"MY FRIEND," said Madame Bavoil to Durtal on the evening of Wednesday, the day before that of the lunch-party. "I can’t be in the kitchen here and at Dijon at the same time, so I must ask you to be so kind as to go there tomorrow by the first train and fetch back a pâté and some cakes."
"And I suppose, a bottle of green Chartreuse as well, for I believe it is the only liqueur that Mlle. de Garambois condescends to taste."
"Very well, then, a bottle of green Chartreuse, too."
So, in the morning Durtal found himself in Dijon. "The first thing," he thought to himself on coming out of the station, "is to go and hear Mass at Notre Dame; after that I could spend a long while before the Black Virgin, as I have heaps of time; then, last of all, I’ll do my shopping, so as not to have to drag a lot of parcels about with me."
As usual, whenever he set foot in this town on a fine day, he felt in a kindly, almost jolly mood. There was an atmosphere of friendliness about Dijon that appealed to him; he liked its fine shops, the stir of the streets, the rather old-world charm of its squares, full of tall trees and bright flowers. Unfortunately, like other towns which strive to imitate the sheer ugliness of modern Paris, Dijon was undergoing a change; old streets were coming down and new quarters were springing up on every side; rows of aggressive-looking houses, with bow-windows, in the English style, with parti-coloured tiles in the yard, the whole fronted by iron railings. The impulse had been given; in thirty years, Dijon had changed more than during several centuries. It was now furrowed with broad avenues bearing well-worn names: Jean-Jacques-Rousseau and Voltaire, the Republic, Thiers, Carnot and Liberty, and as a climax, a statue of the warlike Garibaldi, of all people in the world, had been placed in the corner of a peaceful thoroughfare.
The truth is that the old Burgundian, religious and gay, quick-witted and argumentative, had been replaced by another Burgundian, who, while keeping some of the characteristics of the metal, had yet lost his original stamp when he lost his faith. Dijon, when it became republican, became at the same time careless, or even atheistic. The good-nature and the alacrity remained, but the peculiar flavour of artless piety mixed with Rabelaisian jollity had fled, and Durtal could not help deploring this.
"Yet, in spite of all, this town is one of the few in the provinces where it is pleasant to stroll about," he said to himself as he walked down the Avenue de la Gare. He crossed the Place d’Arcy, where a bold bronze statue recalls the half-forgotten fame of Rude the sculptor, and, passing through the Porte Guillaume, he went down the Rue de la Liberté as far as the Rue des Forges, when he turned and found himself in front of the façade of Notre Dame.
There he stopped to contemplate yet once again this Church of an aspect both solemn and malignant. Despite the patching up which it had undergone it had preserved a character of its own, quite unlike other specimens of thirteenth-century art. In fact, it was unlike any other church, with its arches in two storeys forming open galleries above the three deep bays of the great porch. On each storey there was a frieze-like row of grotesque figures, some restored, and some completely refashioned, but with great skill, by an artist with a real sense for mediaeval art. They were at such a height that, save by withdrawing to a considerable distance it was very difficult to see them properly; as was the case in cathedral-towers elsewhere, they comprised two troops, of devils and of men.
The devils were in the conventional shape of bad angels, with wings feathered with scales, with horned heads and a Gorgon’s mask at the fork of their legs; or else they were shown as fantastic animals, half lion, half heifer; beasts with the muzzle of a leopard and the hair of an onager or goat; oxen almost human-faced, with the grin of a tipsy hag leaning over her drink; nameless monsters of no particular breed, that might be panthers or pigs, or calves or even dancing dervishes. Men in contorted attitudes that evoked now pity, now screams of laughter, with heads turned right about and madness in their eyes; others snub-nosed, with gaping nostrils and huge funnel-shaped mouths; others with the faces of old burgesses, rollicking, lecherous and glutted with good living; and, last of all, others with the grinning visages of gnomes, in pie-shaped caps, with mouths wide open as if gagged by a three-cornered hat; and in the midst of all these grisly creations, this nightmare crew, a real woman praying, with clasped hands, a pathetic embodiment of terror and of faith, imprisoned in this menagerie of hobgoblins, craving the prayers of passers-by, pleading distractedly for deliverance and for mercy.
Hers was the one appealing cry coming from this church, of which the rectilinear façade of a style unknown to Gothic art and borrowed from some Roman construction preserved in mediaeval Burgundy, would have been too uniform, too austere, and ill-suited to the mocking temperament of the Dijonnais, if the monsters with which it was decorated had not served to break its monotony and stiffness. Without its circus of buffoons and devils Notre Dame might have seemed to belong to some other province foreign to the land that built it.
Yet Gothic art was visible enough in the tall slender turrets, capped with extinguisher-like roofs that stood on each side of the front. On the left hand was the famous jack captured in 1381 by Philip the Bold at Cambrai; but this Flemish fellow whose business it was to strike the hours on a bell with his hammer was no longer shut up in a bell-turret all gaudy with paint and gold; he was now interned in a black iron cage and had been allotted, first a spouse, then one, and finally two descendants. They looked like dolls clumsily cut out of a coloured print from one of the Epinal factories.
Yet the manikins were droll in their way. As he examined them, Durtal called to mind the only word-artist of whom Burgundy did not pretend to be proud. Aloysius Bertrand, in his Gaspard de la Nuit, had praised these figurettes in, terms standing out in high relief and glowing with singular colours. But Dijon, bent on rendering a tardy honour to the memory of her great, to La Monnoye and Piron, Crébillon and Rameau, Dubois and Rude — being deprived of Bossuet, filched from her by the town of Meaux — Dijon seemed ignorant even of the very titIe of this book.
As for the rest of the edifice, with its buttresses and flying buttresses, it was quite everyday in character. The centre-tower and the four turrets with their conical hoods were all modern; the carved figures under the vaulting of the doorway were no longer there, having been destroyed during the Revolution by the rabble that formed the bulk of the town council. After all, the exterior charm of Notre Dame lay in its façade, and in that alone.
On the other hand, in spite of all the touching up which it had undergone, the interior retained its olden interest. Notre Dame de Dijon did not convey an impression of mystery and immensity as great, dark churches do; it was white and well lighted, always suggesting the month of Mary, even in Holy Week; possibly the disappearance of its old painted windows helped to produce this feeling of youth and festal joy. Of course, no one could compare its nave and aisles with those of huge cathedrals, yet the church had a grace that was all its own, with its pillars decorated with carved arums and uncurling fronds, and its imposing lantern tower, which, by the way, had been rebuilt. Beyond the choir and behind the altar was an apse lit by stained-glass windows, depicting sword-blades and bucklers. There was no circular gangway allowing passage round the choir; the church ended, so far as the faithful were concerned, at the Communion Table.
At the end of each arm of the transept a niche contained an altar. The altar on the right was that of our Lady of Good Hope and was made of gilt bronze, was decked with flowers and glittered with tapers; above it was a small figure of the Virgin, black as soot, as if burnt by the flame of the candles; it was dressed in a white robe and a long star-spangled mantle, the feet resting on a bunch of vine leaves and gold grapes. Thus clothed, it had the shape of a triangle and set one thinking of the Spanish Madonnas of another epoch. In the southern transept the altar was dedicated to St , Joseph. Above this in 1854 a fifteenth-century fresco had been discovered, hitherto hidden by a picture. This fresco represented Calvary, but there was something in the presentment of the scene both puzzling and strange.
As regards the latter, it was the usual one, but between the two thieves hanging on their T-shaped gibbets there was neither Christ nor His Cross; the Madonna, a work of the school of Roger Van der Weyden — elderly and draped in blue, is shown in a state of collapse, leaning on St. John who is dressed in a wine-coloured vestment and a bluish mantle. He helps to hold her, but does so absent-mindedly, his attention being riveted on the sky. Behind him are two women; one, in yellow with a black girdle, and wearing a turban in vermilion and white, lifts her eyes to heaven ; the other, in a red skirt and a white veil, has shut her eyes, overwhelmed, like the Virgin, with grief. Farther off three skeletons in their shrouds look upwards, and appear to be praying. Finally, in the foreground, a strange, kneeling figure, the haggard form of a coarse woman, wearing a handkerchief round her neck, holds out her arms in profile, as she, too, gazes at the heavens.
Meanwhile the two thieves on their crosses are slowly dying. The penitent thief seems resigned to his fate; the other, a bearded Hercules, with limbs of a dull brick-red, writhes on his cross, one leg bent back behind it; he is at his last gasp, and a little black devil, with horns, and a tail curled like a trumpet, pounces on him with out-stretched claws, ready to seize the soul as it quits the body.
If to this description we add a distant town with castles and gabled houses, and on a pictured wall which forms part of the fresco, three standards, one red, bearing initials and two white ones, blazoned, with a cray-fish or scorpion in one case, and in the other with a two-headed eagle and set on posts painted in spirals of pink and black, then we have a vague idea of this enigmatic pane.
What strikes one first as singular is that all the persons, except Mary and the woman in the red skirt, show either by gaze or gesture that they can perceive someone in the air above that we do not see.
Evidently this must be Christ, but, if so, then it must be Christ in the clouds, and with His Cross. Another conjecture at first might seem possible. It may be that between the two crosses of the thieves there was formerly a third in relief with a carved imaged Christ on it, which was removed because, standing out from the wall as it did, it was in the way of the framed picture which for years hung here. Yet, even admitting that this theory were supported by documentary proof, by the evidence of such removal visible in the cement backing, the gestures of surprise and upward gaze of the figures would still require explanation. And it is just their attitudes, agreeing so well with the Introit of the Mass for the Ascension: "Men of Galilee, why gaze ye thus in wonderment at the heavens?" which seem to confute such a hypothesis as the foregoing. This was Durtal’s opinion.
"In any case," he thought to himself, " this Calvary fresco, over-restored though it be, is an extremely interesting specimen of that mystic realism brought by Flemish painters to the Court of Burgundy. This fresco, simply reeks of Bruges; there is no doubt about its paternity."
The bell had not yet rung for Mass, and, while waiting, he walked round the Church to look at some other frescoes, discovered in 1867, in the aisles, under a coat of accumulated whitewash. They were mere fragments; there was a Circumcision and a charming Baptism, but such was the dexterity with which they had been restored and retouched, that the effect was positively annoying. M. Ypermann, the painter who had restored these frescoes had been really too clever, had made a reproduction rather than a mere restoration. But the other frescoes, restored by a softer hand, were exquisite, especially two, one representing three saints, and another, near the main entrance, a Madonna with the infant on her knees.
The most fascinating of these works, the fresco of the three saints, may be thus outlined; in the centre we see St. Venissa, with the martyr’s palm in one hand and in the other a book; she wears a pale green robe and a cloak of faded rose with sulphur yellow lining; on her right stands St. Guille, a local bishop, wearing a white mitre and holding a crosier; a heavy red cope, lined with two rows of pearls, covers his shoulders; on his left, denoted by her usual attributes of a sword and a wheel, is St. Catherine of Alexandria, tight-laced in an ermine bodice, with pale olive-coloured sleeves, wearing on her shoulders a mantle of dull blue.
St. Venissa looks intently at her book, while St. Guille gazes abstractedly in front of him with sightless eyes; both are sad and pale; as for St. Catherine, she looks like one beheaded and who yet lives to suffer.
