CATHEDRALS AND CLOISTERS
OF THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
“Sheer and straight the pillars rise, ...
and arch after arch is lost on the shadows of
the narrow vaulting of the side-aisle.” [To List]
SOUTH OF FRANCE
ELISE WHITLOCK ROSE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHS
VIDA HUNT FRANCIS
IN TWO VOLUMES
NEW YORK AND LONDON
The Knickerbocker Press
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
For years the makers of this book have spent the summer time in wandering about the French country; led here by the fame of some old monument, or there by an incident of history. They have found the real, unspoiled France, often unexplored by any except the French themselves, and practically unknown to foreigners, even to the ubiquitous maker of guide-books. For weeks together they have travelled without meeting an English-speaking person. It is, therefore, not surprising that they were unable to find, in any convenient form in English, a book telling of the Cathedrals of the South which was at once accurate and complete. For the Cathedrals of that country are monuments not only of architecture and its history, but of the history of peoples, the psychology of the christianising and unifying of the barbarian and the Gallo-Roman, and many things besides, epitomised perhaps in the old words, “the struggle between the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In French, works on Cathedrals are numerous and exhaustive; but either so voluminous as to be unpractical except for the specialist—as the volumes of Viollet-le-Duc,—or so technical as to make each Cathedral seem one in an endless, monotonous procession, differing from the others only in size, style, and age. This is distinctly unfair to these old churches which have personalities and idiosyncrasies as real as those of individuals. It has been the aim of the makers of this book to introduce, in photograph and in story,—not critically or exhaustively, but suggestively and accurately,—the Cathedral of the Mediterranean provinces as it exists to-day with its peculiar characteristics of architecture and history. They have described only churches which they have seen, they have verified every fact and date where such verification was possible, and have depended on local tradition only where that was all which remained to tell of the past; and they will feel abundantly repaid for travel, research, and patient exploration of towers, crypts, and archives if the leisurely traveller on pleasure bent shall find in these volumes but a hint of the interest and fascination which the glorious architecture, the history, and the unmatched climate of the Southland can awaken.
For unfailing courtesy and untiring interest, for free access to private as well as to ecclesiastical libraries, for permission to photograph and copy, for unbounding hospitality and the retelling of many an old legend, their most grateful thanks are due to the Catholic clergy, from Archbishop to Curé and Vicar. For rare old bits of information, for historical verification, and for infinite pains in accuracy of printed matter, they owe warm thanks to Mrs. Wilbur Rose, to Miss Frances Kyle, and to Mrs. William H. Shelmire, Jr. For criticism and training in the art of photographing they owe no less grateful acknowledgment to Mr. John G. Bullock and Mr. Charles R. Pancoast.
E. W. R.
V. H. F.
- LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED.
- The South of France
- I. The South of France3
- II. Architecture in Provence, Languedoc, qnd Gascony29
- I. The Cathedrals of the Sea55
- II. Cathedrals Of The Hill-towns72
- III.River-side Cathedrals101
- IV. Cathedrals of the Valleys178
- I. Cathedrals of the Cities237
- “ Sheer and straight the pillars rise, ...
- and arch after arch is lost on the shadows of
- the narrow vaulting of the side-aisle.”
- “Carcassonne, the invulnerable”5
- “The Tower of an early maritime Cathedral”—Agde10
- “A nave of the earlier style”—Arles15
- “A nave of the later style”—Rodez19
- “The delicate choir of Saint-Nazaire”—Carcassonne23
- “A cloister of the South”—Elne27
- “A Romanesque aisle”—Arles31
- “The sculptured portals of Saint-trophime”—Arles33
- “A Gothic aisle”—Mende35
- “Corresponding differences in style”—Carcassonne39
- “Fortified Gothic built in brick”—Albi43
- “A church fortress”—Maguelonne45
- “Stately Gothic splendour”—Condom47
- “People gather around the mail-coach as it makes its
- daily halt before the drawbridge.”
- “The new Cathedral”—Marseilles57
- “The desecration of the little cloister”—Fréjus65
- “The military omen—the tower”—Antibes70
- “The interior of Notre-dame-du-bourg”—Digne77
- “The interior has neither clerestory nor triforium”—Digne81
- “A large square tower served as a lookout”—Forcalquier86
- “A suggestive view from the side-aisle”—Forcalquier87
- “The old round arch of the Bishop's Palace”—Vence92
- “The low, broad arches, and the great supporting pillars”—Vence93
- “Higher than them all stands the Cathedral”—Grasse97
- “The pont d'Avignon”99
- “The interior has a shallow, gracefully balustraded balcony”—Avignon103
- “The porch, so classic in detail”—AVIGNON107
- From an old print
- “The Tower of Philip the Fair”—Villeneuve-les-Avignon114
- “The great Palace”—Avignon119
- “On the banks of a pleasant little river is Vaison”123
- “The ruined castle of the Counts of Toulouse”—Vaison125
- “The whole apse-end”—Vaison127
- “The south wall, which is clearly seen from the road”—Vaison129
- “Two bays open to the ground”—Vaison131
- “The great piers and small firm columns”—Vaison133
- “In the midst of the wealth of antique ruins”—Arles135
- “The façade of saint-trophime”—Arles137
- “Right detail—the portal”—Arles141
- “Left detail—the portal”—Arles145
- “Through the cloister arches”—Arles147
- “A nave of great and slender height”—Arles149
- “The beauty of the whole”—Arles151
- “The Gothic walk”—Cloister—Arles153
- “This interior”—Entrevaux156
- “The Romanesque walk”—Cloister—Arles157
- “One of the three small drawbridges”—Entrevaux159
- “The Portcullis”—Entrevaux160
- “A fort that perches on a sharp peak”—Entrevaux161
- “A true 'Place d'Armes'”—Entrevaux163
- “The long line of walls that zigzag down the hillside”—Entrevaux165
- “The church tower stood out against the rocky peak”—Entrevaux169
- “The Cathedral is near the heavy round towers of the outer ramparts”—Sisteron172
- “The bridge across the Durance”—Sisteron173
- “Entrances to two narrow streets”—Sisteron176
- “It was a low-vaulted, sombre little cloister”—Cavaillon182
- “The Cathedral's tower and turret”—Cavaillon187
- “The main body of the church”—Apt191
- “The Virgin and Saint Anne—by Benzoni”—Apt194
- “Saint-Martin-de-Brômes with its high slim tower”197
- “The fortified Monastery of the Templars”—near Gréoux199
- “The tower of Notre-Dame-du-Siège”—Riez201
- “Nothing could be more quaintly old and modest than the Baptistery”—Riez202
- “Between the columns an altar has been placed”—Baptistery, Riez203
- “The beautiful granite columns”—Riez207
- “The mail-coach of senez”211
- “The open square”—Senez213
- “The palace of its prelates”—Senez214
- “The Cathedral”—Senez215
- “The Cathedral”—Senez218
- “Tapestries beautify the choir-walls”—Senez219
- “Between branches full of apple-blossoms—the church as the curé saw it”—Senez221
- “The south aisle”—Aix224
- “The Romanesque portal”—Aix225
- “The cloister”—Aix227
- “The Cathedral”—Aix231
- “An amphitheatre which rivals the art of the Coliseum”—Nîmes238
- “The general effect is somewhat that of a port-cochère”—Montpellier244
- “The finest view is that of the apse”—Montpellier245
- “The clock tower is very square and thick”—Béziers248
- “The quaint and pretty fountain”—Béziers250
- “The door of the cloister”—Narbonne255
- “This is a place of deserted solitude”—Narbonne257
- “These flying-buttresses give to the exterior its most curious and
- beautiful effect”—Narbonne261
- “All the old buildings of the city are of Spanish origin”—Perpignan265
- “The unfinished façade”—Perpignan267
- “The stony street of the hillside”—Carcassonne269
- “The ancient Cross”—Carcassonne272
- “Often too little time is spent upon the nave”—Carcassonne275
- “The choir is of the xiv century”—Carcassonne279
- “The façade, straight and massive”—Carcassonne281
- “Perspective of the Romanesque”—Carcassonne283
- “The nave of the xiii century is an aisle-less chamber, low and
- broadly arched”—Toulouse291
- “The present Cathedral is a combination of styles”—Toulouse294
|Bayet.||Précis de l'Histoire de l'Art.|
|Bourg.||Viviers, ses Monuments et son Histoire.|
|Choisy.||Histoire de l'Architecture.|
|Cougny.||L'Art au Moyen Age.|
|Darcel.||Le Mouvement archéologique relatif au Moyen Age.|
|Ès.||L'Église Saint-Etienne, Cathédrale de Toulouse.|
|Ducéré.||Bayonne historique et pittoresque.|
|Duruy.||Histoire de France.|
|Ferree.||Articles on French Cathedrals appearing in the “Architectural Record.”|
|Gardère.||Saint-Pierre de Condom et ses Constructeurs.|
|Gould.||In Troubadour Land.|
|Guizot.||Histoire de France.|
|"||Histoire de la Civilisation en France.|
|Hallam.||The Middle Ages.|
|—||History of Joanna of Naples, Queen of Sicily (published 1824).|
|Hunnewell.||Historical Monuments of France.|
|James.||A Little Tour through France.|
|—||Le Moyen Age (avec notice par Roger-Milès).|
|Larned.||Churches and Castles of Mediæval France.|
|Lasserre, L'abbé.||Recherches historiques sur la Ville d'Alet et son ancien Diocèse.|
|Chevignard.||Les Styles français.|
|Macgibbon.||The Architecture of Provence and the Riviera.|
|Marlavagne.||Histoire de la Cathédrale de Rodez.|
|Martin.||Histoire de France.|
|Masson.||Louis IX and the XIII Century.|
|"||Francis I and the XVI Century.|
|Mérimée.||Études sur les Arts au Moyen Age.|
|Michelet.||Histoire de France.|
|Masson.||Mediævalism in France.|
|—||Monographie de la Cathédrale d'Albi.|
|Montalembert.||Les Moines d'Occident.|
|Milman.||History of Latin Christianity.|
|Palustre.||L'Architecture de la Renaissance.|
|Pastor.||Lives of the Popes.|
|Pennell.||Play in Provence.|
|Quicherat.||Mélanges d'Archéologie au Moyen Age.|
|Renan.||Études sur la Politique religieuse du Règne de Philippe le Bel.|
|Révoil.||Architecture romane du Midi de la France.|
|Rosieres.||Histoire de l'Architecture.|
|Schnasse.||Geschichte der bildenden Künste. (Volume III, etc.)|
|Sorbets.||Histoire d'Aire-sur-l'Adour[Pg 17].|
|Soulié.||Interesting old novels whose scenes are laid in the South of France:—|
|"||“Le Comte de Toulouse.”|
|"||“Le Vicomte de Béziers.”|
|"||“Le Château des Pyrénées,” etc.|
|Stevenson.||Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.|
|Taine.||The Ancient Regime.|
|"||Journeys through France.|
|"||Origins of Contemporary France.|
|"||Tour through the Pyrénées.|
|—||'Twixt France and Spain.|
|Viollet-le-Duc.||Histoire d'une Cathédrale et d'un Hôtel-de-Ville.|
|"||Entretiens sur l'Architecture.|
|"||Dictionnaire raisonné de l'Architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle.|
The South of France.
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE.
If it is only by an effort that we appreciate the valour of Columbus in the XV century, his secret doubts, his temerity, how much fainter is our conception of the heroism of the early Mediterranean navigators. Steam has destroyed for us the awful majesty of distance, and we can never realise the immensity of this “great Sea” to the ancients. To Virgil the adventures of the “pious Æneas” were truly heroic. The western shores of the Mediterranean were then the “end of the earth,” and even during the first centuries of our own era, he who ventured outside the Straits of Gibraltar tempted either Providence or the Devil and was very properly punished by falling over the edge of the earth into everlasting destruction. “Why,” asks a mediæval text-book of science, “is the sun so red in the evening?” And this convincing answer follows, “Because he looks down upon Hell.”
For centuries before the Christian era the South of France, with Spain, lay in the unknown west end of the Sea. Along its eastern shores lay civilisations hoary with age; Carthage, to the South, was moribund; Greece was living on the prestige of her glorious past; while Rome was becoming all-powerful. Legend tells that adventurous Phœnicians and Greeks discovered the French coasts, that Nîmes was[Pg 4] founded by a Tyrian Hercules, and Marseilles, about 600 B.C., by a Phœnician trader who married a chief's daughter and settled at the mouth of the Rhone. But these early settlements were merely isolated towns, which were not interdependent;—scarcely more than trading posts. It was Rome who took southern Gaul unto herself, and after Roman fashion, built cities and towns and co-ordinated them into well-regulated provinces; and it is with Roman rule that the connected history of Gaul begins.
From the outset we meet one basic fact, so difficult to realise when France is considered as one country, the essential difference between the North and the South. Cæsar found in the South a partial Roman civilisation ready for his organisation; and old, flourishing cities, like Narbonne, Aix, and Marseilles. In the North he found the people advanced no further than the tribal stage, and Paris—not even Paris in name—was a collection of mud huts, which, from its strategic position, he elevated into a camp. The two following centuries, the height of Roman dominion in France, accentuated these differences. The North was governed by the Romans, never assimilated nor civilised by them. The South eagerly absorbed all the culture of the Imperial City; her religions and her pleasures, her beautiful Temples and great Amphitheatres, finally her morals and effeminacy, till in the II century of our era, anyone living a life of luxurious gaiety was popularly said to have “set sail for Marseilles.” To this day the South boasts that it was a very part of Rome, and Rome was not slow to recognise the claim. Gallic poets celebrated the [Pg 7]glory of Augustus, a Gaul was the master of Quintilian, and Antoninus Pius, although born in the Imperial City, was by parentage a native of Nîmes.
Not to the rude North, but to this society, so pagan, so pleasure-loving, came the first missionaries of the new Christian faith, to meet in the arenas of Gaul the fate of their fellow-believers in Rome, to hide in subterranean caves and crypts, to endure, to persist, and finally to conquer. In the III and IV centuries many of the great Bishoprics were founded, Avignon, Narbonne, Lyons, Arles, and Saint-Paul-trois Châteaux among others; but these same years brought political changes which seemed to threaten both Church and State.
Roman power was waning. Tribes from across the Rhine were gathering, massing in northern Gaul, and its spirit was antagonistic to the contentment of the rich Mediterranean provinces. The tribes were brave, ruthless, and barbarous. Peace was galling to their uncontrollable restlessness. The Gallo-Romans were artistic, literary, idle, and luxurious. They fell, first to milder but heretical foes; then to the fierce but orthodox Frank; and the story of succeeding years was a chronicle of wars. Like a great swarm of locusts, the Saracens—conquerors from India to Spain—came upon the South. They took Narbonne, Nîmes, and even Carcassonne, the Invulnerable. They besieged Toulouse, and almost destroyed Bordeaux. Other cities, perhaps as great as these, were razed to the very earth and even their names are now forgotten. Europe was menaced; the South of France was all but destroyed.[Pg 8]
Again the Frank descended; and like a great wind blowing clouds from a stormy sky, Charles Martel swept back the Arabs and saved Christianity. Before 740, he had returned a third time to the South, not as a deliverer, but for pure love of conquest; and by dismantling Nîmes, destroying the maritime cities of Maguelonne and Agde, and taking the powerful strongholds of Arles and Marseilles, he paved the way for his great descendant who nominally united “all France.”
But Charlemagne's empire fell in pieces; and as Carlovingian had succeeded Merovingian, so in 987 Capetian displaced the weak descendants of the mighty head of the “Holy Roman Empire.” The map changed with bewildering frequency; and in these changes, the nobles—more stable than their kings—grew to be the real lords of their several domains. History speaks of France from Clovis to the Revolution as a kingdom; but even later than the First Crusade the kingdom lay somewhere between Paris and Lyons; the Royal Domain, not France as we know it now. The Duchy of Aquitaine, the Duchy of Brittany, Burgundy, the Counties of Toulouse, Provence, Champagne, Normandy, and many smaller possessions, were as proudly separate in spirit as Norway and Sweden, and often as politically distinct as they from Denmark.
In the midst of these times of turmoil the Church had steadily grown. Every change, however fatal to North or South, brought to her new strength. Confronted with cultured paganism in the first centuries, the blood of her martyrs made truly fruitful seed for her victories; and later,[Pg 9] facing paganism of another, wilder race, she triumphed more peacefully in the one supreme conversion of Clovis; and the devotion and interest which from that day grew between Church and King, gradually made her the greatest power of the country. After the decline of Roman culture the Church was the one intellectual, almost peaceful, and totally irresistible force. The great lords scorned learning. An Abbot, quaintly voicing the Church's belief, said that “every letter writ on paper is a sword thrust in the devil's side.” When there was cessation of war, the occupation of men, from Clovis' time throughout Mediævalism, was gone. They could not read; they could not write; the joy of hunting was, in time, exhausted. They were restless, lost. The justice meted out by the great lords was, too often, the right of might. But at the Council of Orléans, in 511, a church was declared an inviolable refuge, where the weak should be safe until their case could be calmly and righteously judged. The beneficent care of the Church cannot be overestimated. Between 500 and 700 she had eighty-three councils in Gaul, and scarcely one but brought a reform,—a real amelioration of hardships.
Something of the general organisation of her great power in those rude times deserves more than the usual investigation. Even in its small place in the “Cathedrals and Cloisters of the South of France,” it is an interesting bit of Church politics and psychology.
The ecclesiastical tradition of France goes back to the very first years of the Christian era. Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary the Mother of James, are only[Pg 10] a few of those intimately connected with Christ Himself, who are believed to have come into Gaul; and in their efforts to systematically and surely establish Christianity, to have founded the first French Bishoprics. This is tradition. But even the history of the II century tells of a venerable, martyred Bishop of Lyons, a disciple of that Polycarp who knew Saint John; and in the III century Gaul added no less than fourteen to the Sees she already had. Enthusiastic tradition aside, it is evident that the missionary ardour of the Gallic priests was intense; and the glory of their early victories belongs entirely to a branch of the Church known as “the Secular Clergy.”
The other great branch, “the Religious Orders,” were of later institution. From the oriental deserts of the Thebaid, where Saint Anthony had early practised the austerities of monkish life, Saint Martin drew his inspiration for[Pg 11] the monasticism of the West. But it was not until the last of the IV century that he founded, near Poitiers, the first great monastery in France. The success of this form of pious life, if not altogether edifying, was immediate. Devotional excesses were less common in the temperate climate of France than under the exciting oriental sun, yet that most bizarre of Eastern fanatics, the “Pillar Saint,” had at least one disciple in Gaul. He—the good Brother Wulfailich—began the life of sanctity by climbing a column near Trèves, and prepared himself to stand on it, barefooted, through winter and summer, till, presumably, angels should bear him triumphantly to heaven. But the West is not the East. And the good Bishops of the neighbourhood drew off, instead of waiting at the pillar, as an exalted emperor had humbly stood beneath that of Saint Simeon Stylites. Far from being awe-struck, they were scandalised; and they forced Wulfailich to descend from his eminence, and destroyed it. This is one of the first Gallic instances of the antagonisms between the “secular” and the “regular” branches of the reverend clergy.
