history, the Temptation of Adam and Eve; and marching toward the holy men, on this same side, is the long procession of those Redeemed from Adam's fall, clothed in righteousness. An angel goes before them, and hands a small child—a ransomed soul—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The end panels treat the last phases of the dominant theme;—a mammoth angel in the one weighs the souls of the dead; and an equally awe-inspiring devil in the other is preparing to cast two of the Lost into a sea of fire.

The remainder of the portal tells of many subjects, and represents much of the theological symbolism of its time. Light, graceful columns, with delicately foliated capitals and bases rich with meaning sculptures, divide the lower spaces into niches, and in these niches stand statues of Apostles and of Saints, each having his story, each his peculiar attributes; and about these chief figures are carved rich designs, strange animals, and numberless short stories of the Bible. Above there is a small, subsidiary frieze; below, the pedestals which tell the tale of those who stand upon them. The figures have life and meaning, if not a true plasticity; and in this portal there is instruction, variety, and majesty, wealth of allegory and subtle symbols for those who love religious mysteries, and splendour of sculpture for those who come in search of Art.

There are those to whom a simple beauty does not appeal. After the richness of the portal's carving, the interior of Saint-Trophime is to them “far too plain;” in futile comparison with the Cloister's grace, it is found “too severe;” and one author has written that only “when the refulgence of a Mediterranean sun glances through a series of long lances, ... then and then only does the Cathedral[Pg 144] of Saint-Trophime offer any inducement to linger within its non-impressive walls.”

It may not be denied that, together with nearly all the Cathedrals of Provence, this interior has suffered from the addition of inharmonious styles. The most serious of these is its Gothic choir of the XV century, which a certain Cardinal Louis Allemand applied to the narrower Romanesque naves. With irregular ambulatory, chapels of various sizes, and a general incongruity of plan, this construction has no architectural importance except that of a prominent place in the church's worship. The remaining excrescences, Gothic chapels, Ionic pilasters, elliptical tribune, and the like, are happily hidden along the side aisles or in the transepts; and during the restoration of Révoil the naves were relieved of the disfiguring “improvements” of the XVII century, and stand to-day in much of their fine old simplicity. Beyond the fifth bay, and rising in the tower, is the dome of dignified Provençal form that rests on the lower arches of the crossing. Small clerestory windows cast sheets of pale light on the plain piers, rectangular and heavy, that rise to support a tunnel vault and divide the church into three naves of great and slender height.

The stern, ascetic style of the XI and XII centuries has given the nave piers mere small, plain bands as capitals, and for churchly decoration has allowed only a moulding of acanthus leaves placed high and unnoticed at the vaulting's base. There is no pleasing detail and no charming fancy; but a fine, exquisite loftiness, a faultless balance of proportion, are in this severe interior, and its solemn and majestic beauty is not surpassed in the Southern Romanesque.[Pg 145]

Beyond the south transept, a short passage and a few steps lead to the Cloisters, the most famous of Provence, perhaps of France. Large, graceful, and magnificent in wealth of carving, they have yet none of the poetic charms that linger around many a smaller Cloister. The vaultings are not more beautiful than other vaults less known; although they have the help of the great piers, the little, slender columns seem too light to support so much expanse of roof, and even the church's tower, square and high, looks dwarfed when seen across the close. The very spaciousness is solitary, and the long vista of the walks conduces to vague wonderings rather than to peaceful hours of thought. It has not the dreamy solitude of Vaison, nor the bright beauty of Elne's little close, nor any of the sunny cheerfulness that brightens the decaying walls of Cahors.

The marvel of these Cloisters is the sculptured decorations of their piers and columns. Those of the XII century are the richest, but each of the later builders seems to have vied as best he might, in wealth of conception and in lavishness of detail, with those who went before, and, even in enforced re-building, the addition of the Gothic to the Romanesque has not destroyed the harmony of the effect. In all the sculptors' schemes, the outer of the double columns were given foliated patterns or a few, simple symbols, and the outer of the piers were channelled and conventionally cut; and although the fancy of the sculptor is marvellously subtle and full of grace, his greatest art was reserved for the capitals of the inner columns and the inner faces of the piers, which meditating priests would see and study. The symbolism authorised by Holy Church, the history of precursors of Our Lord, the incidents of His life and the more dramatic doings of the Saints, all these are carved with greatest love of detail and of art; and in them the least arduous priest could find themes for a whole year of meditation, the least enthusiastic of travellers, a thousand quaint and interesting fancies and imaginations. It is not so much the beauty of the whole effect that is entrancing in these Cloisters, nor that most subtle influence, the good or evil spirit of a past which lingers round so many ancient spots, as that mediæval thought and mediæval genius that found expression in these myriad fine examples of the sculptor's art.