Finally, in the foreground below, two donors are kneeling, a burgher with clasped hands and a woman wearing a large head-dress, and draped in a praying-shawl. "I have seen that face somewhere;" thought Durtal, "that posture, that style of head-dress and those coarse features of a stout matron remind me of a piece of fifteenth-century sculpture, representing Jeanne de Laval, in the museum at Cluny. The two look as if they were kinswomen.
"St. Guille is presumably St. William of Bourges; but who is this Venissa, a saint not found in the martyrologies? Her name is written in Gothic characters above her halo. Should one read a ’D’ in place of the ’V’ and suppose her to be St. Denissa, Denisa or Dionysia, who suffered martyrdom in Africa in the fifth century? I can’t say. But assuredly these sad-faced phantoms, suddenly roused as it were from their slumbers, have preserved in their features the pallor of the grave. They have emerged from the tomb, indeed, but the hue of life as yet is not theirs."
It was the same with a fragment in the other aisle; it depicts St. Sabina, virgin and martyr, her neck shown as a purple circle, and her head, adorned with tresses of fair hair, carried in her hand, as in the pictures of St. Denys. The same also with a Madonna on the wall close to the door; she is languid and sad, with the Child on her knees, and is looking at a surpliced priest who kneels before her; all these figures, pale and spectral, are set in a misty landscape that fades away till it blends with the surrounding masonry.
Durtal inspected these paintings. It seemed to him like paying a visit to a graveyard of Flemish art; the frescoes were sepulchral frescoes; these resuscitated beings had not yet recovered their senses; and they looked weary, and grieved at coming back to life. By a natural association of ideas he remembered a suggestive passage, where St. Fulgentius, dealing with the raising of Lazarus in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, says, "Jesus did not weep, as the Jews thought, because his friend was dead; rather He wept because He was going to call back to the misery of life one that He loved."
"The fact is, once is enough, quite enough," sighed Durtal, as he turned to the Lady Chapel where candles were being lighted. When Mass was over he sat down in a corner and strove to collect his thoughts.
At the moment all he felt was overwhelming fatigue. However efficacious in themselves, and by virtue of the intention, they imply even when recited absent-mindedly the prayers of the Liturgy, if they are to be of high benefit demand an attention that nothing can distract, likewise a diligent study of the text beforehand, especially in its bearing on the Office of the day. This Durtal was wont to do each evening in readiness for the following day.
For the Mass it was easy. There was a mass-book, perhaps the only really complete one, the so-called "Missal of the Faithful," in two volumes, by a Benedictine of Maredsous, Dom Gérard Van Caloen, afterwards Abbot of the Monastery of Olinda in Brazil. By using it in combination with the Monastic Supplement published by the Benedictines of Wisquas, after having first looked up the feast of the day in the Calendar of the Congregation of St. Maur, it was quite easy to avoid any mistakes. Then, all he had to do was to read through the Mass when it was the proper one of a saint or feria. With the Common Masses, owing to their frequent recurrence, he had long been familiar. But, as regards the Office, it was another matter. Not to mention Matins and Lauds, and putting aside the little Hours which varied only on Sundays and Mondays, there were the Vespers, which, unlike Compline, were not invariable. To one who was loth to carry about with him the unwieldy Solesmes prayer-books, it was no easy thing to follow the services.
The little Diurnal which he generally used had been compiled by the English Benedictines for their own use and was badly adapted for use in houses belonging to the French Congregation. First of all, there were heaps of English saints, never even mentioned in the French Calendar, while many of ours were absent from theirs; hence, before all, it was always necessary to consult the French Supplement inserted at the end of the book. Then, in order to get a great deal of matter into a small space, the volume was printed on thin paper, in close type, and with an overdose of red rubric that to the eyesight was very trying. Besides that there were too many crossreferences, and too many abbreviations, which, in the absence of a key, were incomprehensible. Finally, many of the Offices were treated as Doubles, which in France were mere Simples, feasts of the very lowest category and without Anthems of their own; such was that of St. Pentaleen, held in great honour by the English Benedictines. To make matters still worse, there was a three-fold pagination and the references in the supplement to the pages of the Diurnal were almost invariably wrong.
Yet there was no further choice; either a French Breviary as big as a post-office directory, or else these little pocket volumes, Solesmes not having as yet published a breviary for use when travelling.
"What a muddle it all is!" Durtal had once said to Dom Felletin, who laughingly replied: "Such hints as I can give you will be of no use whatever. Practice alone can guide you through the labyrinth of the Hours, which, I admit, are puzzling to a degree."
And, thanks to practice, he had at last managed to find his way about, and, by using plenty of markers, he was able to see where he was in this jumble of texts. Even so, however, he had to be careful, for the versicles and responses of the commemorations often meant turning at a moment’s notice from one end of the book to the other, even if you were lucky enough not to be within a double Octave or in a season such as Advent, when everything is still further involved.
Having arranged the markers, the next thing was to study the Office itself and to understand its meaning, and, to see what lessons, over and above the divine service of praise and the general supplication, were to be learnt to one’s own particular profit.
"What you must do," he said to himself, "is, first of all, to become so imbued with the spirit of the Psalms as to be persuaded that they were written for you personally, so exactly do they correspond to your own thoughts; then they must be repeated as a heart-felt prayer; in a word, you must appropriate and assimilate the language of the Psalmist, and pray in the way that Christ and His forerunners prayed."
This was all right in theory, but in reality it was not always easy ; if in the sacred text you happened on verses whose meaning had hitherto escaped you but which now seemed amazingly clear and exactly suited to your spiritual condition at the moment, so that you asked yourself how it came that you had never grasped their significance before, you were immediately confronted with an impediment, to wit, the routine which forces you to forge ahead with the Psalms and prevents you adapting this or that passage to your needs.
Such routine, it must be confessed, was inseparable from the Office and the way it was recited. To realize all it implied and thoroughly to perceive its meaning even after a preliminary study of it, it would have been necessary to sing or to chant it slowly and religiously, and to meditate on it ; but this was not possible, for it would have made the service long and drowsy, have deprived it of its rhythm and life, and shorn it of all beauty and art.
"Hence," concluded Durtal, " the best thing to do is to acknowledge the talismanic character of the Liturgy, or else throw it up entirely; its power is latent; you don’t feel the current when you are always in it; you feel it only when it ceases.
"But these excuses do not justify my wandering thoughts; whilst with my lips I utter prayers my fancy flies thither and thither. True, I am pulled up at moments when I am I know not where, but certainly very far from God; as my soul feels His touch I return to Him, and really resolve to love Him; then promptly, I fall again, and worldly preoccupations resume their sway until suddenly God knocks again at the door of the heart and again it opens to Him.
"The truest image of myself is always that of an inn; everyone goes in and everyone goes out; a house of call for straying thoughts; happily the inn, though small, is not always full like that of Bethlehem; it always has a room ready for Christ should He come, a comfortless unfurnished room, a mere hovel perhaps, but He who had a Cross for His bed might be content with it, if only the host were more attentive and obliging. Alas! that is the worst of all, that Christ, when He comes, gets so grudging a welcome! I am at the service of every idler; I make haste to answer the call of useless intruders I chat with the tempter and his travellers; but to Him I give as little heed as if He did not exist; and He says nothing, or departs. How can I remedy this confusion in my heart and soul?
"Nevertheless I feel less arid here than at Chartres and also less scatter-brained; but I am overfed with worship, drunk with prayers. I am tired beyond measure, and from fatigue comes boredom, and boredom begets discouragement; there it is that the danger lies, that is what I must strive against. Of course, the ideal looks simple enough; I have only to wipe out old traces, chase away vain imaginations, make void the heart within me that Thy Son may be pleased to dwell therein, become so indifferent to pleasure or care, so unconcerned in what surrounds me, that every feeling is expressed in the Liturgy of the day; in a word, I should neither weep, nor laugh, nor live, but in Thee and with Thee. But alas, how far beyond our reach is such an ideal! Such banishment of self is beyond our power; we cannot kill the old Adam; the most we can do is to send him to sleep, and the least little thing wakes him again.
"Yet, with the help of special grace, the saints succeeded in achieving this, though God allowed them to have their faults in order to save them from pride; but for ordinary mortals such a thing is unattainable; the more I reflect upon this, the more I am convinced that nothing is more difficult than to turn oneself into a saint.
"True, there are many who have mortified the flesh; they practise humility and the love of Jesus; they withstand all grosser distractions; they are even on the watch for God’s coming; they seem on the high road to sainthood, but, lo, they put their foot on a bit of orange-peel and, down they go just like other people; they join the throng of good folk who yet are not saints, that halt when high upon the hillside, and, unable to mount higher, rest them there, when they do not ingloriously slide down back to the bottom.
"The touchstone of saintliness is not in bodily mortification and suffering — these are but means to an end — nor is it in the extinction of sins great and small; with the help of Heaven every good and earnest man may aspire to this; it lies rather in the reality of that clause in the Lord’s Prayer, ’As we forgive them that trespass against us,’ that we repeat so glibly instead of with trembling. Holiness lies in being tolerant of deceit and injury, in bearing no malice because of unjust treatment, even though such injustice be prolonged and the hatred that prompts it makes life almost intolerable; in being anxious to suffer such injustice because it brings humiliation; in not merely bearing no ill-will towards one’s enemy but in loving him the more and in wishing for his welfare frankly, sincerely and from the bottom of one’s heart; in seeking to excuse his conduct and taking all the blame to oneself — now, all this, short of a special grace, is beyond human power.
"The boundless humility and charity needed for such self-effacement is positively appalling. There are some, possessed of certain virtues to an almost heroic degree, who fire up, though only momentarily, when offended, and an unexpected open offence is, after all, easier to bear than a long course of reiterated annoyances; you can recover control after a blow, but you are upset and unnerved if you are made to endure perpetual pin-pricks. It is persistency that exasperates, which waters, so to speak, the dry places of the soul, giving the sins of spite and anger time to grow, and God knows how deeply rooted these sins are!
"And stranger still, if you master yourself sufficiently to keep silence, and, in default of loving your tormentor, to forget his doings; even if you succeed in stifling resentment when it appears — then, behold, some little thing infuriates you and you foam at trifles; you have avoided tumbling into the ditch, but you have sprained your ankle in a little hole, and measured your length on the ground none the less. Pride may be dead, but self-esteem survives. The flood of sin may have ebbed, but the mud remains, and of this the devil takes full advantage.
"Such lapses would be altogether too stupid if one did not know the tactics of the Evil one. These are simple enough; everyone understands them, yet they always succeed. In attacking those whose faults are but small, his efforts are concentrated on a single point; you proceed to fortify this point and dismantle the others. He then makes a sham attack on the armed rampart, simulates defeat and withdraws, but meantime he enters by the postern door which has been left undefended and safe from danger; you are not aware of his presence until lie is seen strutting about within the fortress.
"Ah! holiness, how rare it is! of what use even to discuss it? If only I could avoid falling into my old faults even when assuring the Almighty that, at all cost, I will never commit them again! Alas! such vows are drunken vows, and such pious castles in the air can never stand!