Within the French Church from early times, these two great forces were arrayed, marching toward the same great end,—but never marching together. It is claimed they were, and are, inimical. In theory, in ideal, nothing could be further from truth. They were in fact sometimes unfriendly; and more often than not mutually suspicious. For the great Abbot inevitably lived in a Bishop's See; and with human tempers beneath their churchly garb, Abbot and Bishop could not always agree. Now the Bishop was[Pg 12] lord of the clergy, supreme in his diocese; but should he call to account the lowest friar of any monastery, my Lord Abbot replied that he was “answerable only to the Pope,” and retired to his vexatious “imperium in imperio.”
The beginning of the VI century saw much that was irregular in monastic life. The whole country was either in a state of war or of unrestful expectation of war. Many Abbeys were yet to be established; many merely in process of foundation. Wandering brothers were naturally beset by the dangers and temptations of an unsettled life; and if history may be believed, fell into many irregularities and even shamed their cloth by licentiousness. Into this disorder came the great and holy Benedict, the “learnedly ignorant, the wisely unlearned,” the true organiser of Western Monachism. Under his wise “Rules” the Abbey of the VI century was transformed. It became “not only a place of prayer and meditation, but a refuge against barbarism in all its forms. And this home of books and knowledge had departments of all kinds, and its dependencies formed what we would call to-day a 'model farm.' There were to be found examples of activity and industry for the workman, the common tiller of the soil, or the land-owner himself. It was a school,” continues Thierry, “not of religion, but of practical knowledge; and when it is considered that there were two hundred and thirty-eight of such schools in Clovis' day, the power of the Orders, though late in coming, will be seen to have grown as great as that of the Bishops.”
From these two branches sprang all that is greatest in[Pg 13] the ecclesiastical architecture of France. As their strength grew, their respective churches were built, and to-day, as a sign of their dual power, we have the Abbey and the Cathedral.
The Bishop's church had its prototype in the first Christian meeting places in Rome and was planned from two basic ideas,—the part of the Roman house which was devoted to early Christian service, and the growing exigencies of the ritual itself. At the very first of the Christian era, converts met in any room, but these little groups so soon grew to communities that a larger place was needed and the “basilica” of the house became the general and accepted place of worship. The “basilica” was composed of a long hall, sometimes galleried, and a hemicycle; and its general outline was that of a letter T. Into this purely secular building, Christian ceremonials were introduced. The hemicycle became the apse; the gallery, a clerestory; the hall, a central nave. Here the paraphernalia of the new Church were installed. The altar stood in the apse; and between it and the nave, on either side, a pulpit or reading-desk was placed. Bishop and priests sat around the altar, the people in the nave. This disposition of clergy, people, and the furniture of the sacred office is essentially that of the Cathedral of to-day. There were however many amplifications of the first type. The basilica form, T, was enlarged to that of a cross; and increasingly beautiful architectural forms were evolved. Among the first was the tower of the early Italian churches. This single tower was doubled in the French Romanesque, often multiplied again[Pg 14] by Gothic builders, and in Byzantine churches, increased to seven and even nine domes. Transepts were added, and as, one by one, the arts came to the knowledge of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, each was pressed into the service of the Cathedral builders. The interior became so beautiful with carvings, windows of marvellously painted glass, rich tapestries and frescoes, that the ritual seemed yearly more impressive and awe-inspiring. The old, squat exterior of early days was forgotten in new height and majesty, and the Cathedral became the dominant building of the city.
Although the country was early christianised, and on the map of Merovingian France nearly all the present Cathedral cities of the Mediterranean were seats of Bishoprics, we cannot now see all the successive steps of the church architecture of the South. The main era of the buildings which have come down to us, is the XI-XIV centuries. Of earlier types and stages little is known, little remains.
In general, Gallic churches are supposed to have been basilican, with all the poverty of the older style. Charlemagne's architects, with San Vitale in mind, gave a slight impetus in the far-away chapel at Aix-la-Chapelle, and Gregory of Tours tells us that Bishop Perpetuus built a “glorious” church at Tours. But his description is meagre. After a few mathematical details, he returns to things closer to his heart,—the Church's atmosphere of holiness, the emblematic radiance of the candle's light, the ecstasy of worshippers who seemed “to breathe the air of Paradise.” And Saint Gregory's is the religious, uncritical spirit of his [Pg 17]day, whose interest was in ecclesiastical establishment rather than ecclesiastical architecture. Churches there were in numbers; but they were not architectural achievements. Their building was like the planting of the flag; they were new outposts, signs of an advance of the Faith. With this missionary spirit in the Church, with priests still engaged in christianising and monks in establishing themselves on their domains, with a very general ignorance of art, with the absorbing interest of the powerful and great in warfare, and the very great struggle among the poor for existence, architecture before the X century had few students or protectors. France had neither sufficient political peace nor ecclesiastical wealth for elaborate church structures. No head, either of Church or State, had taste and time enough to inaugurate such works.
Many causes have combined to destroy such churches as then existed. If they escaped the rasings and fires of a siege, they were often destroyed by lightning, or decayed by years; and some of the fragments which endured to the XIII century were torn down to make room for more beautiful buildings.
It was the XI and XII centuries which saw the important beginnings of the great Cathedrals of both North and South. These were the years when religion was the dominant idea of the western world,—when everything, even warfare, was pressed into its service. Instead of devastating their own and their neighbour's country, Christian armies were devastating the Holy Land; doing to the Infidel in the name of their religion what he, in the name of his, had formerly[Pg 18] done to them. The capture of Jerusalem had triumphantly ended the First Crusade; the Church was everywhere victorious, and the Pope in actual fact the mightiest monarch of the earth. These were the days when Peter the Hermit's cry, “God wills it,” aroused the world, and aroused it to the most diverse accomplishments.
One form of this activity was church building; but there were other causes than religion for the general magnificence of the effort. Among these was communal pride, the interesting, half-forgotten motive of much that is great in mediæval building.
The Mediævalism of the old writers seems an endless pageant, in which indefinitely gorgeous armies “march up the hill and then march down again;” in newer histories this has disappeared in the long struggle of one class with another; and in neither do we reach the individual, nor see the daily life of the people who are the backbone of a nation. Yet these are the people we must know if we are to have a right conception of the Cathedral's place in the living interest of the Middle Ages. For the Bishop's church was in every sense a popular church. The Abbey was built primarily for its monks, and the Abbey-church for their meditation and worship. The French Cathedral was the people's, it was built by their money, not money from an Abbey-coffer. It did not stand, as the Cathedral of England, majestic and apart, in a scholarly close; it was in the open square of the city; markets and fairs were held about it; the doors to its calm and rest opened directly on the busiest, every-day bustle. It is not a mere architectural relic, as its building was never a mere architectural feat. It is the symbol of a past stage of life, a majestic part of the picture we conjure before our mind's eye, when we consider Mediævalism.[Pg 19]
[Pg 21] Such a picture of a city of another country and of the late Middle Ages exists in the drama of Richard Wagner's Meistersinger; and his Nuremberg of the XVI century, with changes of local colour, is the type of all mediæval towns. General travel was unknown. The activity of the great roads was the march of armies, the roving of marauders, the journeys of venturesome merchants or well-armed knights. Not only roads, but even streets were unsafe at night; and after the sun had set he who had gone about freely and carelessly during the day, remained at home or ventured out with much caution. When armies camped about her walls, the city was doubtless much occupied with outside happenings. But when the camp broke up and war was far away, her shoemaker made his shoes, her goldsmith, fine chains and trinkets, her merchants traded in the market-place. Their interests were in street brawls, romancings, new “privileges,” the work or the feast of the day—in a word town-topics. Yet being as other men, the burghers also were awakened by the energy of the age, and instead of wasting it in adventures and wars, their interest took the form of an intense local pride, narrow, but with elements of grandeur, seldom selfish, but civic.
This absence of the personal element is nowhere better illustrated than in Cathedral building. Of all the really[Pg 22] great men who planned the Cathedrals of France, almost nothing is known; and by searching, little can be found out. Who can give a dead date, much less a living fact, concerning the life of that Gervais who conceived the great Gothic height of Narbonne? Who can tell even the name of him who planned the sombre, battlemented walls of Agde, or of that great man who first saw in poetic vision the delicate choir of Saint-Nazaire in Carcassonne? Artists have a well-preserved personality,—cathedral-builders, none. Robert of Luzarches who conceived the “Parthenon of all Gothic architecture,” and the man who planned stately Sens and the richness of Canterbury, are as unknown to us as the quarries from which the stones of their Cathedrals were cut. It is not the Cathedral built by Robert of Luzarches belonging to Amiens, as it is the Assumption by Rubens belonging to Antwerp. It is scarcely the Cathedral of its patron, Saint Firmin. It is the Cathedral of Amiens.[Pg 23]
We hear many learned disquisitions on the decay of the art of church building. Lack of time in our rushing age, lack of patience, decline of religious zeal, or change in belief, these are some of the popular reasons for this architectural degeneracy. Strange as it may seem none of these have had so powerful an influence as the invention of printing. The first printing-press was made in the middle of the XV century,—after the conception of the great Cathedrals. In an earlier age, when the greatest could neither read nor write and manuscripts even in monasteries were rare, sculpture and carving were the layman's books, and [Pg 25]Cathedrals were not only places of worship, they were the people's religious libraries where literature was cut in stone.
In the North, the most unique form of this literature was the drama of the Breton Calvaries, which portrayed one subject and one only,—the “Life and Passion of Christ,” taken from Prophecy, Tradition, and the Gospels. Cathedrals, both North and South, used the narrative form. They told story after story; and their makers showed an intimate knowledge of Biblical lore that would do credit to the most ardent theological student. At Nîmes, by no means the richest church in carvings, there are besides the Last Judgment and the reward of the Evil and the Righteous,—which even a superficial Christian should know,—many of the stories of the Book of Genesis. At Arles, there is the Dream of Jacob, the Dream of Joseph, the Annunciation, the Nativity, Purification, Massacre of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt; almost a Bible in stone. In these days of books and haste few would take the trouble to study such sculptured tales. But their importance to the unlettered people of the Middle Ages cannot be overestimated; and the incentive to magnificence of artistic conception was correspondingly great.
The main era of Cathedral building is the same all over France. But with the general date, all arbitrary parallel between North and South abruptly ends. The North began the evolution of the Gothic, a new form indigenous to its soil; the South continued the Romanesque, her evolution of a transplanted style, and long knew no other. She had grown accustomed to give northward,—not to receive;[Pg 26] and it was the reign of Saint Louis before she began to assimilate the architectural ideas of the Isle de France and to build in the Gothic style, it was admiration for the newer ideals which led the builders of the South to change such of their plans as were not already carried out, and to try with these foreign and beautiful additions, to give to their churches the most perfect form they could conceive.
And thus, from a web of Fate, in which, as in all destinies, is the spinning of many threads, came the Cathedrals and Cloisters of the South. Are they greater than those of the North? Are they inferior to them? It is best said, “Comparison is idle.” Who shall decide between the fir-trees and the olives—between the beautiful order of a northern forest and the strange, astounding luxuriance of the southern tangle? Which is the better choice—the well-told tale of the Cathedrals of the North, with their procession of kingly visitors, or the almost untold story of the Cathedrals of the South, where history is still legend, tradition, romance—the story of fanatic fervour and still more fanatic hate?[Pg 27]
ARCHITECTURE IN PROVENCE, LANGUEDOC, AND GASCONY.Top
No better place can be found than the Mediterranean provinces to consider the origins of the earliest southern style. Here Romanesque Cathedrals arose in the midst of the vast ruins of Imperial antiquity, here they developed strange similarities to foreign styles, domes suggesting the East, Greek motives recalling Byzantium, and details reminiscent of Syria. And here is the battle-field for that great army who decry or who defend Roman influences. Some would have us believe that the Romanesque dome is expatriated from the East; others, that it is naturalised; others, that it is native. The plan of the Romanesque dome differs very much from that of the Byzantine, yet the general conception seems Eastern. If conceivable in the Oriental mind, why not in that of the West? And yet, in spite of some native peculiarities of structure, why should not the general idea have been imported? Who shall decide? In a book such as this, mooted questions which involve such multitudinous detail and such unprovable argument cannot be discussed.
It is unreasonable to doubt, however, that Roman influences dominated the South, herself a product of Roman civilisation; and as in the curious ineradicable tendency of the South toward heresy we more than suspect a subtle[Pg 30] infiltration of Greek and Oriental perversions, so in architecture it is logical to infer that Mediterranean traders, Crusaders, and perhaps adventurous architects who may have travelled in their wake, brought rumours of the buildings of the East, which were adopted with original or necessary modifications. Viollet-le-Duc, in summing up this much discussed question, has written that “in the Romanesque art of the West, side by side with persistent Latin traditions, a Byzantine influence is almost always found, evidenced by the introduction of the cupola.” In the lamentable absence of records of the majority of Cathedrals, reasonings of origin must be inductive, and more or less imaginative, and have no legitimate place in the scope of a book which aims to describe the existing conditions and proven history of southern Cathedrals.[Pg 31]
Quicherat, who has had much to say upon architectural subjects, defines the Romanesque as an art “which has ceased to be Roman, although it has much that is Roman, and that is not yet Gothic, although it already presages the Gothic.” This is not a very helpful interpretation. Romanesque, as it exists in France to-day, is generally of earlier building than the Gothic; it is an older and far simpler style. It was not a quick, brilliant outburst, like the Gothic, but a long and slow evolution; and it has therefore deliberation and dignity, not the spontaneity of northern creations; strength, and at times great vigour, but not munificence, not the lavishness of art and wealth and adornment, of which the younger style was prodigal. Few generalisations are flawless, but it may be truly said that Romanesque [Pg 33]Cathedrals are lacking in splendour; and it will be found in a large majority of cases that they are also without the impressiveness of great size; that they are almost devoid of shapely windows or stained glass, of notable carvings or richness of decorative detail. Their art is a simple art, a sober art, and in its nearest approach to opulence—the sculptured portals of Saint-Trophime of Arles or Saint-Gilles-de-Languedoc—there is still a reserved rather than an exuberant and uncontrolled display of wealth.
By what simple, superficial sign can this architecture be recognised by those who are to see it for the first time? It exists “everywhere and always” in southern France; but,[Pg 34] side by side with the encroachments and additions of other styles, how can it be easily distinguished? Quicherat writes that the principal characteristic of the Romanesque is “la voûte,” and the great, rounded tunnel of the roofing is a distinction which will be found in no other form. But the easiest of superficial distinctions is the arch-shape, which in portal, window, vaulting or tympanum is round; wherever the arcaded form is used,—always round. With this suggestion of outline, and the universal principles of the style, simplicity and dignity and absence of great ornamentation, the untechnical traveller may distinguish the Romanesque of the South, and if he be akin to the traveller who tells these Cathedral tales, the interest and fascination which the old architecture awakes, will lead him to discover for himself the many differences which are evident between the ascetic strength of the one, and the splendour and brilliance of the other.
The three provinces which compose the South of France are Provence, Languedoc, and Gascony, and of these Provence is, architecturally and historically, the first to claim our interest. During the era of colonisation it was the most thoroughly romanised, and in the early centuries of Christianity the first to fall completely under the systematic organisation of the Church. It has a large group of very old Cathedrals, and is the best study-ground for a general scrutiny and appreciation of that style which the builders of the South assimilated and developed until, as it were, [Pg 37]they naturalised it and made it one of the two greatest forms of architectural expression. Provence does not contain the most impressive examples of Romanesque. Two Abbeys of the far Norman North are more finished and harmonious representations of the art, and Languedoc, in the basilica of Saint-Sernin of Toulouse, has a nobler interior than any in the Midi, and many other churches of Languedoc and Gascony are most interesting examples of a style which belonged to them as truly as to Provence.
Yet it is in this province that the Romanesque is best studied. For here the great internecine struggles—both political and religious—of the Middle Ages were not as devastating as in Languedoc and Gascony; Provence was a sunny land, where Sonnets flourished more luxuriantly than did Holy Inquisition. Her churches have therefore been preserved in their original form in greater numbers than those of the two other provinces. They are of all types of Romanesque, all stages of its growth, from the small and simple Cathedrals which were built when ecclesiastical exchequers were not overflowing, to the greater ones which illustrate very advanced and dignified phases of architectural development; and as a whole they exhibit the normal proportion of failure and success in an effort toward an ideal.
Léon Renier, the learned lecturer of the Collège de France, says: “It is remarkable that the changes, the elaborations, the modifications of the architecture given by Rome to all countries under her domination were conceived in[Pg 38] the provinces long before they were reproduced in Italy. Rome gave no longer; she received ... a transfusion of a new blood, more vital and more rich.” In Languedoc, the greater number of monuments of this ancient architecture have been destroyed; and those of their outgrowth, the later Romanesque, were so repeatedly mutilated that the Cathedrals of this province present even a greater confusion of originalities, restorations, and additions than those of Provence. To a multitude of dates must be added corresponding differences in style. Each school of architecture naturally considered that it had somewhat of a monopoly of good taste and beauty, or at least that it was an improvement on the manner which preceded it; and it would have been too much to expect, in ages when anachronisms were unrecognised, that churches should have been restored in their consonant, original style. Architects of the Gothic period were unable to resist the temptation of continuing a Romanesque nave with a choir of their own school, and builders of the XVIII century went still further and added a showy Louis XV façade to a modest Romanesque Cathedral. Some churches, built in times of religious storm and stress, show the preoccupation of their patrons or the lack of talent of their constructors; others belong to Bishoprics that were much more lately constituted than the Sees of Provence, and in these cases the new prelate chose a church already begun or completed, and compromised with the demands of episcopal pomp by an addition, usually of different style. The numerous changes, political and religious, of the Mediævalism of Languedoc, had such [Pg 39]considerable and diverse influence on the architecture of the province that it is not possible, as in Provence, to trace an uninterrupted evolution of one style. The Languedocian is generally a later builder than the Provençal; he is bolder. Having the Romanesque and the Gothic as choice, he chose at will and seemingly at random. He had spontaneity, enthusiasm, verve; and when no accepted model pleased his taste, he re-created after his own liking. Languedoc has therefore a delightful quality that is wanting in Provence; and in her greater Cathedrals there is often an originality that is due to genius rather than to eccentricity. There is delicate Gothic at Carcassonne, lofty Gothic at Narbonne, Sainte-Cécile of Albi is fortified Gothic built in brick. The interior of Saint-Sernin of Toulouse is an apotheosis of the austere Romanesque, and Saint-Etienne of Agde is a gratifying type of the Maritime Church of the Midi.
This Cathedral of the Sea is a fitting example of a peculiar type of architecture which exists also in Provence,—a succession of fortress-churches that extend along the Mediterranean from Spain to Italy like the peaks of a mountain chain. Nothing can better illustrate the continuous warrings and raidings in the South of France than these strange churches, and their many fortified counterparts inland, in both Languedoc and Gascony. Castles and walled towns were not sufficient to protect the Southerner from invasions and incursions; his churches and Cathedrals, even to the XIV century, were strongholds, more suitable for men-at-arms than for priests, and seemingly dedicated to some[Pg 42] war-god rather than to the gentle Virgin Mother and the Martyr-Saints under whose protection they nominally dwelt.
