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.

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