"How humiliating are these frequent confessions, these constant repetitions of the same old things, this re-chewing of the cud of sin. The sins are ranked in a conventional order; you unfasten the catch and the windlass rattles off. As, except where the flesh is concerned, these sins of trifling importance — a mistake, by the way, though they are considered so — you are sometimes at a loss to know whether you have committed them again since you last got absolution, and, for fear of not dealing fairly with God, you again accuse yourself in a half-hearted way without conviction or real repentance. Then there arises the embarrassing question: at what moment, when sorely tempted, does sin begin? Is sin ever put aside promptly enough? Is there not always just a little yielding to it; just a suspicion of morose delectation as one turns from it?
"Unexpectedly carnal visions appear before your eyes; there is a moment of surprise, followed by a momentary complacency; you check yourself indeed, but not quick enough not to be conscious of some slight trace of pleasure, and not quick enough sometimes not to be conscious of just a little regret for having had, from a sense of duty, to forgo the gratification. All this happens in the twinkling of an eye, inadvertently, and it is only afterwards when one has time to reflect that one can split up such a temptation into its parts, and separate its details. Was there a sin and how great was it? God only knows,
By way of consolation it is well to bear in mind that the devil has no power over the will and very little over the mind, but an unlimited power over the fancy. There he is master and there he holds revel with his myrmidons; but all this riot is of no more consequence than the din of a military band which passes your windows. The panes rattle, everything in the room shakes and you are deafened. But you have only to sit tight and wait till the blare of the brass and the noise of the drums have died away; the tumult is without; we feel its effect, indeed, but we are not responsible for the effect, unless, of course, we go to the window the better to hear; then, there would be assent. All this is easily said, but . . . another question on which light is needed is that of charity or brotherly love. Everybody admits that we must love our neighbour; but, in certain cases, where does love begin and where does it end? At certain times, too, we may ask what becomes of truth, justice, candour, under this cloak of charity For, after all, hypocrisy, sloth and injustice are often separated from charity only by a thread’s breadth. To avoid giving offence you may help a bad cause; you do harm to one by professing not to judge another, and cowardice and a wish to avoid getting entangled in unpleasantnesses, play no small part, The boundary line between this virtue and these vices is so indefinite that you never know if you have not crossed it. The theological theory is all right in its way: we must be ruthless as regards evil deeds, but merciful to evil doers; but this general principle doesn’t solve the special cases, and all the cases are special. The border-line that must be crossed is ill-defined and dark; nor is there any fence or warning-board to prevent you breaking your neck.
"How great is the wretchedness of souls hemmed in by petty faults! How great their distress when they see that they are ever marking time and making no headway! Yet, by way of consolation, we should reflect that, owing to our fallen nature it is impossible to remain entirely stainless; human imperfections are like the dust that settles on the furniture, do what one may. They may be swept away by frequent confessions, but they inevitably reappear, and the work has always to be done anew.
"But 1 wonder what is the time?" exclaimed Durtal as he looked at his watch; "instead of musing and grumbling like this, suppose I go for a walk just to kill time."
He started off haphazard along the streets, stopping now and then to look at some old building, at houses such as those in the Rue des Forges and Rue Chaudronnerie, the de Vogue and the Cariatides property at the watch-tower in the Rue Vannerie; then he reached the commercial part of the town; then the broad, lifeless avenues where there were no "Touring Club," no "Bon Marché," no Parisian bazaars, no emporiums bearing names stale in Paris but still new in the provinces, such as the "Poor Devil" and the "Hundred Thousand Overcoats"; no advertisements for gingerbread, black-currant syrup, mustard, and other local products which are an outstanding feature of the shopping quarter of Dijon. Of trade there was no sign in these wealthy, ugly, solitary, sullen-looking highways. He came out at the Place du Trente Octobre, where, to glorify the memories of the National Defence, stands a statue of Resistance seemingly modelled on a street-walker upright on a cask.
"Ah!" he said, taking his bearings, "here’s the Boulevard Carnot. I might as well have a look at the Carmelite chapel as I have never been there before. M. Lampre told me that it was opposite the Synagogue, so it will be easy to find it."
He went down the Boulevard, and presently saw on his right the dome of the Synagogue which had been built to serve the many importers of shoddy goods from Paris. Then on his left he saw one of those high walls, built to the usual stern pattern of Carmel. He went through a small postern door which he found ajar, and entered a small, carefully raked garden, with flower-beds in perfect order. Passing on, he reached a large open door and entered the chapel.
This modern sanctuary, built in Gothic style, consisted of a nave only and had no transept. At the far end near the altar, on the gospel side, was the black iron grating of the enclosure. The little church was neither beautiful nor ugly, but what gave it a touch of strangeness was the lighting; the windows on a ground of raisin and thick white bore great figures of male and female saints wearing the robes of the Order, in their white mantles but with habits of a brown colour inclining to violet. Among the names of the saints were Elias, Bl. John Soreth, St. Albert and St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, St. Magdalene de Pazzi, BI. Archangela, and Mother Mary of the Incarnation.
The chapel was empty and silence reigned. Durtal sat down and bethought himself of certain details about this Carmel which he had read in an interesting work on Dijon by M. Chabeuf. The nuns had settled in this town at the beginning of the 17th century, under the direction of Anne de la Lobère, a disciple of St. Terese. Originally their house was in the Place Charhonneric, but they had afterwards moved to another building, which at the Revolution became a barracks, finally they were stranded here on a Boulevard named after Carnot and opposite a synagogue.
"Doubtless, Providence purposely placed them here," thought Durtal, "just as eucalyptus trees are planted near deadly marshes to destroy their contamination. Dijon may not think so, but this humble cloister is a blessing to the town. I wonder, do people come here as they did at Chartres; there the entrance to the Carinelite convent in the Rue des Jubelines was always full of worthy folk who wanted prayers to be said for sick children, conversions for recruits about to draw lots, for religious vocations, in fact for all sorts of things ? Some of the simple peasantwomen would pull out their purses and ask for two-half pence worth ! And the good Carmelites were so conscientious that, after having repeated each day the prayers inscribed by Sister Louisa, the portress, they recited an additional prayer lest one had been left out!
"These saintly women! But what a fool I am!" exclaimed Durtal suddenly; "here I am, struggling in a void, my distractions seeking in vain for a remedy and yet St. Teresa solved my difficulties long ago Now that I am in her house, I call to mind having read a letter of hers to one of her confessors, Dom Sancho I think it was, in which she told him the distractions of which you coin plain, I feel just as much as you, but you should not worry about them, for it seems to me they are incurable." There in a few words she seems to have absolved you from all responsibility!
"What a woman she was! Her Rule seems almost beyond human power, yet she was the most perfectly balanced of women. Her high-pressure machines were provided with safety-valves; recreations helped to unbend the soul under such restraint; yet the characters on whom she reckoned had to be both cheerful and resolute. In her nunneries a sister inclined to melancholy would soon have lost all hope and, finally, her reason. The Carmelite nun, having to take upon herself the temptations and ills of others, must expect to endure the worst of anguish in body and in soul. To be able to do this, her body must be able to smile when her soul is in torment and her soul must be cheerful when her body suffers. But still it seems so much beyond human nature that it appals me," said Durtal to himself.
"But there are Rules harder even than the Carmelites’. In a Carmel there are numerous inmates who can share each other’s burdens and give mutual help and support; there are also pauses in the conflict, recreation and diversions, But, in the middle ages and in antiquity, there were men and women who undertook the office of expiation in solitude, willing hermits of the night, kneeling in a vault, without light, without horizon, buried till death within four walls.
"At one time recluses abounded in the Valley of the Nile. Anchorites thought that life in the open, or in a Lavra, amidst the luxurious charms of an oasis, made bright and splendid by the lights of dawn and sunset, was too easy, for they hated the beauties of Nature which prevented them from leading a life of unalloyed suffering; some, like St. Anthony, Peter Gelatinus, and Alexandra the Virgin, hid themselves in an empty sepulchre. Others, like Simeon Stylites, for a time found their hiding-place in a dry well, others again, like Acepsimas, St. Thaias and St. Nilammon walled themselves in a cellar with only a hole through which food could be given them. Others again took up their abode in caverns from which they had driven out the wild beasts.
"This life, like monastic life, had its origin in the East, but it soon spread to the West. The first recluse in France whose name has come down to us was St. Leonianus, who in the fifth century shut himself up in a cell, first at Autun and then at Vienne; about the same time lived St. Aignan who died Bishop of Orleans; also St. Eucherim who, before becoming Bishop of Lyons, dwelt in a hut on the island of Léro. In the sixth century there were St. Friad and St. Caluppo who withdrew from the world, one near Nantes and the other near Clermont; St. Leobardus, who shut himself up in a rocky cavern at Marmontiers; Hospitius, who immured himself near Nice; St. Lucipinus, who chose as prison the walls of an old building and, by way of penance, bore on his head an enormous stone, which two men could hardly lift. There was also Patrolla, of whose miracles Gregory of Tours tells us, St. Cybardus, who built for himself a cell near Angoulème, and St. Libertus, who died immured at Tours in the year 583. In the seventh century there were St. Bavo and St. Valericus, or Vaury; the former led a life of seclusion in the trunk of a tree and afterwards in a forest hut near Gand. The latter lived entombed in the Limousin. In the eighth century we have St. Vodoal and St. Heltrude; the one shut himself up in the outer court of a nunnery at Soissons, and the other led a life of seclusion in the Hainaut, and the list of Belgic saints of Bauduin Willot tells us that she died and was buried at Liessies; and there are so many others of whose names I can’t think," said Durtal to himself.
Then, continuing to soliloquize, he went on: "Up to the ninth century, the practice of seclusion had been subject to no precise rule; each was free to follow his own way, to make it pitiless or lenient, temporary or perpetual. As was to be expected, abuses crept in; some there were who, having presumed too much in their powers, failed in their resolution and had to be released from their bondage. To guard against such things, the Church decided that every would-be recluse should first undergo a two years’ trial in the cell of a monastery, and then, if he persisted in his resolve and was deemed fit for such a life, he should take, not temporary, but perpetual vows.
"The fact is that we find in the ninth century a Rule which applied to all male recluses. This Rule, which was edited by Dom Luc d’Achery, is supposed to have been drawn up by Grimlaicus, a priest or a monk, it is not certain which.
"After having mentioned the two years’ probation and the irrevocability of the vows except in the case of severe illness, the Rule proceeds to details. The cell must adjoin the Church, be built of stone and be surrounded by high walls, having no communication with the outside except by a sort of peep-hole in the wall, just large enough to allow a tray to be passed through with food. The cell was to be ten feet long by ten feet broad; a window, or rather a sort of port-hole, was to open into the Church; this window was to have two curtains, to prevent the faithful from seeing the captive or him from seeing them. These curtains were to be drawn aside only" before God," that is, when the Blessed Sacrament was administered daily to the prisoner, supposing he was a layman. If, however, he was a priest, he was to celebrate Mass daily alone, in a little oratory adjoining the cell; in other words, he was allowed to say Mass without a server.
The recluse was allowed to eat only in the daytime, and never at night or by lamp-light. The first meal consisted of vegetables and eggs; at the second, on High Festival days, he might take a little fish; he was allowed the half-measure of wine mentioned in the Rule of St. Benedict; he was also to wear a habit like that worn by the monks of the same Order. He was to lie on a plank bed with a mattress, and was provided with a cloak, a hair-shirt and a pillow; he was also to sleep fully dressed. He must wash his face and his body and not allow his hair and beard to grow for more than forty days. If he became dangerously ill the seals of his cell were to be broken in order that he might be nursed.