Although most interesting, the military church of the interior is seldom the Bishop's church. The maritime church on the contrary is nearly always a Cathedral, with strangely curious legends and episodes. The French coast of the Mediterranean was the scene of continuous pillage. Huns, Normans, Moors, Saracens, unknown pirates and free-booters of all nationalities found it very lucrative and convenient to descend on a sea-board town, and escape as they had come, easily, their boats loaded with booty. “As late as the XII century,” writes Barr Ferree, “buccaneers gained a livelihood by preying on the peaceful and unoffending inhabitants of the villages and cities. The Cathedrals, as the most important buildings and the most conspicuous, were strongly fortified, both to protect their contents and to serve as strongholds for the citizens in case of need. In these churches, therefore, architecture assumed its most utilitarian form and buildings are real fortifications, with battlemented walls, strong and heavy towers, and small windows, and are provided with the other devices of Romanesque architecture of a purely military type.”[Pg 43]
“Time has dealt hardly with them. The kingly power, being entrenched in Paris, developed from the Isle de France. The wealth that once enriched the fertile lands of the South moved northwards, and the great commercial cities of the North became the most important centres of activity. Then [Pg 44]the southern towns began to decline,” and the buildings which remain to represent most perfectly the “Church-Fortress” are not those of Provence, which are “patched” and “restored,” but those of Languedoc, Agde, and Maguelonne, and Elne of the near-by country of Rousillon.[Pg 45]
Gascony, the last of the southern provinces and the farthest from Rome, had great prosperity under Imperial dominion. Many patricians emigrated there, roads were built, commerce flourished, and as in Provence and Languedoc, towns grew into large and well-established cities. Christianity made a comparatively early conquest of the province;[Pg 46] and at the beginning of the IV century, eleven suffragan Bishoprics had been established under the Archbishopric of Eauze. Gascony has many old Cathedral cities, and has had many ancient Cathedrals; but after the fall of the Roman Empire in the V century, a series of wars began which destroyed not only the Christian architecture, but almost every trace of Roman wealth and culture. Little towers remain, supposed shrines of Mercury, protector of commerce and travel; pieces of statues are found; but the Temples, the Amphitheatres, the Forums, have disappeared, and even more completely, the rude Christian churches of that early period.
Although the province has no Mediterranean coast and could not be molested by the marauders of that busy sea, it lay directly upon the route of armies between France and Spain; and it is no “gasconading” to say that it was for centuries one of the greatest battle-fields of the South. Vandals, Visigoths, Franks, Saracens, Normans,—Gascons against Carlovingians, North against South, all had burned, raided, and destroyed Gascony before the XI century. It is not surprising, then, that there are found fewer traces of antiquity here than in Provence and Languedoc. Even the few names of decimated cities which survived, designated towns on new sites. Eauze, formerly on the Gélise, lay long in ruins, and was finally re-built a kilometre inland. Lectoure and Auch had long since retired from the river Gers and taken refuge on the hills of their present situations, while other cities fell into complete ruin and forgetfulness.[Pg 47]
[Pg 49] The year 1000, which followed these events, was that of the predicted and expected end of the world. The extravagances of Christians at that time are well known, the gifts of all property that were made to the Church, the abandonment of worldly pursuits, the terrors of many, the anxiety of the calmest, the emotional excesses which led people to live in trees that they might be near to heaven when the “great trump” should sound,—“Mundi fine appropinquante.” But the trumpet did not sound, and Raoul Glaber, a monk of the XI century, writes that all over Italy and the Gaul of his day there was great haste to restore and re-build churches, a general rivalry between towns and between countries, as to which could build most remarkably. “This activity,” says Quicherat, “may show a desire to renew alliance with the Creator.” It certainly proves that the generation of the year 1000 had fresh and new architectural ideas.
This was the period of recuperation and re-building for Gascony. The monks of the VIII, IX, and X centuries had devoted themselves with zeal and success to the cultivation of the soil. They had acquired fertile fields, and desiring peace, they had placed themselves in positions where their strength would defend them when their holy calling was not respected. These monasteries were places of refuge and soon gave their name and their protection to the towns and villages which began to cluster about them. Except the declining settlements of Roman days, Gascony had few towns in the X century; and many of her most important cities of to-day owe their foundation, their existence,[Pg 50] and their prosperity to these Benedictine monasteries. Eauze regained its life after the establishment of a convent, and in the XI, XII, and XIII centuries, the Abbots of Cîteaux, Bishops, and even lords of the laity, occupied themselves in the creation of new cities. Many of the towns of mediæval creation possessed broad municipal and commercial privileges, they grew to the importance of “communes” and Bishoprics, and some even styled themselves “Republics.”
Although these were times of much re-building, restoring, and carrying out of older plans of ecclesiastical architecture, the XI and XII centuries were none the less filled with innumerable private wars, and in 1167 began the bloody and persistent struggle with England. The city of Aire was at one time reduced to twelve inhabitants, and the horrors of the mediæval siege were more than once repeated. In these wars, Cathedrals, as well as towns and their inhabitants, were scarred and wounded. Hardly had these dissensions ended in 1494, when the Wars of Religion commenced under Charles IX, and Gascony was again one of the most terrible fields of battle. Here the demoniac enthusiasm of both sides exceeded even the terrible exhibitions of Languedoc. The royal family of Navarre was openly Protestant and contributed more than any others to the military organisations of their Faith. Jeanne d'Albret, in 1566, wishing to repay intolerance with intolerance, forbade religious processions and church funerals in Navarre. The people rose, and the next year the Queen was forced to grant toleration to both religions. Later the King of[Pg 51] France entered the field and sent an army against the Béarnaise Huguenots, Jeanne, in reprisal, called to her aid Montmorency; and with a thoroughness born of pious zeal and hatred, each army began to burn and kill. All monasteries, all churches, were looted by the Protestants; all cities taken by Montluc, head of the Catholics, were sacked. Tarbes was devastated by the one, Rabestans by the other, and the Cathedral of Pamiers was ruined. With the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, in 1572, the struggle began again, and the League flourished in all its malign enthusiasm. “Such disorder as was introduced,” says a writer of the period, “such pillage, has never been seen since war began. Officers, soldiers, followers, and volunteers were so overburdened with booty as to be incommoded thereby. And after this brigandage, the peasants hereabouts [Bigorre] abandoned their very farms from lack of cattle, and the greater number went into Spain.”
During long centuries of such religious and political devastation the architectural energy of Gascony was expended in replacing churches which had been destroyed, and were again to be destroyed or injured. It would be unfair to expect of this province the great magnificence which its brave, cheerful, and extravagant little people believe it “once possessed,” or to look, amid such unrest, for the calm growth of any architectural style. It is a country of few Cathedrals, of curious churches built for war and prayer, and of such occasional outbursts of magnificence as is seen in the Romanesque portal of Saint-Pierre of Moissac and in the stately Gothic splendour of the Cathedrals at Condom and[Pg 52] at Bayonne. It is a country where Cathedrals are surrounded by the most beautiful of landscapes, and where each has some legend or story of the English, the League, of the Black Prince, or the Lion-hearted, of Henry IV, still adored, or of Simon de Montfort, still execrated, where the towns are truly historic and the mountains truly grand. [Pg 53]
THE CATHEDRALS OF THE SEA.
Perhaps a Phœnician settlement, certainly a Carthaginian mart, later a Grecian city, and in the final years of the pagan era possessed by the Romans, no city of France has had more diverse influences of antique civilisation than Marseilles, none responded more proudly to its ancient opportunities; and not only was it commercially wealthy and renowned, but so rich in schools that it was called “another, a new Athens.” It was also the port of an adventurous people, who founded Nice, Antibes, la Ciotat, and Agde, and explored a part of Africa and Northern Europe; and at the fall of the Roman Empire it became, by very virtue of its riches and safe harbour, the envy and the prey of a succession of barbaric and “infidel” invaders. In the Middle Ages it had all the vicissitudes of wars and sieges to which a great city could be subjected. It had a Viscount, and from very early days, a Bishop; it was at one time part of the Kingdom of Arles; and later it recognised the suzerainty of the Counts of Provence. When these lords were warring or crusading, it took advantage of their absence or their troubles and governed itself through its Consuls; became a Provençal Republic after the type of the Italian cities and other towns[Pg 56] of the Mediterranean country; treated with the Italian Republics on terms of perfect equality; and although finally annexed to France by the wily Louis of the Madonnas, its people were continually haunted by memories of their former independence, and not only struggled for municipal rights and liberties, but took sides for or against the most powerful monarchs of continental history as if they had been a resourceful country rather than a city. It succored the League, defied Henry IV and Richelieu; and treating Kings in trouble as cavalierly as declining Counts, Marseilles tried at the death of Henry III to secede from France and recover its autonomy under a Consul, Charles de Cazaulx. Promptly defeated, it still continued to think independently, and struggle, as best it might, for freedom of administration; and although from the time of Pompey to that of Louis XIV it has had an ineradicable tendency to stand against the government, it has survived the results of all its contumacies, its plagues, wars, and sieges, and the destructiveness of its phase of the Revolution, when it had a Terror of its own. Notwithstanding modern rivals in the Mediterranean, Marseilles is to-day one of the largest and most prosperous of French cities. Built in amphitheatre around the bay, it is beautiful in general view, its streets bustle with commercial activity, and its vast docks swarm with workmen. The storms of the past have gone over Marseilles as the storms of nature over its sea, have been as passionate, and have left as little trace. Instead of Temples, Forum, and Arena, there are the Palais de Longchamps, the Palais de Justice, and the [Pg 57]Christian Arch of Triumph. Instead of the muddy and unhealthy alley-ways of Mediævalism, there are broad streets and wide boulevards, and in spite of its antiquity Marseilles is a city of to-day, in monuments, aspect, spirit, and even in class distinction. “Here,” writes Edmond About, “are only two categories of people, those who have made a fortune and those who are trying to make one, and the principal inhabitants are parvenus in the most honourable sense of the word.”
People gather around the mail-coach as it
makes its daily halt before the drawbridge. [To List]
“In the most honourable sense of the word,” the Cathedral of Marseilles is also typical of the city, “parvenue.” Its first stone was placed by Prince Louis Napoleon in[Pg 58] 1852, and as the modern has overgrown the classic and mediæval greatness of Marseilles, so the new “Majeure” has eclipsed, if it has not yet entirely replaced, the old Cathedral; and except the stern Abbey-church of Saint-Victor, an almost solitary relic of true mediæval greatness, it is the finest church of the city.
The new Cathedral and the old stand side by side; the one strong and whole, the other partly torn down, scarred and maimed as a veteran who has survived many wars. Even in its ruin, it is an interesting type of the maritime Provençal church, but so pitiably overshadowed by its successor that the charm of its situation is quite lost, and few will linger to study its three small naves, the defaced fresco of the dome, or even the little chapel of Saint-Lazare, all white marble and carving and small statues, scarcely more than a shallow niche in the wall, but daintily proportioned, and a charming creation of the Renaissance. Fewer still of those who pause to study what remains of the old “Majeure,” will stay to reconstruct it as it used to be, and realise that it had its day of glory no less real than that of the new church which replaces it. In its stead, Saint-Martin's, and Saint-Cannat's sometimes called “the Preachers,” have been temporarily used for the Bishop's services. But now that the greater church, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been practically completed, it has assumed, once and for all, the greater rank, and a Cathedral of Marseilles still stands on its terrace in full view of the sea. Tradition has it that a Temple of Baal once stood on this site and later, a Temple to Diana; that Lazarus[Pg 59] came in the I century, converted the pagan Marseillais and built a Christian Cathedral here. A more critical tradition says that Saint Victor first came as missionary, Bishop, and builder. All these vague memories of conversion, more or less accurate, all the legends of an humble and struggling Christianity, seem buried by this huge modern mass. It is not a church struggling and militant, but the Church Established and Triumphant. It is a vast building over four hundred and fifty feet long, preceded by two domed towers. Its transepts are surmounted at the crossing by a huge dome whose circumference is nearly two hundred feet, a smaller one over each transept arm, and others above the apsidal chapels. The exterior is built with alternate layers of green Florentine stone and the white stone of Fontvieille; and the style of the church, variously called French Romanesque, Byzantine, and Neo-Byzantine, is very oriental in its general effect.
An arcade between the two towers forms a porch, the entrance to the interior whose central nave stretches out in great spaciousness. The lateral naves, in contrast, are exceedingly narrow and have high galleries supported by large monolithic columns. These naves are prolonged into an ambulatory, each of whose chapels, in consonance with the Cathedral's colossal proportions, is as large as many a church. The building stone of the interior is grey and pink, with white marble used decoratively for capitals and bases; and these combinations of tints which would seem almost too delicate, too effeminate, for so large a building, are made rich and effective by their very mass,[Pg 60] the gigantic sizes which the plan exacts. All that artistic conception could produce has been added to complete an interior that is entirely oriental in its luxury of ornamentation, half-oriental in style, and without that sober majesty which is an inherent characteristic of the most elaborate styles native to Western Christianity. Under the gilded dome is a rich baldaquined High Altar, and through the whole church there is a magnificence of mosaics, of mural paintings, and of stained glass that is sumptuous. Mosaics line the arches of the nave and the pendentives, and form the flooring; and in the midst of this richness of colour the grey pillars rise, one after the other in long, shadowy perspective, like the trees of a stately grove.
In planning this new Provençal Cathedral its architects did not attempt to reproduce, either exactly or in greater perfection, any maritime type which its situation on the Mediterranean might have suggested, nor were they inspired by any of the models of the native style; and perhaps, to the captious mind, its most serious defect is that its building has destroyed not only an actual portion of the old Majeure, but an historic interest which might well have been preserved by a wise restoration or an harmonious re-building. And yet, with the large Palace of the Archbishop on the Port de la Joliette near-by, the statue of a devoted and loving Bishop in the open square, and the majestic Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure itself, the episcopacy of Marseilles has all the outward and visible signs of strength and glory and power.[Pg 61]
Toulon, although a foundation of the Romans, owes its rank to-day to Henry IV, to Richelieu, and to Louis XIV's busy architect, Vauban. It is the “Gibraltar of France,” a bright, bustling, modern city. Sainte-Marie-Majeure, one of its oldest ecclesiastical names, is a title which belonged to churches of both the XI and XII centuries; but in the feats of architectural gymnastics to which their remains have been subjected, and in the wars and vicissitudes of Provence, these buildings have long since disappeared.
A few stones still exist of the XI century structure, void of form or architectural significance, and the ancient name of Sainte-Marie-Majeure now protects a Cathedral built in the most depressing style of the industrious Philistines of the XVII and XVIII centuries. It is not a Provençal nor a truly “maritime” church, it is not a fortress nor a defence, nor a work of any architectural beauty. It has blatancy, size, pretension,—a profusion of rich incongruities; and although religiously interesting from its chapels and shrines, it is architecturally obtrusive and monstrous.
The vagaries of the architects who began in 1634 to construct the present edifice, are well illustrated in the changes of plan to which they subjected this unfortunate church. The length became the breadth, the isolated chapel of the Virgin, part of the main building; the choir, another chapel; and the High Altar was removed from the eastern to the northern end, where a new choir had been built for its reception. This confusion of plan was carried out with logical confusion of style and detail. The façade has[Pg 62] Corinthian columns of the XVII century; the nave is said to be “transition Gothic,” the choir is decorated with mural paintings, and the High Altar, a work of Révoil, adds to the banalities of the XVII and XVIII centuries a rich incongruity of which the XIX has no reason to be proud. The whole interior is so full of naves of unequal length, and radiating chapels, of arches of differing forms, tastes, and styles, that it defies concise description and is unworthy of serious consideration. Provence has modest Cathedrals of small architectural significance, but except Sainte-Réparate of Nice, it has none so chaotic and commonplace as Sainte-Marie-Majeure of Toulon.
Fréjus, which claims to be “the oldest city in France,” was one of the numerous trading ports of the Phœnician, and later, during the period of her civic grandeur, an arsenal of the Roman navy. Her most interesting ruins are the Coliseum, the Theatre, the old Citadel, and the Aqueduct, suggestions of a really great city of the long-gone past. Fréjus lost prestige with the decadence of the Empire, and after a destruction by the Saracens in the X century, Nature gave the blow which finally crushed her when the sea retreated a mile, and her old Roman light-house was left to overlook merely a long stretch of barren, sandy land. Owing to this stranded, inland position, she has escaped both the dignity of a modern sea-port and the prostitution of a Rivieran resort, and is a little dead city, the seat of an ancient Provençal “Cathedral of the Sea.” This Cathedral is[Pg 63] largely free from XVII and XVIII century disfigurements; and the pity is that having escaped this, a French church's imminent peril, it should have become so built around that the character of the exterior is almost lost. The façade is severely plain, an uninteresting re-building of 1823, but the carved wood of its portals is beautiful. The towers, as in other maritime Cathedrals of Provence, recall the perils and dangers of their days; and these towers of Fréjus, although none the less practically defensive, have a more churchly appearance than those of Antibes, Grasse, and Vence. Over the vestibuled entrance rises the western tower. Its heavy, rectangular base is the support of a super-structure which was replaced in the XVI century by one more in keeping with conventional ecclesiastical models. Then the windows of the base, whose rounded arches are still traceable, were walled in; and the new octagonal stage with high windows of its own was completed by a tile-covered spire. The more interesting tower is that which surmounts the apse. This was the lookout, facing the sea, the really vital defence of the church. Its upper room was a storage place for arms and ammunition, and on the side which faces the city was open, with a broad, pointed arch. Above, the tower ends in machiolated battlements and presents a very strong and stern front seaward, perhaps no stronger, but more artistic and grim than towers of other Provençal Cathedrals.
The entrance of the church is curiously complicated. To the left is the little baptistery; directly before one, a narrow stairway which leads to the Cloister; and on the[Pg 64] right, a low-arched vestibule which opens into the nave of the Cathedral. The interior of Saint-Etienne is dark and somewhat gloomy, but that is an inherent trait of a fortress-church, for every added inch of window-opening brought an ell of danger. The nave is unusually low and broad, and its buttressed piers are of immense weight, ending severely in a plain, moulded band. On these great piers rest the cross-vaults of the roof and the broad arches of the wall. The north aisle, disproportionately narrow, is a later addition. Behind the altar is a true Provençal apse, shallow and rectangular, and beyond its rounded roof opens the smaller half-dome. Architecturally, this is an interesting interior; but the traveller who has not time to spend in musings will fail to see it in its original intention;—cold, severely plain, heavy, with perhaps too many arch-lines, but sober and simple. A futile wooden wainscot now surrounds the church and breaks its wall space, liberal coats of whitewash conceal the building material, and taking from the church the severity of its stone, give it an appearance of poor deprecatory bareness.[Pg 65]
Near the entrance of the Cathedral is its most ancient portion, the baptistery, formerly a building apart, but now an integral part of the church itself. It is perhaps the most interesting Christian monument in Fréjus, a reminder of those early centuries when, in France as in Italy, the little baptistery was the popular form of Christian architectural expression. Here it has the very usual octagonal shape; the arches are upheld by grayish columns of granite with capitals of white marble, and in the centre stands the font. [Pg 67]Between the columns are small recesses, alternately rectangular and semi-domed, and above all, is a modern dome and lantern. Structurally interesting, and reminiscent of the stately baptistery of Aix, the effect of this little chamber, like the church's interior, is marred by the whitewashes from whose industrious brushes nothing but the grayish columns have escaped. And here again, the traveller who would see the builders' work, free from the disfigurements of time, must pause and imagine.