Carpentras Cathedral

Carpentras is a busy provincial town, the terminus of three diminutive railroads and of many little, lumbering, dust-covered stages. It stands high on a hill, and from the boulevards, dusty promenades under luxuriant shade-trees, which circle the town as its walls formerly did, there is an extended view over the pretty hills and valleys of the neighbouring country. At one end of the town the Hospital rises, an immense, bare, and imposing edifice of the XVIII century, built by a Trappist Bishop; and at the other is the Orange Gate, the last tower of the old fortifications. Between these historic buildings and the encircling boulevards are the narrow streets and irregular, uninteresting buildings of the city itself. It is strange indeed that so isolated a place, which seems only a big, bustling country-town, should have been of importance in the Middle Ages, and that bits of its stirring history must have caused all orthodox Europe to thrill with horror. Stranger still would be the forgetfulness of modern writers, by whom Carpentras is seldom mentioned, were it not that the city's real history is that of the Church political, a story of strange manners and happenings, rather than a step in the vital evolution towards our own time.

In the Middle Ages Carpentras was an episcopal city, the capital of the County Venaissin, governed by wealthy, powerful, and ambitious Bishops, who took no small interest in worldly aggrandisement. Passing by gift to the Papacy, after the sudden death of Clement V it was selected as the place of the Conclave which was to elect his successor. The members were assembled in the great episcopal Palace, when Bertrand de Goth, a nephew of the dead Pope, claiming to be an ally of the French prelates against the Italians in the Conclave, arrived from a successful looting of the papal treasury at Montreux to pillage in Carpentras. He and his mercenaries massacred the citizens and burned the Cathedral. The episcopal Palace caught fire, and their Eminences—in danger of their lives—were forced to squeeze their sacred persons through a hole which their followers made in the Palace wall and fly northward.

This unfortunate raid left Carpentras with many ruins and a demolished Cathedral, deserted by those in whose cause she had unwittingly suffered. The new Pontiff was safely elected in Lyons, and upon his return to the papal seat of Avignon he administered Carpentras by a “rector,” and it continued as it had been before, the political capital of the County. During the reigns of succeeding Popes it was apparently undisturbed by dangerous honours, until the accession of the Anti-Pope, Benedict XIII. So great was this prelate's delight in the city that he reserved to himself the minor title of her Bishop, re-built her walls, and was the first patron of the present and very orthodox Cathedral, Saint-Siffrein. By a curious destiny, the church had this false prelate not only as its first patron, but as its first active supporter; and in 1404 he sent Artaud, Archbishop of Arles, in his name, to lay its first stone.

Wars and rumours of wars soon possessed the province. Benedict fled, and through unrest and lack of money the work of Cathedral building was greatly hindered. In the meantime the ruins of the former Cathedral seem to have been gradually disintegrating, and in 1829 the last of its Cloister was destroyed, to be replaced by prison cells; and now only the choir dome and a suggestion of the nave exist, partly forming the present sacristy. From these meagre remains and from writings of the time, it may be fairly inferred that Saint-Pierre was a Cathedral of the type of Avignon and Cavaillon and the old Marseillaise Church of La Majeure, and that, architecturally considered, it was a far more important structure than Saint-Siffrein. With this depressing knowledge in mind the traveller was confronted with a sight as depressing—the present Cathedral itself.

Fortunately, churches of a period antedating the XVII century are seldom so uninteresting. Nothing more meagre nor dreary can be conceived than the façade with its three, poor, characterless portals. They open on a large vaulted hall, with chapels in its six bays and a small and narrow choir. The principal charm of the interior is negative; its dim misty light, by concealing a mass of tasteless decorations and the poverty and bareness of the whole architectural scheme, gives to the generous height and size of the room an atmosphere of subdued and mysterious spaciousness. The south door is the one bit of this Gothic which passes the commonplace. Set in a poor, plain wall, the portal has a graceful symmetry of design; and its few carved details, probably limited by the artistic power of its builder, are so simple and chaste that they do not inevitably suggest poverty of conception. The tympanum holds an exotic detail, a defaced and insignificant fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin; and on the pier which divides the door-way stands a very charming statue of Our Lady of Snows, blessing those who enter beneath her outstretched hands.

This simple portal, and indeed the whole church, is a significant example of Provençal Gothic, a style so foreign to the genius of the province that it could produce only feeble and attenuated examples of the art. Compared with its northern prototypes, it is surprisingly tentative; and awkward, unaccustomed hands seem to have built it after most primitive conceptions.