"This Rule, based on that of St. Benedict, is a lenient one; it is very different from that of those Anchorites who lived in caverns and tombs and made herbs and roots their food. Yet, contrary to the general impression as to the life of recluses, the Rule of Grimlaicus directs that there should never be less than two or three; each one was indeed to live apart in his cell, but might communicate with his neighbour by means of a hole in the wall; occasionally they might talk about Holy Scriptures and the Liturgy, and receive spiritual instruction from the eldest and most learned of them.
If we add that to each abode a garden was attached where the recluse could grow vegetables, we find ourselves very near the Rule of St. Bruno, with the little house and garden which every Carthusian owns.
"As Mr. Pavy justly remarks, the life of such a ninthcentury recluse was very like that of a monk.
Comparatively lenient as these regulations were, they became still more so later, among the Camaldolese. In the tenth century St. Romuald, their founder, declared that the right of deciding whether any of his monks who so denied were fit to enter a life of seclusion should belong to the General Chapter of the Order, and that no one could be proposed to the Chapter who, after his profession, had not spent at least five years in a monastery. He also decided that such seclusion need no longer be perpetual.
The cell of such a hermit contained a bed, a table, a chair, a fireplace and certain holy pictures; it looked out on to a walled garden; the recluse had the right to converse with the monks of the Order at Martinmas, and on Quinquagesima Sunday; every Friday and Saturday he attended Mass and Nones, and during Holy Week he left his hermitage and joined in the Office with the community, with whom also he then took his meals. On other days he had to recite the Canonical Hours in his cell, not at such hours as he chose, but when the bell for each service called the monks to chapel.
"We get nearer and nearer to the Carthusian Rule," thought Durtal, "and to that of the Carmelites, for, after all, these Camaldolese Hermits are simply monks who pass lengthy retreats in hermitages, a practice not unknown in the monasteries of St. Teresa. At any rate, one thing is certain, we are getting further and further from the heroic era of the hermit life.
This slackness also invaded the nunneries, in spite of women being as a rule braver than men. In the twelfth century there was drawn up the Rule of Bl. Aelred, Abbot of Riéval, or Riévaulx, for hermit-nuns. This Rule is divided into seventy-eight chapters and abounds less in precepts than in counsels. The hermit-nun, so it tells us, ought so far as she can to abstain from wine, but if she deems this drink good for her health, she shall be given a half-pint daily. She is to eat one dish only of vegetables or of mealy food and if she takes a collation she must be satisfied with a little milk or fish, supplemented if necessary by herbs or fruit. On Wednesdays and Fridays she must have nothing but bread and water, unless she be unwell; and on no account is she to decorate her cell with pictures or woven stuffs.
She may speak if she likes, but only on condition that she does not indulge in frivolous talk; she is not obliged to wait upon herself, and, if she likes, she may have a servant to carry wood and water and to prepare the beans and other vegetables.
"This Rule which Aelred wrote for his sister, put the finishing touch to the decay in severity. His Rule scarcely even reminds us of the former rigour of the immurement, and the living tomb of the recluse in earlier centuries.
"As to the details of the ceremonial used in olden times when a recluse was led to his hermitage, little is known. The hermit, whether a man, or a woman, was as a rule solemnly conducted to his prison on a Sunday before High Mass. He prostrated himself at the feet of the Bishop, or of the Abbot or Abbess, if the hermitage was attached to a monastery, and there pronounced aloud the vows of stability, obedience, and conversion to God. During the sprinkling with holy water they stood in the choir, and, immediately after the Exaudi, the procession, headed by the cross and chanting litanies, led them to the door of the prison which was then walled in or sealed with the seal of the celebrant, while all the bells were ringing merrily as for some great festival.
"When making their vows of obedience to the Abbot or Abbess, conventual hermits, whether male or female, almost always made over to them their property, in consideration of their receiving in return their living; here we have a striking resemblance to the ceremonies in vogue in the Middle Ages for the admission of the oblates of St. Benedict.
"As the rules of the hermit life grew milder, the Benedictine institution of the oblatory emerges into history.
"These hermits, when they were not monks, were to all intents oblates. Many such hermits lived near Benedictine cloisters. Mabillon remarks that this kind of penitent, who heard mass in their cells from behind a grating in the wall of the Church, was already known in the Order in the eleventh century. If one may judge by the inscriptions found in archives and obituary lists, the number of such voluntary captives was considerable, and the institution developed with surprising swiftness in the ages following.
"Recluses, male and female, abounded in Germany and in Flanders. We find them in England, in Italy, in Switzerland, also in France about Orleans, near Chartres, in the Limousin, in Touraine and in almost all the provinces. There were eleven hermitages at Lyons. In Paris, besides Flora, the recluse of St. Séverin, there was Basilla, the recluse of St. Victor, then Hermensande, the recluse of St. Médard, Agnes de Rochier a Ste. Opportune, Alix la Bourgotte, Jeanne la Vodrière and Jeanne Painsercelli in the parish of the Holy Innocents, the Egyptian of the parish of St. Eustache, a certain Marguerite at St. Paul, the unknown recluse of the church of Ste. Genevieve, and the hermits of Mont-Valérien: Antoine, Guillemette de Faussard, Jean de Houssai who died in the odour of sanctity, Thomas Guygadon, Jean de Chaillot, Jean le Comte, the Venerable Pierre de Bourbon, Seraphim de La None, and finally Nicolas de la Boissière who died there on May 9th, 1669, at the age of forty-six.
"After his death, there remained at Mont Valerien merely hermits leading a common life under a Rule almost exactly like that of the Cistercians; it contained, however, a clause stipulating that hermits who wished to lead the stricter life of the old solitaries should, after examination, be permitted to occupy a special cell, either for life, or for a year, for six months, three months, a fortnight, or a week, being at liberty to rejoin the fraternity at the end of the time.
"The Rule of Grimlaicus must soon have fallen into disuse. Indeed, it is doubtful whether it was ever generally applied. Its importance arises from its being the only such Rule known, for that of St. Romuald was really only a private rule applying to his Abbey.
"The same may be said of the ordinance of Bl. Aelred; we do not know if it ever had the force of a Law; what seems likely is that, following such instructions on their main lines, many recluses, both men and women, made them more or less severe according to their physical powers of endurance, or as they were prompted by their greater, or lesser, fervour. Doubtless also there were local statutes; what in any case appears certain is that from the ninth century onward the system of practically consigning the hermit to his grave had come to an end. The sepulchre had become a cell, and its occupant worked and prayed as in cells of the adjoining monastery. Concerning this we have particulars.
"Hildeburga, who lived in the twelfth century, retired to a little house built for her on the northern side of the Abbey church by the Abbot de St. Martin in Pontoise, and here she occupied herself in making priestly vestments and in mending the monks’ habits. At the Abbey du Bee in Normandy the mother of the Venerable Abbot Herluin was lodged in a room adjoining the monastic chapel, and she washed the garments of the Community and undertook other domestic duties. Mabillon also tells us of the Bl. Harduin, a recluse of the Abbey of Fontenelle, who transcribed or composed many works. These hermits were clearly able to communicate with the monks in the monastery, and lived in well-lighted rooms and were supplied with furniture necessary to their work.
"There is also ample proof that, at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, certain hermitages fell into disrepute; in this connection we may quote the case of a priest named Pierre, a recluse of St. Barthelemy at Lyons, who was wont to leave his hermitage and scandalize pious folk by gadding about the town.
"Hermitages, however, continued to exist until the end of the seventeenth century. In Volume Three of the Dictionary of Religious Orders, Helyot tells us of Jeanne de Cambry, in Flanders, who founded the Institute of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin; she wished to end her days in solitude near the church of St. André at Lille, where she died in 1639; Hélyot gives us a few details of the ceremonial used on that occasion.
"Mother de Cambry, he says, wearing a dress of undyed wool and accompanied by two of her nuns who carried, one a blue mantle, and the other a black veil and a violet scapular — the colours of her Order — prostrated herself at the feet of the Bishop of Tournai who was waiting to receive her on the threshold of the Church. Raising her, he led her to the High Altar and, after blessing the garments, he vested her in them; she then made her vows of perpetual retirement and was led in procession, to the singing of the Veni, Sponsa Christi, to her cell where the Bishop shut her in and affixed his seal to the door.
"After Mother de Cambry we have Marguerite la Barge, immured at Ste. Irénée in Lyons where she died in 1692. She is the last recluse of whom we have any knowledge.
"To-day," thought Durtal, smiling, "near Lyons there exists a travesty of an old hermitage. When passing through that town, I remember once going to see the hermit of Mont Cindre. It was a sort of pleasure-trip. The hermit was a worthy man, swathed in a cassock, and dwelling in a little house that had a garden adorned with imitation rockery and hideous statues. He seemed pious, and got a living by selling medals. No doubt he did a good trade, for a rival was building another hut close to his. But one can hardly compare these modern professionals with the shy recluses of earlier times.
"These bygone hermits gave several saints to the Church: St. Heltrude, St. Hildeburga, St. Drago of Epinay, St. Simeon of Trèves, St. Viborada, St. Rachilda, St. Gemma, BI. Dorothea, patron of Prussia, Agnes de Moncada, Julia della Rena, the Venerable Yvette, or Jutte, of Liege, St. Bavo, Bl. Millory, the first recluse of the Order of Vallombrosa, Bl. Diemona and Yulla, followed by St. Hildegarde, Bl. Eve, who with Juliana of Cornillon promoted the feast of Corpus Christi, and how many more besides whose names I forget!" thought Durtal.
"In short, the hermit life ended as the monasteries also ended, which were already falling to dust when the Revolution swept them away; failure in both cases was due to lack of the love of God, to want of the spirit of sacrifice and of faith. The hermit life began by being a life of terror, but gradually became a life of comparative case; the descriptions given by Victor Hugo in Notre Dame de Paris, of the Rats’ hole and the Sachette are scarcely accurate of the time in which he puts them.
"But what interests me, apart from the fact that during the ages of fervour the contemplative life and entire devotion to God were seen at their best in these hermitages, is the resemblance which I seem to find between the hermits and the oblates.
"But time is getting on; enough of dreams. We must think of material things, and become the humble servant of Madame Bavoil.
"All the same, it is a nuisance to have, so to speak, all one’s knowledge on a reel that unwinds on the slightest pretext. But is it the fault of these good Carmelites, whose severe observances led up to the thought of the ancient Anchorites? Come, this won’t do. Let us be moving! "
Having done his shopping, Durtal made his way to the station. He hated parcels and cursed the strings for cutting his fingers. "I must get rid of this bottle of Chartreuse somehow," he said, "and the best thing to do is to stick it into my overcoat pocket, though, no doubt, mamma Bavoil will scold me once more for spoiling the lining of my pockets."
And as he got into the train, his thoughts again turned to this woman. Her life was now a blank — no more visions now, no colloquies with God; all divine manifestations had suddenly ceased, and she was now like anybody else. She accused herself of having deserved such disgrace, through having, perhaps, boasted too much about them; but, though saddened, she was perfectly resigned.