Yet even imagination seems powerless before the desecration of the little Cloister. Charming it must have been to have entered its quiet walks, with their slender columns of white marble, to have seen the quaint old well in the little, sun-lit close. Now, between the slender columns, boards have been placed which shut out light and sun. The traveller sat down on an old wheel-barrow, waiting till he could see in the dim and misty light. All around him was forgetfulness of the Cloister's holy uses; signs of desecration and neglect. One end of the cloister-walk was a thoroughfare, where the wheel-barrow had worn its weary way; and even in the deserted corners there was the dust and dirt of a work-a-day world. The beautiful little capitals of the slender columns rose from among the boards, clipped and worn; above, he dimly saw the curious wooden ceiling which would seem to have taken the place of the usual stone vaulting; through chinks of the plank-wall he caught glimpses of a little close; and at length, having seen the most melancholy of “Cathedrals of the Sea,” in its disguise of whitewash, decay, and misuse, he went his way.[Pg 68]
That part of the southern coast of France called the Riviera seems now only to evoke visions of the most beautiful banality; of a life more artificial than the stage—which at least aims to present reality—transplanted to a scene of such incomparable loveliness that Nature herself adds a new and exquisite sumptuousness to the luxury of civilisation. The Riviera means a land of many follies and every vice;—each folly so delicious, each vice so regal, they seem to be sought and desired of all men. Where else can be seen in such careless magnificence Dukes of Russia with their polish of manner and their veiled insolence; Englishmen correct and blasé; Americans a bit vociferous and truly amused; great ladies of all ages and manners; adventurers high and low; and the beautiful, sparkling women of no name, bravely dressed and barbarously jewelled? Such is the Riviera of to-day; the life imposed upon it by hordes of foreign idlers in a land whose warmth and luxuriance may have lent itself but too easily to the vicious and frivolous pleasures for which they have made it notorious, but a land which has no native history that is effeminate, nor any so unworthy as its exotic present. “The Riviera” may be Nice, Beaulieu, and their like, but the Provençal Mediterranean and its neighbouring territory have been the fatherland of warriors in real mail and of princes of real power, of the Emperor Pertinax of pagan times, of those who fought successfully against Mahmoud and Tergament, and of many Knights of Malta, long the “Forlorn Hope” of Christendom.[Pg 69]
Discreetly hidden from vulgar eyes that delight in the architecture of the modern caravanserai, are the ruins of these older days—Amphitheatres, Fountains, Temples, and Aqueducts of the Romans; the Castles, Abbeys, and Cathedrals of mediæval times. Here are the larger number, if not the most interesting, of those curious churches of the sea, which protected the French townsman of the Mediterranean coast from the rapacity of sea-rovers and pirates, and many more orthodox enemies of the Middle Ages.
From the great beauty of its situation, the small city of Antibes is at once a type of the old régime and of the new. Lying on the sea, with a background of snow-capped mountains, it has not entirely escaped the fate of Nice; neither has it yet lost all its old Provençal characteristics. It is a pathetic compromise between the quaint reality of the old and the blatancy of the new. The little parish church is of the very far past, having lost its Cathedral rank over six hundred years ago to Sainte-Marie in Grasse, a town scarcely younger than its own. It is the type of the church of this coast, with its unpretentious smallness, its strength, and its disfiguring restorations; and it is, especially in comparison with Vence and Grasse, of small architectural interest. The façade, and the double archway which connects the church and the tower, are of the unfortunate XVIII century, the older exterior is monotonous, and the interior, an unpleasing confusion of forms.
The real interest of the little Cathedral is its ancient military strength, neither very grand nor very imposing, but very real to the enemy who hundreds of years ago hurled[Pg 70] himself against the hard, plain stones. From this view-point, the mannered façade and the inharmonious interior matter but little. Toward the foe, whose sail might have arisen on the horizon at any moment, the protecting church presented the heavy rounded walls and safely narrowed windows of its three apses, and behind them the military omen of the severe, rectangular tower. High in every one of its four sides, seaward and landward, was a window, from which many a watcher must have looked and strained anxious eyes. This is the significance of the little sea-side Cathedral, this the story its tower suggests. And now when the sea is sailed by peaceful ships, and the Cathedral only a place of pious worship, the tower with its gaping windows is the only[Pg 71] salient reminder of the ancient dignity of the church; the reminder to an indifferent generation of the days when Antibes fulfilled to Christians the promise of her old, pagan name, Antipolis, “sentinel” of the perilous sea.
The situation of its Cathedral reveals a Nice of which but little is written, the city of a people who live in the service of those whose showy, new villas and hotels stretch along the promenades and lie dotted on the hills in the Nice of “all the world.” Besides this exotic city, there is “the Nice of the Niçois,” a small district of dark, crowded streets that are too full of the sordid struggles of competing work-people to be truly picturesque. Here, in the XVI century, when the Citadel of Nice was enlarged and the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption destroyed, the Church of Sainte-Réparate was re-built, and succeeded to the episcopal rank. Standing on a little open square, surrounded by small shops and the poor homes of trades-folk, it seems in every sense a church of the people. Here the native Niçois, gay, industrious, mercurial, and dispossessed of his town, may feel truly at home. Finished in the most exuberant rococo style, it is an edifice from which all architectural or religious inspiration is conspicuously absent. It is a revel of luxurious bad taste; a Cathedral in Provence, a Cathedral by the Sea, but neither Provençal nor Maritime,—rather a product of that Italian taste which has so profoundly vitiated both the morals and the architecture of all the Riviera.
CATHEDRALS OF THE HILL-TOWNS.
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.[Pg 73]
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[Pg 74] 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.[Pg 75] 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.
Well 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;[Pg 76] 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.[Pg 77]
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 [Pg 79]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.[Pg 80] 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.[Pg 81]
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[Pg 82] 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.
If 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[Pg 83] 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[Pg 84] 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[Pg 85] 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[Pg 86] 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 [Pg 87]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[Pg 88] 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.
A 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[Pg 89] 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[Pg 90]—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,[Pg 91] 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 [Pg 92]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.[Pg 93]
[Pg 95] 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.
He who is unloving of the past may well rush by its treasures in a puffing automobile, he who is bored by olden thoughts can hurry on by rail, but the man who wishes to know the old hill-towns of France, to see them as they seemed to their[Pg 96] makers, and realise their one-time magnificence and strength, must walk from one town to the next, and climb their steep heights; must see great towers rise before him, great walls loom above him, and realise how grandly strong these places were when it was man to man and sword to sword, strength against strength. He must arrive, dust-covered, at the cities' gates or drive into their narrow streets on the small coach which still passes through,—for they are of the times when great men rode and peasants walked and steam was all unknown. Then he will realise how very large the world once was, how far from town to town; and once within those high, protecting walls, he will understand why the citizen of mediæval days found in his town a world sufficient to itself, and why he was so often well content to spend his life at home.
The power and the force of an isolated, self-concentrated interest is well illustrated in the history of the free cities of the Middle Ages, and Grasse may be counted one of these. Counts she had in name; but the Bérengers and Queen Jeanne had granted her charters which she had the power to keep; she was once wealthy enough to declare war with Pisa, and in the XII century the leaders of her self-government were “Consuls by the grace of God alone.” Therefore when Antibes continued to be greatly menaced by blasphemous pirates, the Bishopric was removed to Grasse, rich, strong, and safe behind the hills, where it endured from 1244, through all the perils of the centuries, until by a pen-stroke Napoleon wiped it out in 1801.[Pg 97]
To come to Grasse on foot or in the stage, will well repay the traveller of old-fashioned moods and fancies. Afar, her houses seem to crowd together, as they used to crowd within the walls, her red roofs rise fantastically one above the other, and higher than them all stands the Cathedral with its firm, square tower. Such must have been old Grasse, perched on the summit of her hill. But once inside the town, these illusions cease. Here are the hotels and the Casino of a thermal station, and the factories of a new world. The traveller finds that the broad upper boulevards are filled with tourists and smart English visitors; and in the narrow streets pert factory-hands come noisily from work. Still he climbs on toward the Cathedral,[Pg 98] through tortuous streets and little alley-ways. And in the gloomiest of them all there is no odour of a stale antiquity, but the perfume of a garden-full of roses, of a thousand orange-blossoms, and of locusts, honey-sweet, and he begins to think himself enchanted. He feels the dark, old houses are unreal, as if, instead of cobble-stones beneath his feet, there must be the soft and tender grass of Araby the Blest. Such is the magic of a trade, the perfume industry of Grasse that for so many hundreds of years has made her meanest streets full of refreshing fragrance.
Breathless from the climb, the traveller stepped at length into the little square, before a most ungainly Cathedral. “Chiefly built in the XII century,” it may have been, but so bedizened by the Renaissance that its heavy old Provençal walls and massive pillars seem to exist merely as supports for additions or unreasonable decorations of a poor Italian style. A certain Monseigneur of the XVII century re-built the choir in a deep, rectangular form; another prelate enlarged the church proper and ruined it by constructing a tribune over the aisles, and desiring the revenues of a new burial-place, he ordered Vauban to accomplish the daring construction of a crypt. Still another Bishop with like architectural tastes built a large new chapel which opens from the south aisle; and with these additions and XVIII century changes in the façade, the original style of the church was obscured. In spite of the pitiful remains of dignity which its three aisles, its firm old pillars, and its height still give to the interior, it is as a whole so mean a building that it has fittingly lost the title of Cathedral.[Pg 99]
Everything which surrounds the Cathedral of Avignon, its situation, its city, its history, is so full of romance and glamour that it is only after very sober second thought one realises that the church itself is the least of the papal buildings which majestically overtower the Rhone, or of those royal ruins which face them as proudly on the opposite bank of the river. Yet no church in Provence is richer in tradition, and in history more romantic than tradition.
The foundation of this church goes back to the first Avignon, a small colony of river-fishermen which gave way before the Romans, who established a city, Avernio, on the great rocky hill two hundred feet above the Rhone. Some hundreds of years later the first Christian missionaries to Gaul landed near the mouth of this river,—Mary the mother of James, Saint Sara the patron of gypsies, Lazarus, his sister Martha, and Saint Maximin. Before these storm-tossed Saints lay the fair and pagan country of Provence, the scene of their future mission; and if tradition is to be further believed, each went his way, to work mightily for the sacred cause. Maximin lived in the town that bears his name, Lazarus became the first Bishop of Marseilles, and Saint Martha ascended the Rhone as far as Avignon[Pg 102] and built near the site of the present Cathedral an oratory in honour of the Virgin “then living on the earth.” Two early churches, of which this chapel was perhaps a part, were destroyed in the Saracenic sieges of the VIII century; an inscription in the porch of the present Cathedral records the very interesting mediæval account of its re-building and re-consecration nearly a hundred years later. It was, so runs the tale, the habit of a devout woman to pray in the church every night; and after the Cathedral had been finished by the generous aid of Charlemagne, she happened there at midnight, and witnessed the descent of Christ in wondrous, shining light. There at the High Altar, surrounded by ministering angels, he dedicated the Cathedral to His Mother, Our Lady of Cathedrals; and so it has been called to the present day. If it is an impossible and ungrateful task to disprove that the re-construction, or at least the re-founding of this Cathedral was the work of Charlemagne, so munificent a patron and dutiful a son of the Church, to prove it is equally impossible. A martyrology of the XI century speaks of a dedication in 1069, but as this ceremony had been preceded by another extensive re-building, and was followed by many other changes, the oldest portions of the present church are to be most accurately ascribed to the XI, XII, and XIV centuries. The additions of the centuries following the papal return to Rome have greatly changed the appearance of the church. A large chapel, built in 1506, gives almost a northern nave. In 1671, Archbishop Ariosto thought the interior would be gracefully improved by a Renaissance gallery which should[Pg 103] encircle the entire nave from one end of the choir to the other. To accomplish this new work, the old main piers below the gallery were cut away, the wall arches were changed, and columns and piers, almost entirely new, arose to support a shallow, gracefully balustraded balcony and its bases of massive carving. Nine years later a new Archbishop added to the north side a square XVII century chapel, richly ornamental in itself, but entirely out of harmony with the fundamental style of the church. Other chapels, less distinguished, which have been added from time to time, line the nave both north and south, and all are excrescent to the original plan. Of the exterior, only the façade retains its primitive character. The side-walls, “entirely featureless,” as has been well said, “reflect only the various periods of the chapels which have been added to the Cathedral,” and the apse was re-built in 1671, in a heavy, uninteresting form.[Pg 105]
These additions, superimposed ornamentations, and rebuildings, together with the very substantial substructure of the primitive Cathedral, form to-day a small church of unimpressive, conglomerate style, and except for its history, unnoteworthy. It is therefore a church whose interest is almost wholly of the past; and the traveller goes back in imagination, century after century, to the era of Papal residency, when the Cathedral was not only ecclesiastically important, but architecturally in its best and purest form. This church, which Clement V found on his removal to Avignon, and which may still be easily traced, was of the simple, primitive Provençal style. No dates of that period[Pg 106] are sufficiently accurate to rely upon; but its interest lies not so much in chronology as in its portrayal of the general type. The interior is the usual little hall church of the XI century, with its aisle-less nave of five bays, and plain piers supporting a tunnelled roof, with double vault arches. Beyond the last bay, over the choir, is the Cathedral's octagonal dome, and from the rounded windows of its lantern comes much of the light of the interior, which is sombre and without other windows of importance.
The façade is architecturally one of the most significant parts of the church. Above the portal the wall is supported on either side by plain heavy buttresses, and directly continued by the solid bulk of the tower. In 1431 this tower replaced the original one which fell in the earthquake of 1405. It is conjecturally similar, a heavy rectangle which quite overweighs the church; plain, with its stiff pilasters and two stories of rounded windows; without grace or proper proportion, but pleasing by the unblemished severity of its lines. Above the balustrade with which the tower may be properly said to terminate, the religious art of the XIX century has erected as its contribution to the Cathedral a series of steps, an octagon, and a colossal, mal-proportioned statue of the Virgin. These additions are inharmonious; and the finest part of the façade is the porch, so classic in detail that it was formerly supposed to be Roman, a work of the Emperor Constantine. Like the rest of the church, its general structure is plain and somewhat severe, with small, richly carved details, in this instance closely Corinthian. The rounded portal of entrance[Pg 107] is an entablature, enclosed as it were by two supporting columns; and above, in the pointed pediment, is a circular opening curiously foreshadowing that magnificent development of the North—the rose-window. Passing through the vestibule, whose tunnel-vault supports the tower, the minor portal appears, almost a replica of the outer door, and the whole forms an unusual mode of entrance, graceful in detail, ponderous in general effect. Far behind the tower of the façade rises the last significant feature of the exterior, the little lantern. It is an octagon with Doric and Corinthian motifs, continuing the essential characteristics of the interior, and exceedingly typical of Provence.
From an old print [To List]
Into this church, with its few, unusually classic details,[Pg 108] its Provençal simplicity, its very modest size and plainness, the munificence of papal pomp was introduced. This was in 1308, an era of papal storm and stress. Not ten years before, Boniface VIII, with the tradition of Canossa spurring his haughty ambitions, had launched a bull against Philip III, whom he knew to be a bad king and whom he was to find an equally bad, rebellious Christian. “God,” said the Prelate, from Rome, “has constituted us, though unworthy, above kings and kingdoms, to seize, destroy, disperse, build, and plant in His name and by His doctrine. Therefore, do not persuade thyself that thou hast no superior, and that thou art not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy; he who thinks thus is insensate, he who maintains it is infidel.”
Past indeed was the time of Henry of Germany, long past the proud day when a Pope received an Emperor who knelt and waited in the snow. Philip burned the Bull; and to prevent other like fulminations, sent an agent into Italy. Gathering a band, he found the aged Pontiff at Anagni, his birthplace, seated on a throne, crowned with the triple crown, the Cross in one hand and in the other Saint Peter's Keys, the terrible Keys of Heaven and Hell. They called on him to abdicate, but Boniface thought of Christ his Lord, and cried out in defiant answer, “Here is my neck, here is my head. Betrayed like Jesus Christ, if I must die like him, I will at least die Pope.” For reply, Sciarra Colonna, one of his own Roman Counts, struck him in the face. Buffeted by a noble, and openly defied by a king, Boniface died “of shame and anger.” A month later, this same king[Pg 109] rejoiced, if nothing more, at the death of the Pope's successor; and in the dark forests of Saint-Jean-d'Angély, Philip bargained and sold the great Tiara to a Gascon Archbishop who, if Villani speaks truly, “threw himself at the royal feet, saying, 'It is for thee to command and for me to obey; such will ever be my disposition!'” As was not unnatural, the will of the French king was that the Pope should remain within the zone of royal influence. So Clement lived at Bordeaux and at Poitiers, and finally retired to the County of Venaissin which the Holy See possessed by right, and established the pontifical court at Avignon.
This transfer of the papal residence to Avignon has left many and deep traces on the history of French Catholicism. The Holy See was no longer far remote; the French ecclesiastic desirous of promotion had no dangerous mountains to traverse, no strange city to enter, no foreign Pontiff to besiege, ignorant or indifferent to his claims. The next successor of Saint Peter would logically be a Frenchman, and there was not only a possibility, but a probability for every man of note, that he might be either the occupant of the Sacred Chair or its favoured supporter. So Avignon became a city of priests as Rome had been before her; and as France was the richest country in Europe and the Church regally wealthy, splendour, luxury, and constant religious spectacles rejoiced the city, and Bishop, Archbishop, and Abbot, brazenly neglecting the duties of their Sees, lived here and were seldom “in residence.” Every one had a secret ambition. Of such a situation, the Popes[Pg 110] were not slow to reap the benefits. Difference of wealth, which brought difference of position, counted much and was keenly felt. Abbots of smaller monasteries found themselves inferior to Bishops, especially in freedom from papal interference; while from the inherent wealth and power of their foundations, the heads of the great monasteries ranked sometimes with Archbishops, sometimes even with Cardinals. The Pope had the right to elevate an Abbey or a Priory into a Bishopric, and those who could offer the “gratification” or the “provocative,” might reasonably hope for the desired elevation which at once increased their local importance, belittled a neighbouring diocese, and freed them to some extent from the direct intermeddling of the Pope. The applications for such an increase of power became numerous, and by 1320 a number of Benedictine Abbeys had been made Bishoprics. Their creation greatly decreased the direct and intimate power of the Papacy, but temporarily increased the papal treasury; and John XXII, who left ten million pieces of silver and fifteen million in gold with his Florentine bankers, seems to have thought philosophically, “After us, the deluge.” [Pg 111]
Another favourite diplomatic and financial device, which was invented by these famous Popes of Avignon, was the system of the “Commende,” which enabled relatives of nobles and all those whom it was desirable to placate, not alone ecclesiastics, but mere laymen and bloody barons, to become “Commendatory Abbots” or “Commendatory Priors,” and to receive at least one-third of the monastery's revenues, without being in any way responsible for the [Pg 113]monastery's welfare. This care was left to a Prior or a Sub-prior, a sort of clerical administrator who, crippled in means and in influence, was sometimes unable, sometimes unwilling, to carry out the duties and beneficences of past ages, and who was always the victim of a great injustice. The depths of uselessness to which this infamous practice reduced monastic establishments may be inferred, when it is remembered that before the XVIII century the famous Abbey of La Baume had had thirteen Commendatory Abbots, and that the bastards of Louis XIV were Commendatory Priors in their infancy.
