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.

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