"Who knows," thought Durtal, "if, after the death of the Abbé Gévresin, who for years was her spiritual adviser, and understood her state of soul, she was not misunderstood by some confessor who was perhaps too suspicious, perhaps too generous, or perhaps too learned, but at any rate, quite out of sympathy with her? It may be that our Lord, by withdrawing privileges that were not really necessary for her spiritual welfare did so only to dispense her from having to talk about them. Well, when she seems to take this withdrawal too grievously, I will suggest this theory by way of consolation."
"IT serves you right for being greedy!" laughed Madame Bavoil.
"I solemnly renounce all graisserons," said Durtal, looking at his plate on which lay something looking like a sponge cut into slices, the edges of which had been burned.
"It is my fault," confessed Mlle. de Garambois, sadly. "I didn’t toast them properly; but really I ought to have had another kind of bread, not this stuff that the village baker sells."
Madame Bavoil took away the disappointing delicacies and brought in a leg of mutton which Durtal, as host, proceeded to carve.
"Your light wine is very appetizing," remarked M. Lampre; " I should think the place it comes from is not a hundred miles from Beaune."
"You are not far out."
"I had no time to go to high Mass, this morning," said Madame Bavoil, as she brought in some boiled potatoes to supplement the mutton; " I suppose nothing happened?"
"No, or rather, yes, there was just a little incident. Father Titourne came in during the Introit and had to go and kneel before the Altar until the Abbot gave the sign by rapping his desk that he might come and explain why he was late. Apparently his excuse was not considered satisfactory, for, instead of going to his stall, he had to sit in the lowest place on the bench of the late-corners."
"Oh!" said Durtal, "Father Titourne is not quite right in his head and is always in these scrapes. I must confess that it tickles me to see that lanky fellow with his black scalp and his white pierrot-like face, rushing into Church at full speed. He has a way of shaking the sleeves of his cowl that suggests a whirlwind."
"I suppose he gets his fill of penances?"
"What penances?" queried Madame Bavoil.
"Well, You see, every Monday and Friday each monk has to accuse himself at the Chapter of his breaches of the Rule. The faults are trifling enough, One did not bow quickly enough at the Gloria in the Psalms, another tore his habit, or upset his inkstand, and so forth. The Abbot imposes a penance on the culprit which usually consists of a prayer; he has also to kneel at the Abbot’s table in the refectory for a long or short time according to the gravity of the offence. But, here, our good Abbot is so kind-hearted that, hardly has the delinquent knelt down before he is beckoned to go back to his place and take his seat."
"And have all the monks to submit to such punishments? If guests are present, it must be very humiliating."
"Yes, all; professed monks, novices, postulants, or lay-brothers; even the prior is not exempt; the Abbot, too, after the monks have confessed their faults in the Chapter, has to mention his own breaches of the Rule, and give his reasons."
"May I give you some mutton, Monsieur Lampre? No? Well, a potato?"
"No," said Mlle. de Garambois, replying to a glance from Durtal, " I am keeping an appetite for some of that pâté over there. Meanwhile, hand me the salad which is served with it, so that I may give it a finishing touch."
They had got to the dessert, and Mlle. de Garambois, who was nibbling cake and gingerbread, interposed.
"We had better not be in too much of a hurry, for Father Felietin is coming to take coffee with us, and he never gets here too soon; so, as we have plenty of time, why not keep your promise, Monsieur Durtal, and show us your collection of materials bearing on the history of the oblates. We know what oblates are now, tell us what they were."
"Do you expect me to give you a lecture?"
"Not at all. Just take your notes, which I am sure are in good order, and read them out to us. That will be quite enough."
"I am quite willing; only I warn you that my notes are not in strict chronological order. As you have taken me unawares, you must excuse a certain amount of incoherence."
"That is understood, only don’t bore us too much."
Durtal left the room, and came back in a few moments with a bundle of notebooks.
"Well," he said, "I am rather at a loss where to begin. Perhaps I ought to state, first of all, that the oblates are not an invention of the Benedictines, as many think. Before the institution took root in our Order it flourished among the Premonstratensians, the Teniplars and elsewhere.
"At any rate, in the 6th century we find Severinus, Abbot of Agaunum, one of the two patron saints of the Church of St. Séverin in Paris, ruling a sort of community where men and women lived in separate houses a sort of semi-monastic life, yet without being bound by vows. In the following century we again find a similar institution in the Rules of St. Isidore and St. Fructuosus, The latter enacted that, if a layman with his wife and little ciiihlren sought admission to one of his monasteries, he and his family were to act as follows They were to be all of them under the jurisdiction of the Abbot, who would take charge of their property, and provide them with the necessary food and clothing. They wen. forbidden to talk to each other without leave, though the children might see their parents whenever they liked until such time as they were old enough to conic under the discipline of the cloister.
"Still, by way of preface I may add that, in monastic chronicles and death-rolls, oblates are styled "Oblati, offerti, dali, donali, familiares, commissi, paioti, fratres conscripti, monachi laici,’ and that the documents which I have collected as referring to them are taken from the Benedictine Annal of Mabillon, from the Camaldolese Annals of Mittarelli, from du Cange’s Glossary of Low and Mediaeval Latin, and especially from a study by Dom Ursmer Berlière, published in 1886 and 1887 in the Messager des Fidéles, the little review of the Benedictines of Maredsous. Unfortunately, this latter work, though the fruit of deep research, obviously confuses oblates with lay-brothers and recluses. And, indeed, it is sometimes difficult clearly to define these categories, for their life was often identical. Texts often use terms which might equally well apply to one or the other; the same is true of the female oblates who are often called ’oblatae, conversae inclusae.’
"About the Cistercians I found information in Mauricus and in Le Nain, in the Annals of Aiguebelle and in Arbois de Jubainville’s work on Cistercian Monasteries and their inner life in the 13th century. I gleaned sundry notes from other old works. The whole may be described as a salad, like the one made by our sister-oblate just now, but less deftly prepared.
"After this exordium..."
"The very word!" broke in Mlle. de Garambois, laughing.
"After this exordiuin, let me tell you that there are two kinds of oblates: Those who live in the monastery, and those who live near it.
"The Rule of the Cistercians hardly mentions the latter and refers mostly to the former, and even that only by the way. These oblates who lived in the house it usually terms ’ Familiars,’ to distinguish them from those who were in the world and were not obliged to celibacy. They were tonsured, wore almost the same dress as the monks, made their vow of obedience and could not change their domicile without the Abbot’s sanction. But this kind of spurious sort of life became a cause of dissipation to the monasteries and the Chapter General of 1233 compelled the oblates to make the three religious vows like the Fathers, and that of 1293 suppressed them altogether. Since then the Cistercians have re-established them. But I have lost some of my notes," continued Durtal, fumbling among his papers; "I must go on, we may find the missing sheets later."
"The details to hand about the Benedictines properly so-called are plentiful, but, alas, far too concise.
"We know that at the end of the eighth century St. Ludger donned the habit and cowl at Monte Cassino and that he lived there two years and a half without binding himself by any monastic vows. We have a similar case in the following century at the Abbey of Fulda. Guntram, a nephew of the Abbot Rabanus Maurus, though bound by no conventual vows, and being therefore only an oblate, or familiar, was appointed by his uncle to be Prior of a house depending on the Abbey; this, by the way, proves that oblates at this time, on the religious side, enjoyed as high a reputation as the professed monks.
"Then, under Charlemagne, there was a Capitulary, which, though it records how many became oblates in monasteries to escape military service, authorizes laymen to reside in the cloister of St. Vincent at Volturno, provided they surrendered all their property.
"In the ninth century, at the Synod of Aix-la-Chapelle, St. Benedict of Aniane made an effort to suppress the institution of oblates living in monasteries, but his measure did not prevail, for, after a time, laymen and clerks continued to live attached to the communities of Monte Cassino, Fulda and St. Gall. In the last-named place the institution was still flourishing a hundred years later.
"It was in the eleventh century, however, that it made its chief conquests. But what sort of life did the oblate lead in cloister? We know that he came into existence before the lay-brother, but as to his mode of life among the Fathers we have only tiny scraps of information.
At Hirschau in the Black Forest, fifty oblates did the duties which later on devolved upon the laybrothers. They helped to erect buildings, worked on the land, and tended the sick. They look like the very first lay-brothers, the ’converti,’ the ’barbati ’ of the cloisters; later on, when the lay brothers were established, these oblates must have begun to occupy that position half way between Fathers and lay-brothers which they still retain.
"The oblates called ’Paioti’ in the fourteenth century served a novitiate of two years. They were not granted the title of ’ brother’, and they kept their name and wore the ordinary dress of the period. The only vows that they had to make were those of stability and obedience; like the lay-brother, too, they had no place in the Chapter or in the Choir. On the other hand, they were admitted to the Refectory where they had a separate table; they also enjoyed all the immunities and privileges of the Order."
"So they had no special dress, then?" asked Mlle. de Garambois.
"Wait a moment," replied Durtal, searching among his papers. "According to my note on the Paioti, which I got from Madame Félicie d’Ayzac’s History of the Abbey of St. Denys, they had no special dress; but there are other documents which aver that this was not always the case. In his book on the customs of Cluny, Ulric tells us that the oblates wore a special livery, and the Council of Bayeux, quoted by Du Cange, insisted that they should wear a distinctive badge. Again, Mittarelli, in his Annals of the Camaldolesc, thinks that oblates of this branch of the Benedictine Order wore a white tunic and scapular, and a black veil. Finally, in Hélyot’s Dictionary of the Monastic Orders, one of the plates shows a Benedictine oblate in his dress. The habit is shorter than that of a monk, and he wears a hood which is not attached to the habit like that of a monk; the hood in fact is a sort of cap, less pointed than the hood of the Fathers."
"Yes," put in M. Lampre, " but in the community at Hirschau, which you just mentioned, the oblates did not discard their worldly clothes, and so they cannot have worn the uniform of which you speak."
"The whole thing is somewhat complicated, for customs changed from abbey to abbey, and from age to age. It is also clear that the duties of oblates varied according to their capacities, and the age in which they lived. Manual labour was reserved for the illiterate; intellectual work on the contrary was given to those who could be of service as translators, as copyists, or as authors. The first were half lay-brothers, the others were half-Fathers.
"At a later period, in the sixteenth century, from the Declaration of St. Maur we learn that each abbey of Royal foundation housed a monk called’ oblate’ or ’ lay,’ who was nominated by the King. He was generally an old soldier who had been wounded in the wars, and his duties consisted in ringing the bells, sweeping the church, and opening and shutting the doors. He was a mere servant; the Abbey gave him board, lodging and clothing, or, if he chose, he could claim money-payment amounting to from sixty to a hundred livres a year. This kind of oblate disappeared in 1670, when the Hotel des Invalides was founded in Paris."
"So, in a sense, you were the ancestors of the Pensioners!" exclaimed M. Lampre.
"Yes, and of the preparatory schools, too, for chapter 59 of the Rule deals with children offered by their parents to the cloister and, indeed, for centuries the Benedictines brought up little oblates in their houses. Each monastery was a nursery for future monks. At the present time, in our country, this system no longer obtains, but, to my knowledge, it still exists in an Abbey of Dom Guéranger, Congregation Domingo at Silos, in Spain."