The Popes found the Commende useful, not only as a means of income, but as a method—at once secure and lucrative—of gaining to their cause the great feudal lords of France, and making the power of these lords an added buffer, as it were, between Avignon and the grasping might of the French Kings. For although the Popes were under “the special protection” of the Kings, it was as sheep under the special protection of a shearer, and they found that they must protect themselves against a too “special” and royal fleecing. For they did not always agree that—
Haunted by the humiliation of their heaven-sent power, caged in “Babylonish captivity,” it is conceivable that the Popes were too occupied or, perhaps too distracted, to object[Pg 114] to the unsuitable modesty of Notre-Dame-des-Doms. When a Pope swept forth from his Cathedral, new-crowned, to give “urbis et orbi” his first pontifical benediction, his eye glanced, it is true, on the crowds prostrate before him, before the church, awed and breathless; but it fell lingeringly—it was irresistibly drawn—across the swift Rhone to the town of the kings who had defied his power, to the royal city of Villeneuve, and to the strong tower of Philip the Fair, standing proudly in the sunlight. Would it be thought strange if their thoughts wandered, or if the portraits of the “French Popes” which hang about the Cathedral[Pg 115] walls at Avignon, show more worldly preoccupation than is becoming to the successors of Saint Peter and Vicars of Christ?
Little indeed in the days of their residency did the Popes add to Notre-Dame-des-Doms. A fragile, slender marvel of Gothic architecture, the tomb of John XXII, was placed in the nave before the altar; and a monument to Benedict XII was raised in the church. But their Holinesses incited others in Avignon to good works so successfully that Rabelais laughingly called it the “Ringing city” of churches, convents, and monasteries. The bells of Saint-Pierre, Saint-Symphorien, Saint-Agricol, Sainte-Claire, and Saint-Didier chimed with those of chapels and religious foundations; the Grey Penitents, Black Penitents, and White Penitents, priests, and nuns walked the streets, and Avignon grew truly papal. Clement V and his successors proceeded to the safeguarding of their temporal welfare in truly noble fashion; and scarcely fifty years later they had become so well pleased with their new residence that the magnificent Clement VI refused to leave in spite of the supplications of Petrarch and Rienzi and a whole deputation of Romans.
During the reign of this Pontiff, the Papal Court became one of the gayest in Christendom. Clement was frankly, joyously voluptuous; and his life seems one moving pageant in which luxurious banquets, beautiful women, and ecclesiastical pomps succeeded each other. The lovely Countess of Turenne sold his preferments and benefices, the immense treasure of John XXII was his, and he showered such benefits[Pg 116] on a grateful family that of the five Cardinals who accompanied his corpse from Avignon, one was his brother, one his cousin, and three his nephews; and that the Huguenots who violated his tomb at La-Chaise-Dieu, should have used his skull as a wine-cup, seems an horrible, but not an unfitting mockery. It was in vain that Petrarch hotly wrote, “the Pope keeps the Church of Jesus Christ in shameful exile.” The desire for return to Rome had passed.
Avignon was not an original nor a plenary possession of the Holy Fathers, but “the fairest inheritance of the Bérengers,” and it was from that family that half of the city had to be wrested—or obtained. Now the lords of Provence were Kings of Naples and Sicily, and therefore vassals of the Holy See. For when the Normans took these Southern states from the Greeks and thereby incurred the jealousy of all Italy, they had warily placed themselves under the protection of the Pope and agreed to hold their new possessions as a papal investiture. It happened at this time that the vassal of the Pope in Naples and in Sicily was the beauteous “Reino Joanno,” the heiress of Provence. What she was no writer could describe in better words than these, “with extreme beauty, with youth that does not fade, red hair that holds the sunlight in its tangles, a sweet voice, poetic gifts, regal peremptoriness, a Gallic wit, genuine magnanimity, and rhapsodical piety, with strange indecorum and bluntness of feeling under the extremes of splendour and misery, just such a lovely, perverse, bewildering woman was she, great granddaughter[Pg 117] of Raymond-Bérenger, fourth Count of Provence,—the pupil of Boccaccio, the friend of Petrarch, the enemy of Saint Catherine of Siena, the most dangerous and most dazzling woman of the XIV century. So typically Provençal was this Queen's nature, that had she lived some centuries later, she might have been Mirabeau's sister. The same 'terrible gift of familiarity,' the same talent of finding favour and swaying popular assemblages, the same sensuousness, bold courage, and great generosity were found in this early orphaned, thrice widowed heiress of Provence. To this day, the memory of the Reino Joanno lives in her native land, associated with numbers of towers and fortresses, the style of whose architecture attests their origin under her reign. It says much for her personal fascinations that far from being either cursed or blamed she is still remembered and praised. The ruins of Gremaud, Tour Drainmont, of Guillaumes, and a castle near Roccaspervera, all bear her name: at Draguignan and Flagose, they tell you her canal has supplied the town with water for generations: in the Esterels, the peasants who got free grants of land, still invoke their benefactress. At Saint-Vallier, she is blessed because she protected the hamlet near the Siagne from the oppression of the Chapters of Grasse and Lérins. At Aix and Avignon her fame is undying because she dispelled some robber-bands; at Marseilles she is popular because she modified and settled the jurisdiction of Viscounts and Bishops. Go up to Grasse and in the big square where the trees throw a flickering shadow over the street-traders, you will see built in a vaulted passage a flight[Pg 118] of stone steps, steps which every barefoot child will tell you belong to the palace of 'La Reino Joanno.' Walls have been altered, gates have disappeared, but down those time-worn steps once paced the liege lady of Provence, the incomparable 'fair mischief' whose guilt ... must ever remain one of the enigmas of history.” This “enigma” has strange analogies to one which has puzzled and impassioned the writers of many generations, the mystery of that other “fair mischief” of a later century, Mary Queen of Scots. Like Mary, Jeanne was accused of the murder of her young husband, and being pressed by the vengeance of his brother—no less a person than the King of Hungary,—she decided to retreat to her native Provence and appeal to the Pope, her gallant and not over-scrupulous suzerain. “Jeanne landed at Ponchettes,” continues the writer who has so happily described her, “and the consuls came to assure her of their devotion. 'I come,' replied the heiress, whose wit always suggested a happy phrase, 'to ask for your hearts and nothing but your hearts.' As she did not allude to her debts, the populace threw up their caps; the Prince de Monaco, just cured of his wound at Crécy, placed his sword at her service; and the Baron de Bénil, red-handed from a cruel murder, besought her patronage which, perhaps from a fellow-feeling, she promised with great alacrity. At Grasse she won all hearts and made many more promises, and finally, arriving at Avignon, she found Clement covetous of the city and well-disposed to her. Yet morality obliged him to ask an explanation of her recent change of husbands, and before three Cardinals,[Pg 119] whom he appointed to be her judges, the Queen pleaded her own cause. Not a blush tinged her cheek, no tremor altered her melodious voice as she stood before the red-robed Princes of the Church and narrated, in fluent Latin, the story of the assassination of Andrew, the death of her child, and her marriage with the murderer, Louis of Tarento, who stood by her side. The wily Pope noted behind her the proud Provençal nobles, the Villeneuves and d'Agoults, the de Baux and the Lescaris, who brought the fealty of the hill-country, and who did not know that, having already sold her jewels to the Jews, their fair Queen was covenanting with the Pope for Avignon. The formal trial ended, the Pontiff solemnly declared the Queen to be guiltless,—and she granted him the city for eighty thousand pieces of gold.”
Clement enjoyed ownership in the same agreeable manner as his predecessors, “without the untying of purse-strings.”[Pg 120] Perhaps he used the purse's contents for the more pressing claim of the great Palace of which he built so large a part; perhaps he handed it, still filled, to Innocent VI who built the famous fortifications of Avignon and protected himself against the marauding “White Companies,” perhaps it was still untouched when Bertrand du Guesclin and his Grand Company stood before the gate and demanded “benediction, absolution, and two hundred thousand pounds.” “What!” the Pope is said to have cried, “must we give absolution, which here in Avignon is paid for, and then give money too—it is contrary to reason!” Du Guesclin replied to the bearer of these words, “Here are many who care little for absolution, and much for money,”—and Urban yielded.
Gregory XI, the last of the “French Popes,” returned to Rome, and at his death the “Great Schism” followed;—Clement VII, in Avignon, was recognised by France, Spain, Scotland, Sicily, and Cyprus; Urban VI, in Rome, by Italy, Austria, and England. The County Venaissin was ravaged by wars and the pests that come in their train. At length the Avignonnais, who had not enjoyed greater peace under their anointed rulers than under worldling Counts, rose against Pierre de Luna, the “Anti-pope” Benedict XIII, who fled. From that time no Pontiff entered the gates, and the city was administered by papal legates. In later days, in spite of the sacred character of its rulers and his own undoubted orthodoxy, Louis XIV seized Avignon several times; and Louis XV, in unfilial vengeance for the excommunication of the Duke of Parma, took possession[Pg 121] of the city. But it was not until after the beginning of the French Revolution, in 1791, that the Avignonnais themselves arose, chased the Vice-Legate of the Pope from the city, and appealed for union with France; and it was at this period that the Chapel of Sainte-Marthe, the Cloister, and the Chapter House were swept away. Thus ended the temporal power of the Papacy in France, planned for worldly profit and carried out with many sordid compromises;—a residency unnoted for great deeds or noble intentions and whose close marked the “Great Schism.”
To-day papal Avignon is become French Avignon, a pleasant city where the Provençal sun is hot and where the Mistral whistles merrily. Above the banks of the Rhone the simple Cathedral stands, with its priests still garbed in papal red, its Host still carried under the white papal panoply. Here also is the great Palace of the Popes, “which is indeed,” says Froissart, “the strongest and most magnificent house in the world.” And yet its grim walls suggest neither peace nor rest; and to him who recalls, this great, impressive pile tells neither of glories nor of triumphs. Bands of unbelieving Pastoureaux marched toward it; soldiers of the “White Companies” and soldiers of du Guesclin gazed mockingly at it; it was the prison of Rienzi, and the home of the harassed Popes who had ever before them, just across the river, the menacing tower of that “fair king” who had led them into “Babylonish captivity.”[Pg 122]
On 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.[Pg 123]
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[Pg 126] 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. [Pg 127]
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[Pg 129] 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.[Pg 131]
[Pg 133] 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[Pg 134] 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.
In 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.[Pg 135]
[Pg 137] Nearly eight hundred years later a traveller stood before the portal of this church. In the midst of his delighted study he suddenly felt the attraction of a pair of watchful eyes, and turned to find a peasant woman gazing fixedly[Pg 138] at him. In her strange fascination she had placed beside her, on the ground, two huge melons and a mammoth cabbage, and her wizened hands were folded before her, Sunday-fashion. She was a little witch of a woman, old and bent and brown.
“Yes, my good gentleman,” she said, “I have been looking at you,—five whole minutes of the clock, and much good it has done me. In these days of books and such fine learning there is not enough time spent before our door; and I who pass by it every day, year in, year out, I have watched well, and only two except yourself have ever studied it. The foreigners come with red books and look at them more than at the door itself,—they stay perhaps three minutes, and go off, shaking their wise heads. Our people, passing every day, see but a door, a place for going in and coming out.” She paused for breath.
“And what do you see?” asked the traveller.
“You ask me?” She smiled wisely. “But you know, since you are standing here and looking too. Listen!” And her old eyes began to gleam. “I'll tell you of a time before you were born. I was a child then; and we marched here every Sunday, other little girls and myself, and we stood before this door. And the nuns—it was often Sister Mary Dolorosa—told us the stories of these stones. See! Here is Our Lord Who loves all mankind, but has to judge us too;—and there is Saint-Trophime. But I cannot read, Monsieur. An old peasant woman has no time for such fine things, and you will laugh at me for telling you what you have in your books,—but I have them all here, here in[Pg 139] my heart, and many a time I too come to refresh my old memory, and to pray. Those pictures tell great lessons to those that have eyes to see them. Well, well-a-day, I must pick up my melons and begone, for I have taken up your time and said too much. But you will excuse it in an old woman who is good for little else than talking now.”
They parted in true French fashion, with “expressions of mutual esteem,” and the traveller turned to the portal which was still fulfilling its ancient mission of teaching and of making beautiful the House of God. Applied to a severe façade typical of the plainness of Provençal outer walls, this 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,[Pg 140] 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.
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, [Pg 143]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]
[Pg 147] 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.
CLOISTER-ARCHES.”—ARLES. [To List]
[Pg 148] 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.[Pg 149]
Alexandre Dumas has written of Arles: "Roman monuments form the soil; and about them, at their feet, in their shadow, in their crevasses, a second Gothic city has sprung—one knows not how—by the vegetative force of the religious civilisation of Saint Louis. Arles is the Mecca of archæologists.” It is also the Mecca of those who love to study people and customs, for, in spite of the railroad, and the consequent influx of “foreign French,” it has preserved the old græco-roman-saracenic type which has made its beautiful women so justly famous, and, underneath its Provençal gaieties, their classic origins may easily be traced. One should see the Roman Theatre, the solitary Aliscamps, by moonlight, the busy market in the[Pg 152] early day, the Cathedral at a Mass, and a fête at any time,—for
The 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[Pg 153] 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.
[Pg 155]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[Pg 156] 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.[Pg 157]
Leaving the train at the nearest railroad station, the traveller followed the winding Var, and he had scarcely walked four miles when he[Pg 159] 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.
DRAWBRIDGES.”—ENTREVAUX. [To List]
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[Pg 160] 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.[Pg 161]
[Pg 163]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[Pg 164] 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.[Pg 165]
The 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[Pg 168] 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. [Pg 169]
[Pg 171] 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-[Pg 172]merited repose, and returned to the Castle of Mirabeau,—to laugh at the townsfolk of Sisteron.
[Pg 175] 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.
NARROW STREETS.”—SISTERON. [To List]
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-[Pg 176]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[Pg 177] 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.
CATHEDRALS OF THE VALLEYS.
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[Pg 179] 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 unbeautiful. 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[Pg 180] 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.
It was growing dusk, of a spring evening, when the traveller arrived at Cavaillon and wandered about the narrow streets and came upon the Cathedral. Glimpses of an interesting dome and a turret-tower had appeared once or twice above the house-tops, leading him on with freshened interest, and there was still light enough for many first impressions when he arrived before the low cloister-door. But here was no place for peaceful meditation. An old woman, coiffed and bent, brushed past him as she entered, a chair in each hand; and as he effaced himself against the church wall, a younger woman went by, also chair-laden. Two or three others came, talking eagerly, little girls in all stages of excitement ran in and out, and little boys came and went, divided between assumed carelessness and a feeling[Pg 181] of unusual responsibility. Then a priest appeared on the threshold, not in meditation, but on business. Another, old and heavy, and panting, hurried in; and through the cloister-door, Monsieur le Curé, breviary in hand, prayed watchfully. A little fellow, running, fell down, and the priest sprang to lift him; the child was too small not to wish to cry, but too much in haste to stop for tears. The priest watched him with a kindly shrug and a smile as he ran on;—there was no time for laughing or crying, there was time for nothing but the mysterious matter in hand.
“What is it?” the traveller finally asked.
“Ah, Monsieur, to-morrow is the day of the First Communion. We all have just prayed, just confessed, in the church; and our parents are arranging their places. For to-morrow there will be crowds—everybody. You too, Monsieur, are coming perhaps? The Mass is at half-past six.”
Such was the living interest of the place that the traveller moved away without any very clear architectural impression of the Cathedral, except of the curiously narrow bell-turret and of the height of the dome.
He did not see the early Mass, but toward ten wandered again to the Cathedral and entered the cloister-door. It was a low-vaulted, sombre little Cloister which all the chattering, animated crowds could not brighten. Formerly two sides were gated off, and priests alone walked there. The other sides were public passage-ways to the church. Now only the iron grooves of the gates of separation remain, and the four walks were thronged with people. Little[Pg 182] girls in the white dresses of their First Communion, veiled and crowned with roses, were hurrying to their places; an old grandmother, with her arm around one of the little communicants, knelt by a column, gazing up to the Virgin of the cloister-close; proud and anxious parents led their children into church, and friends met and kissed on both cheeks. In one corner, an old woman was driving a busy trade in penny-worths of barley candy. Diminutive altar-[Pg 183]boys in white lace cassocks and red, fur-trimmed capes, offered religious papers for sale. It was a harvest day for beggars, and “for the love of the good God” many a sou was given into feeble dirty hands.
For a time the traveller walked about the Cloister, so tiny and worn a Cloister that on any other day it must have seemed melancholy indeed. So low a vaulting is not often found, massive and rounded and seeming to press, lowering, above the head. The columns, which help to support its weight, are short and heavy and thick, so worn that their capitals are sometimes only suggestive and sometimes meaningless. On one side the carving is distinctly Corinthian; on another altogether lacking. Between the columns, one could glance into a close so small that ten paces would measure its length. It was a charming little spot, all filled with flowers and plants that told of some one's constant, tender care. From above the nodding flowers and leaves rose the statue of the Madonna and the Child.
The tolling bell called laggards to Mass. With them, the traveller entered the church, and found it so crowded that it was only after receiving many knocks from incoming children, and sundry blows on the head and shoulders from ladies who carried their chairs too carelessly, after minutes of time and a store of patience, that he finally reached a haven, a corner of the Chapel of Saint-Véran. There, under the care of the Cathedral's Patron, he escaped further injuries and assisted at a long, interesting ceremony.
Mass had already begun, but the voice of the priest and the answering organ were lost in the movement of excited[Pg 184] friends, the murmur of questions, and the clatter of nailed shoes on the stone floor. A Suisse, halberd in hand, and gorgeous in tri-cornered hat and the red and gold of office, kept the aisle-ways open with firm but kind insistence; and the priests who were directing the children in the body of the church, were wise enough to overlook the disorder, which was not irreverence, but interest. For days, everybody had been thinking of this ceremony; everybody wanted “good places.” But few found them. For the little nave of the church was chiefly given up to the communicants. They sat on long benches, facing each other. The boys, sixty or seventy of them, were nearest the Altar; the girls, even more numerous, nearest the door. A young priest walked between the rows of boys and the old, panting Father directed the girls.
The whole interior of the church, 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[Pg 185] 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[Pg 186] 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.[Pg 187]
Few of the Cathedral-churches of the Midi are without holy relics, but none is more famous, more revered, and more authentic a place of pilgrimage than the Basilica of Apt. It came about in this way, says local history. When Martha, Lazarus, and the Holy Marys of the Gospels landed in France, they brought with them the venerated body of Saint Anne, the Virgin's Mother; and Lazarus, being a Bishop, kept the holy relic at his episcopal seat of Marseilles. Persecutions arose, and dangers innumerable; and for safety's sake the Bishop removed Saint Anne's body to Apt and sealed it secretly in the wall. For centuries, Christians met and prayed in the little church, unconscious of the wonder-working relic hidden so near them; and it was only through a miracle, in Charlemagne's time and some say in his presence, that the holy body was discovered. This is the history which a sacristan recites to curious pilgrims as he leads them to the sub-crypt.
The sub-crypt of Sainte-Anne, one of the earliest of Gallo-Roman “churches,” is not more than a narrow aisle; its low vault seems to press over the head; the air is damp and chill; and the one little candle which the patient sacristan moves to this side and to that, shows the plain, un-ornamented stone-work and the undoubted masonry of Roman times. It was part of the Aqueduct which carried water to the Theatre in Imperial days, and had become a chapel in the primitive Christian era. At the end which is curved as a choir is a heavy stone, used as an altar; and high in the wall is the niche where the body of the church's[Pg 190] patron lay buried for those hundreds of years. It is a gloomy, cell-like place, most curious and most interesting; and as the traveller saw faith in the earnest gaze of some of his fellow-visitors, and doubt in the smiles of others, he wondered what ancient ceremonials, secret Masses, or secret prayers had been said in this tiny chamber, and what rows of phantom-like worshippers had filed in and out the dark corridor.