"It is unfortunate for ceremonies, and particularly for the chant, that we have no more boys in the monasteries," observed Mlle. de Garambois.
"Of course it is, but boarders create an clement of noise and distraction, whereas monasteries should be abodes of silence and peace. But these juvenile oblates being in no wise related to the oblates in whom we are interested, they need not delay us further. As for the adult oblates, they continued to exist up to the end of the eighteenth century, at which time we shall still find oblates at Monte Cassino, at Subiaco, in Germany and in France, where they were abolished together with the monks by the Revolution.
"The insitution took a new lease of life when Dom Guéranger re-established the Benedictine Order at Solesmes.
"Nowadays, oblates who live inside monasteries may choose whether they will wear the monastic habit, their life being then the same as that of the Fathers, or whether they will retain the secular dress, when their life is that of retreatants or simple guests. M. Cartier who translated St. Catherine of Siena, and Cassian, who also wrote a life of Fra Angelico, and who was the author of profound studies in religious art, lived as a layman in this way for years at Solesmes.
"Such, in the rough, is the information I have amassed about oblates living in the monastery. Now let us pass on to the second category, to those who dwelt near but not actually in priories or abbeys.
"This class may be subdivided into several groups. There were those who took the vow of obedience, without making any arrangement about their property. There were others who became subjects of the monastery, though all the while they remained in their families and retained their worldly goods, merely paying a tax which was fixed by the Abbot. There were also those who made over their property to the abbey, which then considered them in the light of beneficiaries or else allowed them to retain a life interest in the property, or else gave them in exchange enough to enable them to subsist in their own homes."
"It beats me altogether!" cried Mlle. Garambois.
"No, just listen! There were those who paid and those who did not pay. For those who kept their money the thing was simple enough; as regards the others, what varied was the conditions on which they gave; some paid a tax others handed over their property but not its use, thus retaining a life interest in it; others again gave with one hand what they took back with the other. Lastly, there were those who practised a sort of exchange; and here I may point out that these latter contracts are entirely the same as those made on the retirement of the hermits.
"Among the Cistercians I came across a different method of procedure; married oblates entered on an agreement for a sort of joint annuity, the abbey annuity keeping them so long as they lived and their property becoming the monastery’s, half of it at the decease of the husband, and half at the decease of the wife.
"In the eleventh and twelfth centuries oblates of the first category, who signed no financial agreement and were bound only by their vow of obedience, were the most numerous. Such oblates of both sexes are mentioned as residing near Cluny and Hirschau.
"Those of the second category who became serfs of the monastery were called in vulgar parlance ’ four-penny serfs.’ Du Cange in his Glossary gives many details regarding them. The rite of initiation was an imitation of that of feudal servitude.
"The postulant came on the scene with bare feet and with a rope — sometimes the bell-rope — round his neck; he put four pennies on his head, and these, with his weapons, he afterwards deposited on the altar; then, prostrate before the abbot with his hands between the abbot’s he swore obedience to him. As a sign of fealty, the women usually placed a jewel on the altar; a charter specifying the reasons and the terms of such subjection was duly filed in the archives of the abbey. Here is one taken from the Cartulary of the Austrian cloister of Melck. It dates from the thirteenth century.
"’Let it be known to all the faithful that the parents of Adelaide being entirely free and of noble birth, and having never been bound to any man by bonds of service, have given themselves to God, to the Holy Cross and to St. Pancras, whose relics rest in this monastery, which is consecrated to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and to St. Coloman, Martyr; this they did under Abbot Conrad and his successor Dom Reginald, in consideration of a yearly payment of five pence to this monastery; and on condition that they shall find a house of refuge with the saints above mentioned if ever an attempt be made to reduce them to a state of servitude. The witnesses, both those deceased and those yet alive, are inscribed in the Cartulary of the said monastery.’"
"So they had to pay five pence, not four," remarked M.Lampre.
"Yes; most likely people of wealth and standing undertook to pay a larger tax. Four pence was no doubt the lowest tax payable, at any rate that is my opinion. To continue:
"Sometimes the nobles set their serfs free on condition that they paid certain dues to an abbey. Here is an example of this kind of contract. It dates from the eleventh century and I have taken it from the Trésor des Anecdotes by Bernard Pez.
"’Adelard gives to the Abbey of St. Emmeran at Ratisbon, his serf Theoburga with her two sons Hadold and Enold, on condition that the aforesaid female serf shall pay every year the sum of twelve pence to the altar of St. Emmeran, and her two sons, on the death of their mother, an annual fee of six pence.’"
"As for the third category, that of the beneficiaries and usufructuaries, it would appear to have been a numerous one, the reason being that oblates were anxious to share in the prayers of the monks and to secure the right of being buried in the cloister after their decease.
"Nor were the abbot’s promises to these associates vain ones. The proof is that in the twelfth century it was arranged by the two abbeys of Admont and Salzburg that, on learning of the decease of an oblate who was dependent on either of these monasteries, the death-knell should be rung and the following six psalms should be recited for the departed: Verba Mea, Domine ne in furore, Dilexi, Credidi, De Profundis, Domine exaudi; also the Lord’s prayer, the Versicles A porta inferi and the prayer Absolve Domine, and this for seven consecutive days; besides this there was conventual mass, and six tapers were burned for the repose of his soul."
"Ah well!" exclaimed M. Lampre, "You don’t for a moment suppose that the Congregation of Solesmes will revive these ancient rites in order to do you honour when you die?"
"We hardly expect so much, do we, Sister-oblate?"
"Why not? I think myself that it would be a very natural proceeding. But to go back apart from the pecuniary liabilities, what exactly were the obligations of an oblate?"
"They varied according to the monasteries. Yet one condition was a sine qua non with all oblates and figures on every schedule — to wit, obedience."
"And that is just what you modern oblates never promise," cried M. Lampre. "That clause, the only one insisted on, the only one of which one can be sure, is not even mentioned in your ritual of incorporation; no, I told you so when you asked me why I, who am one of the oldest friends of the Val-des-Saints am not an oblate like you. The oblatehood, as conceived by our monks of to-day is all sheer humbug!"
"Oh!" protested Mlle. de Garambois.
"Yes it is, and mark this, both of you: the institution will never flourish under the French Benedictines. To develop such a branch of an Order, the Order must love it, and then, have the spirit of proselytism. That is what the Franciscans have got; and to them their Tertiaries are real brothers. But the glorious Benedictine Paternity will ever stand aloof, will never allow itself to be too closely approached. You don’t believe me, but you’ll see — you’ll see!"
"To continue," went on Durtal, who did not think a reply called for, "sometimes the vow of chastity was added to that of obedience, and please note, these vows, like those of the monks, were for life. Those who broke them were looked upon as renegades and could be forced by canon law to return to their obedience, A case of this kind occurred at the Abbey of St. Saviour’s in Schaffhausen. Dudo, an oblate, who lived inside the abbey, one fine day took it into his head to renounce his vow, seized his belorgings and left the cloister. The Abbot appealed to Pop. Urban II who threatened Dudo with excommunication if he did not make amends for his apostasy and sacrilege. A Synod was convened at Constance by order of His Holiness to sit in judgment on the offender, who was condemned to return to the abbey and to give back his property without hope of recovery. Besides this, he had to undertake a penance imposed by the Abbot he had outraged. There were no half measures in those days!"
"Yes, I know that oblates were, regarded by canon law as ecclesiastical persons, and that they shared the privilege of exemption from the jurisdiction of the Ordinary," said M. Lampre. "Have you been able, I wonder, to unearth any details as to the actual ceremony of the taking of the habit, and the profession?"
"No, not yet; but from Mitarelli it would seem that among the Camaldolese the profession made by oblates was often the same as that made by the monks, the only difference being that the Church did not recognize the oblates’ vows as solemn and indissoluble.
"To this confused array of facts let me add a few more notes. Oblates might be married or single, laymen or priests; male oblates could be attached to a nunnery, and female oblates to a monastery. There is no lack of information that this was so. To instance only one source: you may read in Mabillon’s Annals how a number of men-oblates made vows of obedience, continence and conversion of life to the Abbess of St. Fehicitas at Florence."
"From all this it would seem," said Mlle. Garambois, "that oblates in the Middle Ages took their professions very seriously."
"Certainly; and the Popes held the institution in great esteem. just listen tothese words from a Bull of Urban II., addressed to the Abbot of Hirschau: ’The oblate’s profession deserves nothing but praise, and it is worthy to endure, being as it is a reproduction of the primitive state of the Church. We therefore approve of it, and confirm it, and style it a holy and Catholic institution.’
"His Holiness, Leo XIII. only repeated the eulogy of his eleventh century predecessor when, in his Brief, dated .June 17th, 1898, addressed to Dom Hildebrandde Hemptinne, Abbot of Saint Anselmo in Rome and Primate of the Order of St. Benedict, he urged the institution of Benedictine oblates, declaring that their formation should be helped and encouraged in every way.
"These, Sister, are all the documents that I have concerning oblates who live outside the cloister. I have told you all I know, so please don’t ask for more."
"That is all very well, but I should like you to give me more particulars about the women-oblates, for you can guess that they interest me more than the men."
"You know as much as I do, for, as I told you, there was no difference between them and oblates of the other sex. Ah! you are lucky," continued Durtal, searching among his papers, " for here are some extracts relating to them which I copied from the Annals of Mabillon.
"Ever since the seventh century female oblates are to be found living near communities, but it was mainly in the tenth century that they became numerous, especially at St. Alban’s and at St. Gall; in the eleventh century we find such near monasteries in Suabia. In France, too, they flourished. At Havigny, the mother of Guilbert, Abbot of Nogent, withdrew to a cell built near the church; at Verdun, the mother of St. Poppo of Stavelot, and the Blessed Adelwine took up their abode near the convent of St. Vanne. St. Hiltrucle lived near the Abbey of Liessies, of which her brother, Gondrad, was Abbot. The two sisters of St. William lived near his monastery at Gellone. The chronicles of St. Gall register the names of Wiborada, Richilda, and Wildegarda. St. Wiborada, the best known of these, took refuge near the Abbey where her brother Hitto had become a monk. She spent her time learning the Psalter and in binding manuscripts and weaving tissues. The mother of the Bl. John of Gorze, the reformer of the cloisters of Lorraine, was allowed to occupy a building near her son’s monastery. She had the same food as the monks and found employment in sewing and mending clothes.
"Most of these were oblates and recluses combined, and I feel more and more convinced that the first oblates were really hermits. As it happens, I am able to give you off-hand a list of names. First of all there was Walburga, who, before being Abbess at Juvigny, had been an oblaterecluse at Verdun; and there was Cibelina who lived in similar conditions near the monastery of St. Faro at Meaux; also Hodierna near that of St. Arnoul at Metz. But a list of all these pious women could be of little service."
"It is certainly no easy thing," said M. Lampre, "to make out which oblates were recluses and which were not."
"In most cases, it is quite impossible; but there are others who certainly cannot be reckoned as recluses, for instance, Agnes, German Empress in the eleventh century, who became an oblate in the monastery of Fructuaria. There she spent her days in prayer, making clothes for the poor and nursing the sick, whom she often used to visit. As she must have left her convent to perform these deeds of mercy, she cannot have been a recluse.