Directly above is the higher upper crypt of the church, a diminutive but true choir, with its tiny altar and ambulatory,—a jewel of the Romanesque, heavy and plain and beautifully proportioned, with columns and vaulting in perfect miniature. This, from its absolute purity of style, is the most interesting part of the church; and being a crypt, it is also the most difficult to see. In vain the sacristan ran from side to side with his little candle, in vain the traveller gazed and peered,—the little church was full of shadows and mysteries, dark and lost under the weight of the great choir above.[Pg 191]
Even the main body of the church, above ground, is dimly lighted by small, rounded windows above the arches of the nave, and from the dome of Saint Anne's Chapel. Doubtless, on Sundays after High Mass, when the great doors are opened, the merry sun of Provence casts its cheerful rays far up the nave. But this is a church which is the better for its shadows. A Romanesque aisle of the IX or X century, built by that same Bishop Alphant who had seen the construction of the little crypt church, a central nave of the XI century, Romanesque in conception, and a north [Pg 193]aisle of poor Provençal Gothic make a large but inharmonious interior. Restoration following restoration, chapels of the XVIII century, new vaultings, debased and conglomerate Gothic, and spectacular decorations of gilded wood have destroyed the architectural value and real beauty of the Cathedral's interior. Yet in the dim light, which is the light of its every-day life, the great height of the church and its sombre massiveness are not without impressiveness.
The exterior dominates the city, but it is so hopelessly confused and commonplace that its natural dignity is lost. The heavy arch which supports the clock tower forms an arcade across a narrow street and makes it picturesque without adding dignity to the church itself. The walls are unmeaning, often hidden by buildings, and there is not a portal worthy of description. There is the dome of Saint Anne's Chapel with a huge statue of the Patron, and the lantern of the central dome ending in a pointed roof; but each addition to the exterior seems only an ignorant or a spiteful accentuation of the general architectural confusion.
To the faithful Catholic, the interest of Sainte-Anne of Apt lies in its wonderful and glorious relics. Here are the bodies of Saint Eléazer and Sainte Delphine his wife, a couple so pious that every morning they dressed a Statue of the Infant Jesus, and every night they undressed it and laid it to rest in a cradle. There is also the rosary of Sainte Delphine whose every bead contained a relic; and before the Revolution there were other treasures innumerable. During many years Apt has been the[Pg 194] pilgrim-shrine of the Faithful, and great and small offerings of many centuries have been laid before the miracle-working body of the Virgin's sainted Mother.
By Benzoni. [To List]
The most famous of those who came praying and bearing gifts was Anne of Austria, whose petition for the gift of a son, an heir for France, was granted in the birth of Louis XIV. In gratitude, the Queen enriched the church by vestments wrought in thread of gold and many sacred ornaments; and at length she commanded Mansart to replace the little chapel in which she had prayed, by a larger and more sumptuous one, a somewhat uninteresting structure in the showy style of the XVII century, which is now the resting-place of Saint Anne. In this chapel is the most beautiful of the church's treasures which, strange to say, is a piece of modern sculpture given by the present “Monseigneur of Avignon.” It is small, and[Pg 195] badly placed on a marble altar of discordant toning, with a draped curtain of red gilt-fringed velvet for its background. Yet in spite of these inartistic surroundings it has lost none of its tender charm. Seated, with a scroll on her knees, the aged mother is earnestly teaching the young Virgin who stands close by her side. The slender old hand with its raised forefinger emphasises the lesson, and the loving expression of the wrinkled, ascetic face, the attentiveness of the Virgin and her slim young figure, make a touching picture, and a beautiful example of the power of the modern chisel. Yet faith in shrines and miraculous power is not, in this XX century, as pure nor as universal as in the days of the past; and Faith, in Provençal Apt which possesses so large a part of the Saint's body, is not as simple, and therefore not as strong as in Breton Auray which has but a part of her finger. Republicanism in the south country is not too friendly to the Church, kings and queens no longer come with prodigal gifts, and Sainte-Anne of Apt has not the peasant strength of Sainte-Anne of Auray. And in spite of the great feast-day of July, in spite of Aptoisian pride, in spite of the devotion and prayers of faithful worshippers, the Cathedral of Apt is a church of past rather than of present glories.
Just as the church-bells were chiming the morning Angelus, and the warm sun was rising on a day of the early fall, a traveller drove out of old Manosque. He had no gun,—therefore he had not come for the hunting; he had no brass-bound, black boxes, and therefore could not be a[Pg 196] “Commis.” What he might be, he well knew, was troubling the brain of the broad-backed man sitting before him, who, with many a long-drawn “Ou-ou-u-u-” was driving a fat little horse. But native courtesy conquered natural curiosity and they drove in silence to the long, fine bridge that spans the river of evil repute:“Parliament, Mistral, and Durance
Are the three scourges of Provence.”
At that time of year, however, the Durance usually looks peaceable and harmless enough; half its great bed is dry and pebbly, and the water that rushes under the big arches of the bridge is not great in volume. But the size and strength of the bridge itself and certain huge rocks, placed for a long distance on either side of the road, are significant of floods and of the spring awakening of the monstrous river that, like Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, has two lives.
The road wound about the low hills of the Alps, past a massive, fortified monastery of the Templars whose windows gape in ruin; past Saint-Martin-de-Brômes with its high, slim, crenellated watch-tower; past many quiet little villages where in the old times, Taine says, “Good people lived as in an eagle's nest, happy as long as they were not slain—that was the luxury of the feudal times.” Between these villages lay vast groves of the grey-green olive-trees, large flourishing farms, and, further still, the bleak mountains of the Lower Alps. It was toward them the driver was turning, for rising above a smiling little valley, surrounded by fields of ripened grain, lay Riez. A donjon stands above a broken wall, on the hillside houses cluster around a church's spire, and alone, on the top of the hill, stands the little Chapel of Saint-Maxime, the only relic of the Great Seminary that was destroyed by the Revolutionists of '89. Here, after the destruction of one of the several Cathedrals of Riez, the Bishop celebrated Masses, but the little chapel was never consecrated a Cathedral. It has been recently restored and re-built in an uninteresting style,—the exterior is bare to ugliness, the interior so painted that the six old Roman columns which support the choir are overwhelmed by the banality of their surroundings. The plateau on which the chapel is built is now almost bare; olive-trees grow to its edges and there is no trace of the Seminary that was once so full of active life. The traveller, sitting in the shade of the few pine-trees, looked over the broad view toward the peaks whose bare[Pg 200] rocks rise with awful sternness, and the little hills that stand between them and the valley, till finally his eyes wandered to the town beneath, and the firm, broad roads which approach it from every direction. For Riez, although in the lost depths of Provence, far from railways and tourists, is a bee-hive of industry, largely supplying the necessities of these secluded little towns. Its hat-making, rope factories, and tanneries are quite important; the shops of its main streets are not without a tempting attractiveness, and there is all the provincial stateliness of Saint-Remy with much less stagnancy.
Riez was the Albece Reiorum Apollinarium in the Colonia Julia Reiorum of the Romans, but there are very few traces of the city with this high-sounding name. The whole atmosphere of the little town is XII century. Two of its old gates, part of the wall, and the crenellated tower still stand, with ruined convents and monasteries of Capuchins, Cordeliers, and Ursulines; and it may be inferred from the remains of the Bishop's Palace and the broad promenade which was one of its avenues, and from the episcopal château at Montagnac, that ecclesiastical state was not less worthily upheld at Riez than in the other Sees of the South of France.
Many difficulties, however, had beset the Cathedral-building prelates. Their first church, Notre-Dame-du-Siège, dating partly from the foundation of the See in the IV century, partly from the X and XII centuries, was destroyed by storm and flood, and its site near the treacherous little river being considered too perilous, a new Cathedral[Pg 201] of Notre-Dame-du-Siège and Saint-Maxime was begun; and it was then that the Bishops celebrated temporarily at Saint-Maxime's on the hill.
During the Revolution the See was suppressed; the church has been much re-built and changed; so that only a tower which is part of the present Notre-Dame-du-Siège, and the traces of the earliest foundation near the little Colostre, remain to tell of the different Cathedrals of Riez.
Near the site of the oldest church is one of the few monuments of a very early Christianity which have escaped the perils of time. It is of unknown date, and although it is said to have been part of the Cathedral which stood between it and the river, it appears to have been always an independent and separate building. The peasants say that in the memory of their forefathers it was used as a chapel, they call it indefinitely “the Pantheon,” “the Temple,” or “the Chapel of Saint-Clair,” but it was almost certainly a baptistery of that curious[Pg 202] and beautiful type which was abandoned so early in the evolution of Christian architecture.
Following the road which his innkeeper pointed out, the traveller became so absorbed in the busy movement of the communal threshing-ground, the arrival of the yellow grain, the women who were wielding pitchforks, and the horses moving in circles, with solemn rhythm, that he nearly passed a low building, the object of his search. Nothing could be more quaintly old and modest than the baptistery of Riez. It is a small square building of rough cemented stone whose stucco has worn away. The roof is tiled, and from out a flattened dome, blades of grass sprout sparsely. A tiny bell-turret and an arch in the front wall complete the ornamentation of this humble, diminutive bit of architecture, and except that it is different from the usual Provençal manner of construction, one would pass many times without noticing it.[Pg 203]
[Pg 205] Walking down the steps which mark the differences that time has made in the levels of the ground and entering a small octagonal hall, one of the most interesting interiors of Provence meets the eye. “Each of its four sides,” writes Jules de Laurière, “which correspond to the angles of the outer square, has a semicircular apse built in the walls themselves. The eight columns, placed in a circle about the centre of the edifice, divide it into a circular nave and a central rotunda, and support eight arches which, in turn, support an octagonal drum, and above this is the dome.” This room is of simple and charming architectural conception, and even in melancholy ruin, it has much beauty. It gains in comparison with the re-constructed baptisteries of Provence, for something of a primitive character has been preserved to which such modern altars and XVII century trappings as those of Aix and Fréjus are fatal. Under the heavy dust there is visible an unhappy coating of whitewash, traces of a fire still blacken the walls, fragments of Roman sculpture are scattered about, and between the columns a pagan altar has been placed for safe-keeping. The columns themselves are of pagan construction, and as they differ somewhat in size and capitals, it is not improbable that they came from the ruins of several of the great public buildings of Riez. At the time of the baptistery's[Pg 206] construction, the barbaric invasion had begun, and these Roman monuments may have been in ruins; but in any case, it was a pious and justifiable custom of Christians to take from pagan structures, standing or fallen, stones and pillars that would serve for building churches to the “one, true God.” The pillars procured for this laudable purpose at Riez, with their beautiful, carved capitals, gave the little baptistery its one decoration, and far from disturbing the simplicity of its style, they add a slenderness and height and harmony to a room which, without them, would be too stiffly bare. In the rotunda which they form, excavations have brought to light a baptismal pool, and conduits which brought to it sufficient quantities of water for the immersion—whole or partial—that was part of the baptismal service of the early Church. But the archæological work has abruptly ceased, and it is to be deeply regretted that here, in this deserted place, where the Church desires no present restorations in accordance with particular rites or modern styles of architecture, there should not be a complete rehabilitation, a baptistery restored to the actual state of its own era.[Pg 207]
[Pg 209] Wandering across the fields, with the re-constructive mania strong upon him, the traveller came across the beautiful granite columns which with their capitals, bases, and architraves of marble, are the last standing monument of Riez's Roman greatness. Fragments of sculpture, bits of stone set in her walls, exist in numbers; but they are too isolated, too vague, to suggest the lost beauty and grandeur which these lonely columns express. He gazed at them in wonder. Was he stepping where once had been a grand and busy Forum, was he looking at the Temple of some great Roman god? The voices of the threshers sounded cheerily, the Provençal sun shone bright and warm, but one of the greatest of mysteries was before him,—the silent mystery of a dead past that had once been a living present. He sat by the river, and tossed pebbles into its shallow waters; the slanting rays of the sun gave the columns delicate tints, old yellows and greys and violets, and at length, as evening fell, they seemed to grow higher and whiter in the paler light, until they looked like lonely funereal shafts, recalling to the memory of forgetful man, Riez's long-dead greatness.
In the comfortable civilisation of France, the stage-coach usually begins where the railroad ends; and however remote a destination or tedious a journey, an ultimate and safe arrival is reasonably certain. This was the reflection which cheered the traveller when he began to search for Senez, an ancient city of the Romans which was christianised in the early centuries and enjoyed the rank of Bishopric until the Revolution of '89. In spite of this dignified rank and the tenacity of an ancient foundation, it lies so far from modern ken that even worthies who live fifty miles away could only say that “Senez is not much of a place, but it doubtless may be found ten—perhaps fifteen—or even twenty kilometres behind the railroad.”
“If Monsieur alighted at Barrême, probably the mail for Senez would be left there too. And where letters go,[Pg 210] some man or beast must carry them, and one could always follow.”
With these vague directions, the traveller set gaily out for Barrême, where a greater than he had spent one bleak March night on the anxious journey from Elba to Paris. The town shows no trace of Napoleon's hurried visit. It looks a mere sleepy hamlet, and when the traveller left the train he had already decided to push his journey onward.
“To Senez?” A man stepped up in answer to his inquiry. “Certainly there was a way to get there, the mail-coach started in an hour. And a hotel? A very good hotel—not Parisian perhaps, but hot food, a bottle of good wine, and a clean bed. Could one desire more on this earth?”
The traveller thought not, and left the station—to stand transfixed before the most melancholy conveyance that ever bore the high-sounding name of “mail-coach.” A little wagon in whose interior six thin persons might have crowded, old windows shaking in their frames, the remains of a coat of yellow paint, and in front a seat which a projecting bit of roof protected from the sun,—this was the mail-coach of Senez, drawn by a dejected, small brown mule, ragged with age, and a gaunt white horse who towered above him. To complete the equipage, this melancholy pair were hitched with ropes.
In due course of time the driver came, hooked an ancient tin box marked “Lettres” to the dash-board, threw in a sacking-bag, and cap in hand, invited the traveller to mount with him “where there was air.” The long whip cracked[Pg 211] authoritatively, the postilion, a beautiful black dog, jumped to the roof, and the mail-coach of Senez, with rattle and creak, started on its scheduled run.
“Houp-là, thou bag of lazy bones done up in a brown skin! Ho-là, thou whited sepulchre, thinkest thou I will get out and carry thee? Take this and that.”
On either side the whip hit the road ferociously, but the old beasts of burden shook their philosophic heads and slowly jogged on, knowing well they would not be touched.
The hot sun of Provence, which “drinks a river as man drinks a glass of wine,” shone on the long, white “route nationale” that stretched out in well-kept monotony through[Pg 212] a valley which might well have been named “Desolation.” On either hand rose mountains that were great masses of bare, seared rocks, showing the ravages of forgotten glaciers; the soil that once covered them lay at their feet. Scarcely a shrub pushed out from the crevices, and even along the road, the few thin poplars found the poorest of nourishment.
Crossing a small bridge, there came into view an ancient village, a mere handful of clustered wooden roofs, irregular, broken, and decayed.
“It was a city in the days when we were Romans,” said the Courier, “and they say that there are treasures underneath our soil. But who can tell when people talk so much? And certainly two sous earned above ground buy hotter soup than one can gain in many a search for twenty francs below.”
He whipped up for a suitable and striking entry into town, turned into a lane, and with much show of difficulty in reining up, stood before the “hotel.”
The traveller, having descended, entered a room that might have been the subject of a quaint Dutch canvas. He saw a low ceiling, smoky walls, long rows of benches, a sanded floor, and pine-board tables that stretched back to an open door; and through the open door, the pot swinging above the embers of the kitchen fire. The mistress of the inn, a strong white-haired woman of seventy, came hurrying in to greet her guest. “It was late,” she said, and quickly put a basin full of water, a new piece of soap, and a fresh towel on a chair near the kitchen door; and as the traveller prepared himself for dinner he heard the crackling[Pg 213] of fresh boughs upon the fire and the cheerful singing of the pot. Little lamps were lighted, and when he came to his table's end, he found good country wine and a steaming cabbage-soup. Others came in to dine and smoke and talk, and later from his bed-room window, he saw their ghostly figures moving up and down the unlighted streets and heard them say good-night. The inn-door was noisily and safely barred, and when the retreating footsteps and the voices had died away, the quiet of the dark remained unbroken until a watchman, with flickering lantern, passed, and cried aloud “All's well.”
Next morning the sun shone brightly on Senez, and[Pg 214] the traveller hurried to the open square. A horse, carrying a farmer's boy, meandered slowly by, a chicken picked here and there, and water trickled slowly from the tiny faucet of the village fountain.
In this quiet spot, near the lonely desolation of the hills, is the Cathedral. The Palace of its prelates, which is opposite, is now a farm-house where hay-ricks stand in the front yard, and windows have been walled up because Provençal winds are cold and glass is dear. [Pg 215]
Looking at this residence, one would think that the last Bishops of Senez were insignificant priests, steeped in country wine and country stagnancy. But such a supposition is very far from true. For we know that in the XVIII century, Jean Soannen, Bishop of the city, was called before a Council at Embrun to answer a charge of resistance to the far-famed Bull “Unigenitus,” and so strong were his convictions and so great his loyalty to his conscience, that he resisted the Council as well as the Bull, and was deprived of his See as a Jansenist and recalcitrant, and exiled to the Abbey of La-Chaise-Dieu. In quiet Senez there must always have been time for reflection, and one can imagine the bitter struggle of this brave man as he walked the rooms of the Palace, as he crossed and re-crossed the small square to the Cathedral. One can imagine his wrestling with God and his conscience every time that he celebrated a Mass for the people before the Cathedral's altar. One can understand the bitter fight between two high ideals, irreconcilable in his life,—that of work in God's vineyard[Pg 216] or of doctrinal purity as he saw it. He had to choose between them, this Bishop of Senez, and when he left the town to answer the summons of the Council at Embrun, his heart must have been sore within him, he must have said farewell to many things. Few decisions can be more serious than the renunciation of family and home for the service of God, few more solemn than the struggles between the flesh and the spirit; but no more pathetic picture can exist than that sad figure of Jean Soannen; for he had renounced family and the world, and for the sake of “accepted truth” which was false to him, endured helpless, solitary insignificance under the espionage of suspicious and unfriendly monks. The traveller remembered his tomb, that tomb in a small chapel near the foot of the stair-case in the famous Abbey far-away, and sighing, hoped that in his mournful exile, the Bishop may have realised that “they also serve who only stand and wait.”
The Bull Unigenitus, which caused his downfall, is believed to have caused, during the last years of Louis XIV's bigotry, the persecution of thirty thousand respectable, intelligent, and orderly Frenchmen. De Noailles, several Bishops, and the Parliament of Paris refused to accept it, though they stopped short of open rebellion, and even Fénélon “submitted” rather than acceded to it. This famous and vexatious document was an unhappy emanation of Pope Clement XIII. Hard pressed by his faithful supporters, the Jesuits, he promulgated it in 1713, and it condemns with great explicitness one hundred and one propositions which are taken from Quesnel's Jansenistic[Pg 217] “Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament.” The Jesuits held the Jansenists in a horror which the Jansenists reciprocated; the Pope owed almost too heavy a debt of gratitude to the order of Saint Ignatius and was constrained to repay. But the Bull, instead of procuring peace, brought the greatest affliction and desolation of mind to His Holiness, and when later, the French envoy asked him why he had condemned such an odd number of propositions, the Pope seizing his arm burst into tears.