"The female oblates, who were often the mothers or sisters of monks who wished to live near their kinsmen, used to wash and darn the linen of the community, embroider vestments, or make the hosts, while some tended the sick and infirm of the neighbourhood. They generally wore nun’s dress, and a black veil.
"Another note," continued Durtal, " again from Mabillon. At Fontenelle, when the body of St. Wuifram was discovered, the Benedictines entrusted the care of his relics to a lady who had renounced the world and had donned the dress of a nun."
"Don’t you think it is rather nice to have among our ancestors a German Empress," said Mlle. de Garambois, smiling.
"Oh! she was not the only one of the sort. She had several monarchs as brother oblates. Louis le Débonnaire was an oblate at St. Denys; King Lothaire, at St. Martin of Metz; Garcias, King of Aragon, at S. Salvador of Leire; the German King Conrad, at St. Gall; Alphonse, King of Castille, at Sahagun; Louis le Jeune, King of France, at the monastery of Christ, Canterbury; King Henry, your patron Saint, at St. Vanne in Verdun-"
"But, no doubt, they were honorary rather than real oblates," remarked M. Lampre.
"That may be, but the fact remains that the oblates came from every rank of society. Now 1 have done; the lecture is at an end, and I am going to put away my notes."
"But, what of St. Francesca Romana, our patron saint; have you forgotten all about her?"
"Dear me, you are right; she was a great saint and a wonderful visionary; but her institute which was linked to the Olivetan branch is only remotely connected with the oblates as we understand them.
"Her oblates were really nuns leading a conventual life and forming a special Order devoted to the nursing of the sick. You know their rules; and they are still followed by the nuns at the Tor di Specchi in Rome, who continued to carry on the work after her death.
"They keep four Lents a year; outside of these periods, on three days a week, but only at dinner, they have leave to eat meat. On Fridays and Saturdays they fast; they sleep only six hours; they are not enclosed, but may go out to help the needy and the bed-ridden, but always go in a closed conveyance. They still wear the widow’s dress worn in the time of the foundress; they recite the Divine Office, and also work in their cells.
"I sometimes wonder, why, seeing you are so fond of the oblates, you didn’t enter that Convent, or, if the climate of Italy did not suit you, why you didn’t become a nun in France, where a similar community, that of the Servants of the Poor, regular oblates of St. Benedict, has houses at Angers and in Paris?"
"Thank you, my community is that of Solesmes. I have nothing to do with those twigs grafted on to the trunk of St. Benedict; they are not really Benedictines at all in the true sense of the word."
"I must really compliment you, my niece," said M. Lampre ironically; "you are a worthy daughter of the French congregation. Outside it, there is no salvation there are no Benedictines save those who hail from Solesmes."
"Of course not."
"Well, but what about the Benedictine nuns of Jouarre, who restored a rather famous and fairly ancient abbey? They are not Benedictines, I suppose?"
"They stand apart; they teach children; they chant the Office badly and are not under the direction of Benedictine Fathers. That is not the way to do things."
"Then what about the Priory of the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament in the Rue Monsieur in Paris?"
"Oh, they are Sacramentines."
"But, hang it all!" exclaimed M. Lampre, "they observe the Rule of St. Benedict more strictly than your young Benedictines. They have the night-office, more abstinence-days than you, and they also chant plain-song according to Dom Pothier’s method. What more do you want?"
"Nothing, except that the Office is not their one and only function. Everything depends on that."
Addressing Durtal, Lampre exclaimed, "Just see what ideas my niece has got hold of through staying near cloisters!"
Durtal only laughed at this quarrel between uncle and niece. It was not the first, by any means, that he had overheard. As soon as the Order of St. Benedict cropped up, they always began to fight, both of them exaggerating their opinions simply to annoy each other. The fact is that Mlle. de Garambois was following in the footsteps of Father Titourne, the laughing-stock of Val-des-Saints they honestly believed, both of them, that they were heightening the prestige of the French congregation by disparaging all others.
"At that rate," cried M. Lampre, "they might as well deny the right of wearing the black cowl to the Benedictines of Pierre-qui-Vire, though this congregation was founded by a saint. Yet the sons of Father Muard, who belong to the congregation of Monte Cassino, observe the primitive rules, rising in the night to chant Matins and Lauds and practise perpetual abstinence. Their life is almost as hard as that of the Trappists; and, besides reciting the Divine Office, they preach and act as missionaries in the New World. In a word, they are the most faithful disciples of St. Benedict. Am I not right?"
"Yes," replied Durtal, " but, personally, I must confess that I love the higher ideal of Dom Guranger. I fail to see of what use it is for Benedictines to preach and to teach. There are other Orders whose task it is to do this the penitential Orders are an offshoot of St. Benedict’s foundation; and the Black Monks cannot be expected to congregate with them. Dom Gueranger set a limit to the mission of his monks, and defined their aim; he gave them a certain stamp of their own, thus making them different from every other institution.
"His idea of the Opus Dei, of Mass and Office performed with utmost pomp and splendour, is, in my opinion, a grand conception; and the monks who seek to carry out his ideal ought really to be artists, scholars and saints. This is asking a great deal, I know, but, even allowing for human shortcomings, the work itself is a fine one!"
"Aha!" cried Mlle. de Garambois, "here at least is someone who is ready to do justice to Dom Gueranger!"
"A tree is known by its fruit," retorted M. Lampre; "what fruit has the French congregation produced?"
"What fruit, indeed ? Why, you know as well as I do. There is no need for jiie to tell you that Dorn Guéranger revived the study of the Liturgy, Dom Pothier the study of Plain-song, and Dom Pitra the study of certain sides of Church history, his Spicilegium being invaluable to anyone who wishes to understand the spirit and the art of the Middle Ages. Finally, there is Father Le Bannier’s exquisite translation into Old French of the St. Bonaventure’s Meditations, in its way as clever a piece of work as any of Balzac’s."
"And now? What is being done now?"
"Now? Why, you study. I don’t for a moment suppose that the Order has got to the end of its tether. At any rate, it can claim to have produced a masterly work in the Treatise on Prayer by the Abbess of St. Cécile; think of the unforgettable pages where she explains the degrees of the mystical life by the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer taken backward, that is, beginnning with the last and ending with the first. Another volume could be quoted, well-stocked with sound knowledge, clearly and vigorously written, and a thoroughly modern book, to wit, the Book of Ancient Prayer by Dom Cabrol, Prior of Farnborough. That seems a decent list, doesn’t it?"
"My dear fellow, if you want to know my opinion, it is that you and my niece are not really Benedictines at all! You are just Guérangists!"
"Now, now! What were you saying about us?" It was the voice of Father Felletin, who had just come in.
"Pray take a seat, Father."
"And here am I with the coffee," said Madame Bavoil. Then, turning to the Father, she added, "You have just come in time, for from my kitchen I could hear how the poor Benedictines were catching it."
"Come What is M. Lampre accusing us of now?"
"Of everything," replied Mlle. de Garambois. " He blames you for bearing no fruit, says that you are eaten up with pride and think yourselves the only Benedictines in the world. Finally he complains that you do not keep the Rule of the Patriarch."
"What a list of grievances! As to fruit, I don’t think our tree can be called barren. To make sure of this you have only to open the Bibliographie des Bénédictins de la Congrégation de France, edited by Dom Cabrol. In history, you will find the learned and painstaking works of Dom Chamart and of Dorn de Fonneuve; in hagiography, the lives of St. Cecilia, of St. Hugh de Cluny, of St. Francesca Romana, of St. Scholastica, and of St. Josaphat; in the Monasticum, " Les Moines de l’Oricnt, by Dom Besse; in the Liturgy, the learned Articles by Dom Plaine; in musical paleography, the works of Dom Mocquereau and of Dom Cagin; and Dom Legeay’s masterly studies in the field of symbolism."
"Yes, I know those last," exclaimed Durtal. "These works on the allegorical meanings of Scripture are indeed most pithy and powerful. It is a misfortune that they are scattered in pamphlets and reprints from reviews and that no publisher — not even the monasteries which have printing-presses, like Solesmes and Ligugé — has had the courage to collect them. Yet to do so would add to the glory and renown of the Order far more than those lives of saints of which you spoke."
"As to pride," continued Father Felletin, "do you not confound this with esprit de corps, a sort of pride which, at times, is ill-placed and unjust, but which is the outcome of the solidarity of people banded together, living within four walls, and whose outlook is necessarily restricted? In the army the dragoon thinks himself superior to the man in the Army Service Corps, and because he is on horseback, the cavalryman looks down on the foot-soldier. This sort of thing is unavoidable; in order to get novices to like the profession for which they are being trained, you have to persuade them that it is the finest and the best of all. There is not much harm in that, after all."
"No," replied Durtal; " and, as you say, it is inevitable. In all the Orders, there is a sort of microscope which magnifies trifles, making straws into beams. A word, a trivial gesture, of no importance elsewhere, assumes alarming proportions in the cloister; the simplest deeds are discussed and a hidden meaning read into them; the kindest criticism and the most inoffensive pleasantry are looked upon as outrages. On the other hand, a monk has only to produce a work of some kind, for all the bells to ring. There is the Great Man of the monastery, just as there is the Great Man of the province; it is childish, and yet it is touching, but, as you rightly say, it results from that feeling of esprit de corps, from a narrow outlook on life, from want of knowledge of the world outside."
"As to not following the Rule of St. Benedict," continued Dom Felletin, who smiled at Durtal’s last remark, "that charge is a graver one. In what do you find us remiss, my dear M. Lampre?"
"It is plain enough; the Rule of St. Benedict, like most rules of other institutions, mainly consists of general instructions and counsels. Apart from its Liturgical directions, the matters of which the Rule demands strict observance are but few, but it is just to these few that you attach no importance. For instance, the monks ought to sleep fully dressed, in a dormitory; they should say Matins before dawn; those who are not sick or infirm should never eat the flesh of four-footed animals. Yet you sleep undressed, and in cells; you chant the Office after dawn, and you eat meat."
"Of four-footed animals," cried MIle. de Garambois, "so two-legged poultry is permitted!"
"Charges of this sort," said Dom Felletin, smiling, "were brought against us ages ago. Without mentioning the quarrel of St. Bernard and Peter the Venerable about this, you will recollect that in his essay written to prove that the measure of wine to be served out daily to monks was a half-sextarius, Dom Claude Lancelot, one of the Solitaires of Port-Royal, reproached the Benedictines of his day with having tampered with the hour of the meals — just as we, too, do — in Lent; he declares that nothing should be taken till after the hour of Vespers, that is to say, in the evening.
"Now the Trappists, strict as they are, can no longer endure such a long fast. In fact, no one who rises at two o’clock in the morning as they do, or at four o’clock as we do, can stand fasting until four o’clock in the afternoon. Giddiness, neuralgia and gastric disorders are the only results. Hence we were compelled, during Lent, to fix Vespers before noon, that is to say, before the usual mealtime; a mild form of deception, if you like. Even this alteration does not go far enough, and I dispense most of my novices from fasting till noon. In the morning I allow them to take the frustulum, even though it be but a little black coffee and a crumb or two of bread, for that suffices to prevent headache and giddiness. You have no inkling how, when we live without taking exercise, the health is weakened, especially when the food is not very tasty, when nourishing meat is forbidden, and farinaceous stuffs are taken in excess. At the end of Lent, when even our bread is rationed, and when no one may eat his fill, the tempers of all are affected; everyone becomes irritable and nervous. The greater our austerity the more likely we are to sin against charity. Is that desirable?"