“Ah Monsieur Amelot! Monsieur Amelot! What would you have me do? I strove hard to curtail the list, but Père Le Tellier”—Louis XIV's last confessor and a devoted Jesuit—“had pledged his word to the King that the book contained more than one hundred errors, and with his foot on my neck, he compelled me to prove him right. I condemned only one more!”
The Cathedral of Senez is an humble village church where frank and simple poverty exists with the remains of ancient splendour. It is small, as are all churches of its style, and although it does not lack a homely dignity, it is a modest work of XII century Romanesque, and the sonorous title of its consecration in 1242, “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” suggests an impressiveness which the Cathedral never had.
Two heavy buttresses that support the façade wall are reminiscent of the more majestic Notre-Dame-du-Bourg of Digne, and on them rest the ends of a pointed gable-roof. Between these buttresses, the wall is pierced by a long and graceful round-arched window, and below the window[Pg 218] is the single, pointed portal whose columns are gone and whose delicate foliated carvings and mouldings are sadly worn away. A sun-dial painted on the wall tells the time of day, and at the gable's sharpest point a saucy little angel with a trumpet in his mouth blows with the wind.
Entering the little portal, the traveller saw the poor wooden benches of the congregation massed together, and beyond them, the stalls of long-departed Canons. In front of these old stalls, stood the church's latest luxury, a melodeon, and above them hung the tapestries of its richer past. Tapestries also beautify the choir-walls, and on either side, are the narrow transepts and the apses of a good old style. There are also poor and tawdry altars which[Pg 219] stand in strange, pitiable contrast with the old walls and the fine tunnel vaulting, the dignified architecture of the past.
Leaving the interior, where a solitary peasant knelt in prayer, the traveller saw side-walls bare as the mountains round about, the squat tower that rises just above the roof,[Pg 220] and coming to the apse-end he found the presbytery garden. From the garden, beyond the fallen gate, he saw the church as the Curé saw it, the three round apses with their little columns, the smaller decorative arches of the cornices, the pointed roof, and between branches full of apple blossoms, the softened lines of the low square tower. Here, trespassing, the Curé found him. And after they had walked about the town, and talked the whole day long of the great world which lay so far beyond, they went into the little garden as the sun was going down, and fell to musing over coffee cups. The priest was first to speak.
“Perhaps, buried under those old church walls, lie proofs of our early history, the stones of some old Temple, or statues of its gods; for we were once Sanitium, a Roman city in a country of six Roman roads. Perhaps all around us were great monuments of pagan wealth, a Mausoleum near these bare old rocks like that which stands in loneliness near Saint-Remy, Villas, Baths, or Triumphal Arches.”
The keen eyes softened, as he continued in gentle irony, “Down in this little valley of the Asse de Blieux, our town seems far away from any scene in which the great ones of earth took part. Although I know that it is true, it often seems to me a legend that the gay and gallant Francis I, rushing to a mad war, stopped on his way to injure us; and that four hundred years ago a band of Huguenots raved around our old Cathedral, and tried to pull it to the ground.”
“And do you think it can be true,” the traveller asked, “that Bishops held mysterious prisoners in that tower for most dreary lengths of time?”[Pg 221]
[Pg 223] The Curé smiled, and shook his white head. “That is a story which the peasants tell,—an old tradition of the land. It may be true, since priests are mortal men and doubtless dealt with sinners.” He smiled indulgently. “Through the many years I have been here, I have often wondered about all these things, but it is seldom I can speak my thoughts. Sometimes when I am here alone, I lose the sense of present things and seem to see the phantoms of the past. Then the dusk comes on, as it is coming now; the night blots Senez from my sight as fate has blotted out its record from history,—and I realise that our human memory is in vain.”
The 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[Pg 224] 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.[Pg 225]
In 1060, after the destructive vicissitudes of the early centuries, Archbishop Rostaing d'Hyères issued a pastoral [Pg 227]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[Pg 228] 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[Pg 229] 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[Pg 230] 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.[Pg 231]
[Pg 233] 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[Pg 234] 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.[Pg 235]
CATHEDRALS OF THE CITIES.
Entering Languedoc from the valley of the Rhone, the Cathedral-lover is doomed to disappointment in the city of Nîmes. All that intense, intra-mural life of the Middle Ages seems to have passed this city by, and its traces, which he is so eager to find, prove to be neither notable nor beautiful.
The great past of Nîmes is of a more remote antiquity than the Cathedral Building Ages. A small but exquisite Temple, a Nymphæum, Baths, parts of a fine Portal, Roman walls, and an Amphitheatre which rivals the art of the Coliseum,—these are the ruins of Nîmean greatness. She was essentially a city of the Romans, and that, even to-day, she has not lost the memory of her glorious antiquity was well illustrated in 1874, when the Nîmois, with much pomp and civic pride, unveiled a statue to “their fellow-countryman,” the Emperor Antoninus Pius. These are the memories in which Nîmes delights. Yet her history of later times, if not glorious, is full of strange and curious interest. Like all the ancient cities of the South, she fell into the hands of many a wild and alien foe, and at length in 737, Charles Martel arrived at her gates. Grossly ignorant of art, no thing of beauty that stood in his path escaped fire and axe;[Pg 238] and smoke-marks along the arena walls show to-day how narrowly they escaped the irreparable destruction which had wiped out the Forum, the Capitol, the Temple, the Baths, and all the magnificence of Roman Narbonne. To both the early and the later Middle Ages, Roman remains had scarcely more meaning than they had for the Franks. The delicate Temple of Trajan's wife, scorned for its pagan associations, was used as a stable, a store-house, and, purified by proper ceremonials, it even became a Christian church. The Amphitheatre has had a still stranger destiny. To a mediæval Viscount, it was naturally inconceivable as a place of amusement, and as naturally, he saw in its walls a stronghold where he could live as securely as ever lord in castle. As a fortress which successfully defied Charles Martel, it was a place of no mean strength, and in[Pg 239] 1100 it had become “a veritable hornets' nest, buzzing with warriors.”
A few years before, Pope Urban II had landed at Maguelonne and ridden to Clermont to preach the First Crusade. On his return he stopped at Nîmes and held a Council for the same holy purpose. Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse and overlord of Nîmes, travelled there to meet the Sovereign Pontiff, and amid the wonderful ferment of enthusiasm which the “Holy War” had aroused, the South was pledged anew to this romantic and war-like phase of the cause of Christ. Trencavel, Viscount of Nîmes, loyal to God and his Suzerain, followed Raymond to Palestine. Its natural protectors gone, the city formed a defensive association called the “Chevaliers of the Arena.” As its name implies, this curious fraternity was composed of the soldiers of the ancient amphitheatre. Like many others of the time it was semi-military, semi-religious, its members bound by many solemn oaths and ceremonies, and thus, by the eccentricity of fate, this old pagan playground became a fortress consecrated to Christian defence, the scene of many a solemn Mass.
The divisions in the Christian faith, which followed so closely the fervours of the Crusades, were most disastrous to Nîmes. From the XIII until the XVII centuries, wars of religion were interrupted by suspicious and unheeded truces, and these in turn were broken by fresh outbursts of embittered contest. An ally of the new “Crusaders” in Simon de Montfort's day, Nîmes became largely Protestant in the XVI century; and in 1567, as if to avenge the injuries[Pg 240] their ancestors had formerly inflicted on the Albigenses, the Nîmois sacked their Bishop's Palace and threw all the Catholics they could find down the wells of the town. This celebration of Saint Michael's Day was repaid at the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. The wise Edict of Nantes brought a truce to these hostilities,—its revocation, new persecutions and flights. A hundred years later the Huguenots were again in force, and, aided by the unrest of the Revolution, successfully massacred the Catholics of the city; and during the “White Terror” of 1815 the Catholics arose and avenged themselves with equal vigour. When it is remembered that this savage and vindictive spirit has characterised the Nîmois of the last six hundred years, it is scarcely surprising that they should prefer to dwell on the remote antiquity of their city rather than on the unedifying episodes of her Christian history.
Between the glories of her paganism and the disputes of Christians, the Faith has struggled and survived; but in the Cathedral-building era, religious enthusiasm was so often expended in mutual fury and reprisals that neither time nor thought was left for that common and gentle expression of mediæval fervour, ecclesiastical architecture. And the Church of Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor, which would seem to have suffered from the neglect and ignorance of both patrons and builders, is one of the least interesting Cathedrals in Languedoc.
A graceful gallery of the nave, which also surrounds the choir, is the notable part of the interior, and the insignificance[Pg 241] of the exterior is relieved only by a frieze of the XI and XII centuries. On this frieze is sculptured, in much interesting detail, the Biblical stories of the early years of mankind; but it is unfortunately placed so high on the front wall that it seems badly proportioned to the façade, and as a carved detail it is almost indistinguishable. As has been finely said the whole church is “gaunt” and unbeautiful; it is a depressing mixture of styles, Roman, Romano-Byzantine, and Gothic; and in studying its one fine detail, a photograph or a drawing is much more satisfactory than an hour's tantalising effort to see the original.
Montpellier 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[Pg 242] 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.[Pg 243]
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.[Pg 244]
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[Pg 246] 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.
“You 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,[Pg 247] 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.
AND THICK.”—BÉZIERS. [To List]
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 crenellated tops and solid, heavy walls could serve as strongholds. Perhaps to reconcile the irreconcilable, crenellations 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 traveller 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[Pg 248] 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,[Pg 249]—and on the stroke of two he and the sacristan met before the portal.
In describing their “monuments,” French guide-books confine themselves to facts, and the adjectives “fine” and “remarkable”; they are almost always strictly impersonal, and the traveller who uses them as a cicerone, has a sense of unexpected discovery, a peculiar elation, in finding a monument of rare beauty; but he is never subjected to that disappointed irritation which comes when one stands before the “monument” and feels that one's expectations have been unduly stimulated. The Cloister of Béziers is a “fine monument,” but as he walked about it, the traveller felt no sense of elation. He found a small Cloister, Gothic like the Cathedral, with clustered columns and little ornamentation. It was not very completely restored, and had a sad, melancholy charm, like a solitary sprig of lavender in an old press, or a rose-leaf between the pages of a worn and forgotten Missal. 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.[Pg 250]
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[Pg 251] 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,[Pg 252]—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.”[Pg 253]
“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.
“Narbonne is still mighty and healthful, if one is to judge from the activities of the present day; is picturesque and pleasing, and far more comfortably disposed than many cities with a more magnificently imposing situation.” These words, which were running in the traveller's mind, grew more and more derisive, more and more ironical, as he walked about Narbonne. Not in all the South of France had he seen a city so depressing. Her decline has been continuous for the long five hundred years since the Roman dykes gave way and she was cut off from the sea. Agde, almost as old, displays the decline of a dignified, retired old age; Saint-Gilles-du-Gard was as dirty, but not a whit as pretentious; Nîmes was majestically antique; Narbonne, simply sordid.
It is sad to think that over two thousand years ago she was a second Marseilles, that she was the first of Rome's transalpine colonies, and that under Tiberius her schools rivalled those of the Capital of the world. It is sadder to think that all the magnificence of Roman luxury, of sculptured marble—a Forum, Capitol, Temples, Baths, Triumphal[Pg 254] Arches,—stood where dreary rows of semi-modern houses now stand. It is almost impossible to believe in the lost grandeur of this city, and that it was veritably under the tutelage of so great and superb a god as Mars.
The eventful Christian period of Narbonne was very noted but not very long. Her melancholy decay began as early as the XIV century. Of her great antiquity nothing is left but a few hacked and mutilated carvings; of her ambitious Mediævalism, nothing but an unfinished group of ecclesiastical buildings. Long gone is the lordly “Narbo” dedicated to Mars, gone the city of the Latin poet, whose words repeated to-day in her streets are a bitter mockery, and gone the stronghold of mediæval times. There remains a rare phenomenon for cleanly France,—a dirty city, whose older sections are reminiscent of unbeautiful old age, decrepit and unwashed; and whose newly projected boulevards are distinguished by tawdry and pretentious youth.
In the midst of this city, stands a group of mediæval churchly buildings, the Palace of the prelate, his Cathedral, and an adjoining Cloister. They are all either neglected, unfinished, or re-built; but are of so noble a plan that the traveller feels a “divine wrath” that they should never have reached their full grandeur of completion, that this great architectural work should have been begun so near the close of the city's prosperity, and that in spite of several efforts it has never been half completed. It is as if a fatality hung over the whole place, and as if all the greatness Narbonne had conceived was predestined to destruction or incompletion.[Pg 255]
Of the three structures, the least interesting is the former Palace of the Archbishops. This is now the Hôtel-de-Ville, and as all the body of the structure between the towers of the XII century was built in our day by Viollet-le-Duc, very little of the old Palace can properly be said to exist. Besides its two principal towers, a smaller one, a gate, and a chapel remain. Viollet-le-Duc has constructed the Hôtel-[Pg 256]de-Ville after the perfectly appropriate style of the XIII century, but its stone is so new and its atmosphere so modern and republican that the traveller left it without regret and made his way up the dark, steep, badly-paved alley-way which leads to the door of the Cloister.
This Cloister, which separated the Palace from the Cathedral, is now dreary and desolate and neglected. Like the Cathedral, it is Gothic, with sadly decaying traces of graceful ornament. The little plot of enclosed ground, which should be planted in grass or with a few flowers, is a mere dirt court, tramped over by the few worshippers who enter the Cathedral this way. Two or three trees grow as they will, gnarled or straight. The sense of peaceful melancholy which the traveller had felt in the Cloister of Béziers is wanting here. This is a place of deserted solitude; and with a sigh for the beauty that might have been, the traveller crossed the enclosure and entered the church by the cloister-door.[Pg 257]
Architecturally dissimilar, the fate of this Cathedral is not unlike that of Beauvais. Each was destined to have a completed choir, and each to remain without a nave. At Beauvais the addition of transepts adds very materially to the beauty of the Cathedral. At Narbonne no transepts exist. There is simply a choir, which makes a very singular disposition of the church both religious and architectural. Entering the gates which lead from the ambulatory to the choir, the traveller found that Benediction had just begun. On his immediate right, before the altar all aglow with lights, were the officiating priests and the altar-boys; on his left, [Pg 259]in the choir, was the congregation in the Canons' stalls; and at the back, as at the end of a nave, rose the organ.
The traveller walked about the ambulatory, and leaning against the farthest wall, tried to view the church, only to be baffled. There was no perspective. The ambulatory is very narrow and the choir-screen very high. The impressions he formed were partly imaginative, partly inductive; and the clearest one was that of sheer height, straight, superhuman height that is one of the unmatchable glories of French Gothic. Here the traveller thought again of Beauvais, and wished as he had so often wished in the northern Cathedral and with something of the same intensity, that this freedom and majesty of height might have been gloriously continued and completed in the nave. Such a church as his imagination pictured would have been worthy of a place with the best of northern Gothic. Now it is a suggestion, a beginning of greatness; and its chief glory lies in the simplicity and directness of its height. Clustered columns rise plainly to the pointed Gothic roof. There is so marked an absence of carving that it seems as if ornamentation would have been weakening and trammelling. It is not bareness, but beautiful firmness, which refreshes and uplifts the heart of man as the sight of some island mountain rising sheer from the sea.
The exterior of the Cathedral, imposing from a distance, is rather complicated in its unfinished compromise of detail. In the XV century, two towers were built which flank the western end as towers usually flank a façade; and this gives the church a foreshortened effect. Of real façade[Pg 260] there is none, and the front wall which protects the choir is plainly temporary. In front of this wall there are portions of the unfinished nave, stones and other building materials, a scaffolding, and a board fence; and the only pleasure the traveller could find in this confusion was the fancy that he had discovered the old-time appearance of a Cathedral in the making.
The apse is practically completed, and one has the curious sensation that it is a building without portals. Having no façade, it has none of the great front entrances common to the Gothic style; neither has it the usual lateral door. The choir is entered by the temporary doors of the pseudo-façade; the ambulatory is entered through the Cloister, or a pretty little Gothic door-way which if it were not the chief entrance of the church, would properly seem to have been built for the clergy rather than for the people who now use it. If these portals are strangely unimportant, their insignificance does not detract materially from the stateliness of the apse, which is created by its great height—one hundred and thirty feet in the interior measurement—and the magnificent flying-buttresses.
These flying-buttresses give to the exterior its most curious and beautiful effect. They are a form of Gothic seldom attempted in the South, and exist here in a rather exceptional construction. Over the chapels which surround the apse rise a series of double-arched supports, the outer ones ending in little turrets with surmounting crenellations. On these supports, after a splendid outward sweep, rest the abutments of the flying arches. These have a fine sure grace and withal a lightness that relieves the heaviness imposed on the church by the towers and the immense strength of the body of the apse. They are the chief as well as the most salient glory of the exterior, and give to the Cathedral its peculiar individuality.[Pg 261]
ITS MOST CURIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL EFFECT.”—NARBONNE. [To List]
[Pg 263] Apart from its buttresses, Saint-Just has little decorative style. Its crenellations and turrets are military and forceful, not ornate. For the church had its defensive as truly as its religious purpose, and formerly was united on the North with the fortifications of the Palace, and contributed to the protection of its prelates as well as to their arch-episcopal prestige.
In spite of the fostering care of the French government, the Palace, the Cloister, and the Cathedral seem in the hands of strangers. The traveller who had longed to see them in their finished magnificence realised the futility of this wish, but he turned away with another as vain, that he might have known them even in incompletion, when they were in the hands of the Church, when the Archbishop still ruled in his Palace, when the Canons prayed in the Cloister, and the Cathedral was still a-building.
Perpignan, 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[Pg 264] 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[Pg 265] 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[Pg 266] 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.[Pg 267]
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[Pg 268] 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.[Pg 269]
The train puffed into the station at Carcassonne, and the impatient traveller, throwing his bags into an hotel omnibus, asked for the Cathedral and walked eagerly on that he might the more quickly “see in line the city on the hill,” “the castle walls as grand as those of Babylon,” and “gaze at last on Carcassonne.” His mind was full of the poem, and faithfully following directions, he hurried through clean, narrow streets until he came at length, not upon a poetic vision of battlemented walls and towers, but on the most prosaic of boulevards and the Church of Saint-Michel which has been the Cathedral since 1803, a large, uncouth building with a big, unfinished tower. There is no façade portal, and a small door-way in the north side leads into the great vaulted hall, one of the most usual and commonplace forms of the Gothic interior of the South. This room, which is painted, receives light from a beautiful rose-window at the West, and a series of small roses, like miniatures of the greater one, are cut in the upper walls of the nave; and little chapels, characterised by the same heavy monotony which hangs like a pall over the whole Cathedral, are lost in the church's capacious flanks.
Having lost much of his enthusiasm, the traveller asked for the old—he had almost said the “real”—Cathedral, and with new directions, he started afresh. Leaving the well-built, agreeable, commonplace “Lower city” of the plain, he came to the bridge, and there, sitting on its parapet, near the ancient Cross, he feasted his longing eyes on that perfect vision of Mediævalism. The high, arid, and almost isolated hill of the Cité stood before him, and at the top rose battlements and flanking towers in double range, bristling, war-like, and strong; yet beautiful in their mass of uneven, peaked tower-roofs and crenellations. He climbed wearily up the stony street of the hillside, and as he passed through the open gate, he realised that Hunnewell had written truly when he said “Carcassonne is a romance[Pg 273] of travel.” For he went into a town so quiet, into streets so still, so weed-grown, and lonely, and yet so well built, that he felt as a “fairy prince” who has penetrated into some enchanted castle, and it seemed as if the inhabitants were asleep in the upper rooms, behind those bowed windows, and as if, when the mysterious word of disenchantment should be uttered, all would come trooping forth, men-at-arms hurrying to clean their rusty swords, old women trudging along to fill their dusty pitchers at the well, and younger women staring from doors and windows to see the stranger within their streets.
The Cadets de Gascogne knew the city before the evil spell of modern times was cast about it. They know and miss it now. And although they may no longer wear the plumed hat and clanking sword of their ancestors, the spirit beneath their more conventional garb is as gay and daring as that of Cadets more picturesque. They have conceived a plan as exciting as any old adventure, an idea which they present to the world, not as Cyrano, their most famous member, was wont to convey his thoughts at the end of a sword, but none the less dexterously and delightfully. This plan, like the magic word of the traveller's fancy, is to make the old Carcassonne live again, not as the traveller had timidly imagined, in time of peace, but in the stirring times of war and battle, and its magic word is “the siege of Carcassonne.” Truly it is but a matter of bengal lights, blank cartridges, and fire-crackers, though for the matter of that, Cinderella's coach was but a pumpkin, yet the effect was none the less real.[Pg 274]
On the evening of “the siege,” a rare, great fête, the forces of the Cadets with their lights and ammunition are in the “upper town”, and long before dark, their friends and every inhabitant of the country for miles around have gathered in the houses which face the Cité, on the bridges, and along the banks of the little Aude. As the sunlight fades and the shadows creep along, a strange feeling of expectancy comes over everybody, a hush, almost a dread of danger. The towers on the hill-top loom dark against the sky and the battlements bristle in the moonlight, no sound comes from the Cité, and it seems to lay in unconcerned security. Memories of besieging armies which have vainly encamped in this valley return to the traveller's mind, memories of the treacheries of Simon de Montfort, and he wonders if any “crusading” sentinel ever paced where he now stands watching along the Aude, if any spy or even the terrible Simon himself had ever crept so near the walls to reconnoitre. Suddenly every one is startled by the sound of distant shots, which are repeated nearer the walls. Every one peers into the darkness. There is no sign of life on wall or tower, the attacking force must still be climbing the hill, out of range of the stones and burning oil of the defenders. More shots are fired, and now there are answering shots from the besieged; and so naturally does the din increase, that one can follow, by listening, the progress of the attack and the slow, sure gain of the invader. Some of the illusion of the anxiety and mental tension which war brings, steals over the watching crowd, and they breathlessly await the outcome of the struggle. The attacking party is now seen under the walls—now on [Pg 277]them—they throw wads of burning cotton, which are at first extinguished. They still gain—they fire the walls in several places; and the defenders, who can be seen in the flashes of light, run frantically to the danger spots; but they are gradually overcome, beaten back by the intensity of the heat. Flames now burst forth from a tower; there is an explosion, and the fire curls and creeps along the walls unchecked. Another explosion follows, another burst of flames which soar higher and higher. The men of the Cité seem still more frantic and powerless. All the towers now stand out in bold relief,—as if they were just about to crumble into the seething mass below. Roofs within the walls are on fire, and finally a red tongue licks the turret of the Cathedral. In a few seconds its walls are hideously aglow, and the people in the valley—although they know the truth—groan aloud, so real is the illusion. The nave lines of the Cathedral are silhouetted as it burns, the fires along the walls growing brighter, spread gradually at first,—then rapidly, and the whole Cité is the prey of great, waving clouds of flame and smoke. Men and women, as if fascinated by this lurid and magnificent destruction, press forward to get the last view of the Cathedral's lovely rose, or the peaked roof of some tower which is dear to them. But slowly the deep red flames are growing paler, less strong, and less high. Then the glare, too, begins to die away; the fire turns to smoke and the light becomes grey and misty. “It is all over,” some one whispers, and with backward glances at the charred, smoldering hill-top, they turn silently towards home.[Pg 278]
A few, sitting on the stone parapet of the bridge, remain to talk of the evening's magic, of the inspiration of the Cadets de Gascogne, and other scenes which their memory suggests, of wars and rumours of other wars. And when at length they turn to go, they see the moonlight on the glimmering Aude, the peaceful lower city, and above, Carcassonne—the Invincible—rising from her ashes.
The Cathedral of the Cité is worthy of great protecting walls and there are few churches whose destruction would have been so sad a blow to the architecture of the Midi. Saint-Nazaire is typical at once of the originality of the southern builders, of their idealism, and their joyous freedom from conventional thrall. The façade, straight, and massive, has the frowning severity of an old donjon wall. Its towers are solid masses of heavy stone; instead of spires, there are crenellations; instead of graceful flying-buttresses at the sides, there are solid, upright supports on the firm, plain side-walls. This is the true old Romanesque. A few steps further, and the apse appears, as great a contrast to the body of the church as a bit of Mechlin lace to a coat-of-mail. A little tower with gargoyles, another with a fine-carved turret, windows whose delicate traceries could be broken by a blow, and an upper balustrade which would have been as easily crushed as an egg-shell in the hands of the lusty Huguenots,—these are the ornaments of its wall, as true XIV century Gothic as the nave is XII century Romanesque. It is sadly disappointing to find the Cloisters in uninteresting ruin, but the church within is so full of great beauty that all other things are unimportant. The windows glow in the glory of their glass, and the tombs, especially those of the lower Chapel of the Bishop, are wonderfully carved. The first burial place of de Montfort, terrible persecutor of his Church's foes, lies near the High Altar, and in the wall, there is a rude bas-relief representing his siege of Toulouse. All these admirable details are puny in comparison with the interior which contains them. It is to be feared that often, too little time is spent upon the nave. Even in mid-day, lighted by the southern sun, its beautiful, severe lines are mellowed but little, and one turns too instinctively to the Gothic, the greater lightness beyond. Yet it is a nave of[Pg 282] exceedingly fine, rugged strength, and to pass on lightly, to belittle it in comparison with its brighter choir, is to wantonly miss in the great round columns, the heavy piers, and the dark tunnel vaulting, the conception of generations of men who had ever before their mind—and literally believed—“A mighty fortress is our God.” The choir is of the XIV century, a day when the “beauty of holiness” seems to have been the Cathedral architect's ideal. Delicate, clustered columns from which Saints look down, long windows beautifully veined, a glorious rose at each transept's end, and high vault arches springing with a slender pointed grace, all these are of exquisite proportions; and the brilliant stained-glass adds a softening warmth of colour, but not too great a glow, to the cold fragility of the shafts of stone. Nothing in the Gothic art of the South, little of Gothic elsewhere, is more thoughtfully and lovingly wrought than this choir of Saint-Nazaire, and few churches in the Romanesque form are more finely constructed than its nave. On the exterior, the Gothic choir and the Romanesque nave are so different in style it seems they must be, perforce, antagonistic, that the grace of the Gothic must make Romanesque plainness appear dull, or that the noble simplicity of the rounded arch must cause the Gothic arches, here so particularly tall and slender, to seem almost fragile and undignified. In reality, this juxtaposition of the styles has justified itself; and passing from one to the other, the traveller is more impressed by the subtle analogies they suggest than by the differences of their architectural forms. On week-days, when the church is empty, they seem to prefigure the two ideals of the religion [Pg 285]which they serve—the stern, self-conquering asceticism of a Saint Dominic, and the exquisite, radiant visions which Saint Cecelia saw when heavenly music was vouchsafed her. Or, if one has time to fancy further, the nave is the epic of its great religion; the choir, a song which is the expression of most delicate aspiration, most tender worship. On Sunday, when to this beauty of the godly habitation is added all the beauty of worship, the music of the oldest organs in France, slow-moving priests in gorgeous vestments, sweet smelling incense, chants, and prayers of a most majestic ritual, one is tempted to read into these stones symbolical meanings,—as if the heavy nave, where the dim praying figures kneel, were typical of their life of struggle—and their glances altarward, where all is light and beauty, presaged their final coming into the presence and glory of God.
Hunnewell has finely written, that “while the passions and the terrors of a fierce, rude age made unendurable the pleasant land where we may travel now so peacefully, ... and while Religion, grown political, forgot the mercy of its Lord and ruled supreme, ... an earnest faith and consecrated genius were creating some of the noblest tributes man has offered to his Creator,” and it may be truly said that of these one of the noblest is the church begun in that most cruel age of Saint Dominic and de Montfort, in the very heart of the country they laid waste, in the city which one conquered by ruse and the other tortured by inquisition, the old Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire in Carcassonne.[Pg 286]
In the VII century Castres, which had been the site of a Roman camp, became that of a Benedictine Abbey; and around this foundation, as about so many others, a town grew through the Middle Ages, and came safely to prosperity and importance. Untrue to its early protectors and in opposition to the fervent orthodoxy of the neighbouring city of Albi, Castres became a Protestant stronghold, and its fortunes rose and fell with the chances of religious wars. It was, perhaps, one of the most intrepid and obstinate of all the centres of heresy, and the centuries of struggle seem only to have strengthened the fierceness of its faith. In 1525, when the Duke de Rohan was absent and a royal army again summoned it to submission and conversion, the Duchess had herself carried from a sick bed to the gate of the city which was threatened, and it is related that the inhabitants of all classes, men, women, and children, without distinction of sex or age, armed themselves and rushed victoriously to her aid. Thirty-five years later, their children sacked churches, destroyed altars and images, and drove out monks and nuns.
Bellicose incidents make history a thrilling story, but they are accompanied by such material destruction that they too often rob a city of its greatest treasures, and leave it, as far as architectural interest is concerned, an arid waste. Such a place is Castres, prosperous, industrial, historically dramatic, but actually commonplace. Old houses, picturesque and mouldy, with irregular, overhanging eaves, lean along the banks of the little river as they are wont to line the[Pg 287] banks of every old stream of the Midi, and they are nearly all the remains of Castres' Mediævalism. For her streets are well-paved, trolleys pass to and fro, department stores are frequent, and that most modern of vehicles, the automobile, does not seem anachronistic. No building could be more in harmony with the city's atmosphere of uninteresting prosperity than its Cathedral, and he who enters in search of beauty and repose, is doomed to miserable disappointment.
Confronted in the XIV century by a growing heresy, John XXII devised, among other less Christian methods of combat, that of the creations of Sees, whose power and dignity of rank should check the progress of the enemies of the Church; and in 1317, that year which saw the beginning of so many of these new Sees, the old Benedictine Abbey of Castres, lying in the very centre of Protestantism, was created a Bishopric. The century, if unpropitious to Catholicism, was favourable to architecture, the Abbey was of ancient foundation, and from either of these facts, a fine Cathedral might reasonably be hoped for,—a dim Abbey-church whose rounded arches are lost in the gloom of its vaulting, or a bit of southern Gothic which the newly consecrated prelate might have ambitiously planned. But the Cathedral of Saint-Benoît is neither of these, for it was re-constructed in the XVII century, the XVII century in all its confusion of ideas, all its lack of taste, all its travesty of styles. There is the usual multitude of detail, the usual unworthiness. Portals which have no beauty, an expanse of unfinished façade, dark, ugly walls whose bareness is not sufficiently[Pg 288] hidden by the surrounding houses, heavy buttresses, ridiculously topped off by globes of stone,—such are the salient features of the exterior of Saint-Benoît.
The “spaciousness” of the interior has given room, if not for an impartial representation, at least for a reminder of all the styles of architecture to which the XVII century was heir. There is the Renaissance conception of the antique in the ornamental columns; in the rose-window, there is a tribute to the Gothic; the tradition of the South is maintained by a coat of colours—many, if subdued; and the ground plan of nave and side-chapels might be called Romanesque. Although the vaulting is high and the room large, there is no simplicity, no beauty, no artistic virtue in this interior.
Opposite the church is the episcopal Palace which Mansart built, a large construction that serves admirably as a City Hall. Behind it, along the river, are the charming gardens designed by Le Nôtre, where Bishops walked and meditated, looking upon their not too faithful city of Castres. Upon this very ground was the ancient Abbey and close of the Benedictines; and as if in memory of these monkish predecessors, Bishop and builder of the XVII century left in an angle of the Palace the old Abbey-tower. This is the treasure of Castres' past, a Romanesque belfry with the pointed roofing of the campanile of Italy, heavy in comparison with their grace, and stout and strong.[Pg 289]
Toulouse is one of the most charming cities of the South of France. It is also one of the largest; but in spite of its size, it is neither noisy nor stupidly conventional; it is, on the contrary, an ideal provincial “capital,” where everything, even the climate, corresponds to our preconceived and somewhat romantic ideal of the southern type. When the wind blows from the desert it comes with fierce and sudden passion, the sun shines hot, and under the awnings of the open square, men fan themselves lazily during a long lunch hour. Under this appearance of semi-tropical languor, there is the persistent energy of the great southern peoples, an energy none the less real because it is broken by the long siestas, the leisurely meal-times, and the day-time idling, which seem so shiftless and so strange to northern minds. This is the energy, however, which has made Toulouse a rich, opulent city,—a city with broad boulevards, open squares, and fine buildings, and a city of the gay Renaissance rather than of the stern Middle Ages. Yet for Toulouse the Middle Ages were a dark time. What could be gotten by the sword was taken by the sword, and even the mind of man, in that gross age, was forced and controlled by the agony of his body. It is a time whose most peaceful outward signs, the churches, have been preserved to Toulouse, and the war-signs, towers, walls, and fortifications, dungeons, and the torture-irons of inquisition, are now—and wisely—hidden or destroyed. Of the fierce tragedies which were played in Toulouse, even to the days of the great Revolution, few traces remain,—the stern, orthodox figure of Simon[Pg 290] de Montfort, and of Count Raymond, his too politic foe, and the anguish of the Crusaders' siege, the bent form of Jean Calas and the shrewd, keen face of Voltaire, who vindicated him from afar, these memories seem dimmed; and those which live are of light-hearted troubadours and gaily dressed ladies of the city of the gay, insouciant Renaissance to whom an auto-da-fè was a gala between the blithesome robing of the morning and the serenade in the moonlight. Fierce and steadfast, sentimentally languishing, dying for a difference of faith, or dying as violently to avenge the insult of a frown or a lifted eye-brow, such are the Languedocians whom Toulouse evokes, near to the Gascons and akin to them. Here is the Académie des Jeux-Floreaux, the “College of Gay Wit” which was founded in the XIV century, and still distributes on the third of every May prizes of gold and silver flowers to poets, and writers of fine prose; and here are many “hôtels” of the Renaissance, rich and beautiful homes of the old Toulousan nobility whose courts are all too silent. Here is the Hôtel du Vieux-Raisin, the Maison de Pierre, and the Hôtel d'Assézat where Jeanne d'Albret lived; and near-by is a statue of her son, the strongest, sanest, and most debonnaire of all the great South-men, Henry of Navarre. Here in Toulouse is indeed material for a thousand fancies.[Pg 291]
And here the Cathedral-seeker, who had usually had the proud task of finding the finest building in every city he visited, was doomed to disappointment. In vain he tried to console himself with the fact that Toulouse had had two Cathedrals. Of one there was no trace; in the other, confusion; and he [Pg 293]was met with the axiom, true in architecture as in other things, that two indifferent objects do not make one good one. The “Dalbade,” formerly the place of worship of the Knights of Malta, has a more elegant tower; the Church of the Jacobins a more interesting one; the portal of the old Chartreuse is more beautiful; the Church of the Bull, more curious; and the Basilica of Saint-Sernin so interesting and truly glorious that the Cathedral pales in colourless insignificance.
Some cities of mediæval France possessed, at the same time, two Cathedrals, two bodies of Canons, and two Chapters under one and the same Bishop. Such a city was Toulouse; and until the XII century, Saint-Jacques and Saint-Etienne were rival Cathedrals. Then, for some reason obscure to us, Saint-Jacques was degraded from its episcopal rank and remained a simple church until 1812 when it was destroyed. The present Cathedral of Saint-Etienne is a combination of styles and a violation of every sort of architectural unity, and realises a confusion which the most perverse imagination could scarcely have conceived. According to every convention of building, the Cathedral is not only artistically poor, but mathematically insupportable. The proportions are execrable; and the interior, the finest part of the church, reminds one irresistibly of a good puzzle badly put together. The weak tower is a sufficient excuse for the absence of the other; from the tower the roof slopes sharply and unreasonably, and the rose-window is perched, with inappropriate jauntiness, to the left of the main portal. The whole structure is not so much the vagary of an architect[Pg 294] as the sport of Fate, the self-evident survival of two unfitting façades. Walking through narrow streets, one comes upon the apse as upon another church, so different is its style. It is disproportionately higher than the façade; instead of being conglomerate, it is homogeneous; instead of a squat appearance, uninterestingly grotesque, it has the dignity of height and unity. And although it is too closely surrounded by houses and narrow streets, and although a view of the whole[Pg 295] apse is entirely prevented by the high wall of some churchly structure, it is the only worthy part of the exterior and, by comparison, even its rather timid flying-buttresses and insignificant stone traceries are impressive.
The nave of the early XIII century is an aisle-less chamber, low and broadly arched. As the eye continues down its length, it is met by the south aisle of the choir,—opening directly into the centre of the nave. Except for this curiously bad juxtaposition, both are normally constructed, and each is of so differing a phase of Gothic that they give the effect of two adjoining churches. The choir was begun in the late XII century, on a new axis, and was evidently the commencement of an entire and improved re-construction. In spite of the poorly planned restoration in the XVII century, the worthy conception of this choir is still realised. It is severe, lofty Gothic, majestic by its own intrinsic virtue, and doubly so in comparison with the uncouth puzzle-box effect of the whole. Its unity came upon the traveller with a shock of surprise, relieving and beautiful, and after he had walked about its high, narrow aisles and refreshed his disappointed vision, he left the Cathedral quickly—looking neither to the right nor to the left, without a trace of the temptation of Lot's wife, to “glance backward.”
Although Montauban was founded on the site of a Roman station, the Mons Albanus, it is really a city of the late Middle Ages, re-created, as it were, by Alphonse I., Count of Toulouse in 1144. And it was even a greater hot-bed of heretics than[Pg 296] Béziers. Incited first by hatred of the neighbouring monks of Le Moustier, and then by the bitter agonies of the Inquisition, it became fervently Albigensian, and as fervently Huguenot; and even now it has many Protestant inhabitants and a Protestant Faculty teaching Theology.
The Montauban of the present day is busy and prosperous, very prettily situated on the turbid little Tarn. In spite of her constant loyalty to the Huguenot cause, perhaps partly because of it, she has had three successive Cathedrals; Saint-Martin, burned in 1562; the Pro-cathedral of Saint-Jacques; and, finally, Notre-Dame, the present episcopal church, a heavy structure in the Italian style of the XVIII century. Large and light and bare, the nudeness of the interior is uncouth, and the stiff exterior, decorated with statues, impresses one as pleasantly as clothes upon crossed bean-poles. It is artificial and mannered; the last of the City Cathedrals of Languedoc and the least. If the notorious vices of the XVIII century were as bad as its style of ecclesiastical architecture, they must have been indeed monstrous.
END OF VOLUME I.Top