"In short, roast beef soothes the soul, and fish irritates it!" said Durtal, laughing.
"Alas! We have all of us frail bodies and their infirmities affect our spirits; God has seen fit to humble us thus, and it is wiser to be careful, otherwise we should have either to part with our most promising pupils simply because they cannot stand the fasts, or else turn the monastery into a hospital!"
"Moreover, if you imagine that the Benedictines eat meat every day, you are quite wrong. The truth is that we usually do so several times a week, except in Lent and Advent; except, too, on Ember Days, Vigils, in Holy Week and on certain other festivals. Hence you see that we really practise abstinence for two-thirds of the year, and also fast at least a hundred days.
"These dispensations, which have the Church’s sanction, are allowed by our Rule and are amply justified by our weakened constitutions and by our sedentary life of study, which one could not lead on a diet of vegetables and water.
"I should like you also to note that, though I am very indulgent towards those of my novices who are delicate, I am less so as regards the others. Brother de Chambéon, for instance, who has an iron constitution, I allow to fast as long as he likes and to splash the walls of his cell with blood when he takes the discipline. But he is none the worse for it and his good temper is never ruffled; but I should never let others undergo what he does, unless I were sure they could bear it."
"It is on Fridays, isn’t it, that you take the discipline, whilst reciting the Miserere?
"Yes, and on Wednesdays, too, in the penitential seasons; and each of us can wear the hair-shirt if his health allows. Thus we are not quite so unmortifled as M. Lampre pretends to think.
"As to the cells that replace the dormitories mentioned in the Rule, this is no innovation on the part of Dom Guéranger. There were cells already in the sixteenth century in the congregations of St. Justina, and of Valladolid. The dormitory has more disadvantages than advantages, and the same may be said of the practice of sleeping fully dressed. In this regard, the monks are free to do as they like; yet, bearing in mind that some are not over-careful about their personal cleanliness, it would be just as well were the rule of not undressing done away with altogether. Lastly, as regards the alteration in the hour of Matins, it amounts to a simple transposition of the usual times that does not give us the advantage of a minute’s more rest. Those who rise at two o’clock in the morning, like the Cistercians, go to bed at seven o’clock in winter and at eight in summer, when they have an hour’s siesta in the afternoon. We never go to bed before nine o’clock and we are up at four in the morning. If you work it out you will see that we both get seven hours’ sleep.
"In order to be fair towards the congregation of Solesmes, we must think of its beginnings. Dom Guéranger, who founded it, died in harness, after a life-long battle with money-troubles. It needed, indeed, a soul as strong and joyous as his never to lose heart and to carry on his work undaunted. Well, when he died, he had not yet succeeded in producing monks that reached the standard he had set up. He never realized his dream except in the nunnery of St. Cécile, thanks to the Abbess whom he had trained. His successor, Dom Couturier, was a good man, but had not our founder’s breadth of vision; and then came the expulsion of the monks. The Benedictines lived in the village, outside the cloister, deprived of the education that cloistral life gives. Dom Couturier disappeared in his turn, and by the energy and intelligence of the new Abbot, Dom Delatte, the monks, who had now returned to their monastery, resumed a regular monastic life.
"If you consider these adventures, and remember that the young monks had made their novitiate under such trying conditions, you must admit that, the French congregation has, after all, not done so very badly."
"Pardon me, if I change the subject," suddenly said Father Felletin with a grave face, "but your discussion interested me so much that I forgot I had bad news to tell you."
"Yes. First of all Father Philogone Miné had a seizure this morning. The doctor from Dijon was called in and assured us that he will recover, but that his brain will be affected."
"Oh, poor man!"
"Then, there is a rumour — unfortunately well-grounded — that the Government is going to deprive us of the parish of Val-des-Saints."
"Is it going to appoint a parish-priest here?"
"Why," cried M. Lampre, " the church, being at once abbatial and parochial, will have to be split in two; half to the parish and half to the monks! It is absurd."
"What does Father Abbot think of it all?" asked Durtal.
"He is very sad about it, but what can he do? He can’t contend with both the Government and the Bishop."
"Oh! so the Bishop has his finger in the pie, too, has he?"
"Well, no doubt, he, too, had to bow to the will of the Government. He would not have made this change himself, but his hand has been forced; and, besides, he is old and infirm and doesn’t want to be worried more than can be helped."
"I expect you have heard of the neat trick that was played on him," said M. Lampre, "when he was Vicar-General in another town?"
"Some priest, who, rightly or wrongly, had a grudge against him, suspecting him of having betrayed the cause of the Religious Orders in his dealings with the Prefect, sent a paragraph to the News Agencies, which was quite innocently inserted in the Paris papers, and reproduced by the provincial Press, to the effect that the Vicar-General Triourault had just been appointed Bishop in partibus of Aceldama."
"The potter’s field, where Judas the traitor hanged himself!" cried Mlle. de Garambois.
"But the funny part of it was that he received many visits and cards of congratulation upon his appointment to the Bishopric. He almost died of fury."
"Only a priest’s hatred could invent such a practical joke," said Durtal.
"Well," continued the monk, "that’s the news, and very distressing news it is. As to how the parish-priest and the Benedictines will arrange matters, I cannot say. Nor do I know who the new priest will be. The only thing certain is that he will soon be appointed."
"But, Father," said Madame Bavoil, who had just come back to the dining-room, "won’t the villagers take up cudgels on behalf of their monks?"
Father Felletin laughed outright.
"My dear Madame Bavoil; our Benedictine parish-priest here gets no stipend from the Government, so that the tax-payer gains; moreover, he is forbidden by our Rule to accept stole-fees. Here we take the funerals and weddings of the poor folk gratis pro Deo, and the fees received from people of means are set aside for the purchase of wood, which is distributed to the needy when winter draws near; the peasants in this village are therefore lucky; but they are so prejudiced against us and so hostile to Religious Orders that they will be delighted at this change. Later on when they realize that the matter touches their pocket, they will find out their mistake.
"As for the small gentry of the neighbourhood, they will be in high glee. They will have at last the parish-priest of their own for whom they have been sighing, but I hope that, as long as we are here, we shall prevent Baron des Atours and his family from singing profane music in our church."
"That’s what we shall see!" said Durtal, "Come, Sister, a little more Chartreuse? Now, don’t say no!"
"Impossible It is so strong that it makes my eyes water; don’t you see?" And while thus protesting, with an angelic smile she drained the very last tear in the glass.
"At present we have nothing but worries," said Father Felletin dreamily.
"What? Is there something else?"
"Yes, yes; there is. I am afraid I shall have to send away my cleverest novice, Brother Sourche."
"Because of his ideas. He has brains and is quick of apprehension, is good and obedient, in fact has all the dispositions needed; but there is about him a certain lack of quietness; I sometimes get quite frightened, when I see him rushing down the passages. His frame is of an exuberant type that rebels under restraint. I am afraid that, if we keep him, he may go out of his mind. Then again, though his piety is genuine enough, he is amazingly sceptical. He is a rationalist to the backbone. He is one of those people who, when they reach a disputed text, do not think themselves learned unless they can prove its falsity; he will never believe what he cannot understand. When he came here first, he took to Mgr. Duchesne’s works, and was always quoting Abbé Vacandard’s History of St. Bernard. He was quite delighted to find that the latter discredited several miracles reputed to have been performed by the Saint. We did our best to correct him, but all in vain. Such a novice upsets the others; therefore, I consider that, in the interests of the novitiate, it would be dangerous to keep him.
"Unfortunately he is without means or position, and it would be cruel to dismiss him without having first provided for his future. He is determined not to go back to the world and still wants to become a priest, so we are going to try and get him into a seminary; perhaps his new masters may be more successful than we in saving him from himself."
"Oh!" cried Durtal, "he won’t do any harm to the Seminarists, for, as you know, the real peril of the moment is that the best pupils are all of them rationalists."
"Alas! that is so," sighed Father Felletin.
"This new generation," continued Durtal, "has its own conception of faith; it accepts some things and rejects others. It no longer blindly trusts the teaching of its masters. The fear of what people may say, pride, and a wish not to seem more credulous than the godless-all this unsettles them. Everyone of them has read Renan. They dream of sensible, reasonable religion, one that does not shock middle-class good sense by any miracles. As they cannot deny the miracles of the Gospels without ceasing to be Catholics, they fall back upon those of the saints and turn and twist the various texts about, in order to try and prove that eye-witnesses and narrators were all of them either blind as bats or else impostors. Ah! what a nice sort of clergy we shall soon be having And what is really strange, and characteristic of our times, is that a movement towards mysticism is apparent among the laity, while a precisely contrary movement is observable among the priests; on the same road, we are advancing, and they are marching backward; laity and priests have exchanged their functions. Soon the pastor and his flocks will cease entirely to understand each other."
"And this movement will spread to the cloisters," added M. Lampre. "Brother Sourche, you may be sure, is not alone in his opinions; but he is candid and says what he thinks, whereas others, who are more prudent, will keep their peace until they feel that they are numerous enough to venture to speak out. Some day, in order to show his learning and broad-mindedness, a bad monk will outdo the new school in destructiveness. We have already got priests who are free-thinkers in Scriptural matters; we have democratic abbés; we shall end up with Protestant monks."
"God forbid!" said Dom Felletin.
"Priests and monks devoid of mysticism! What flocks of dead souls that would mean!" cried Durtal.
"The monks will then be mere curators of a museum of old tradition and old formulae; and the priests will be clerks, as it were, in a sort of Heavenly Company Limited, officials under a Board of Sacraments."
"Happily, we have not got to that, yet," said Father Felletin as he rose. "But when I face the future, I cannot repress a shiver. Who knows what God has in store for us?"
"Perhaps the Bill on Religious Orders won’t pass."
"Oh!" exclaimed the Father, shaking his head as he took his departure.
"Do you think that when Parliament passes this Law, they will be unprepared?" said Durtal.
"What, the Benedictines?" shouted M. Lampre, "they imagine that France knows them and will be distressed to see them go! What a delusion! If only they knew how little this wretched country of ours cares whether they stop or go, it would be an eye-opener!"
WINTER had come, and at Val-des-Saints the cold was unbearable. Though logs, piled high in the grates, blazed merrily, the house was cold, for the wintry blast found its way through every crevice in door and window. Sand-bags and screens were useless; while your legs were being grilled your back was frozen.
"Every opening ought to be caulked; sealed like a bottle with wax incited in tallow," grumbled Durtal; and Madame Bavoil calmly replied, "Wrap yourself up as much as possible. That is the only way to get warm here." And she herself set the example by wearing so many petticoats as to seem like a huge bell and by swathing her head in caps and shawls of every description. All of her that could be seen was the tip of her nose; she looked like a Samoyede; only instead of snow-shoes she wore enormous clogs with toes up-turned like the prow of a bark.
Yet, by dint of piling up logs on the hearth from early dawn, the rooms became fairly warm by the late afternoon, but, oh, how cold it was out of doors! In spite of wraps and cloaks and hoods, ears tingled with a hundred pin-pricks, and noses became like wine-merchants’ taps, eyes streamed with tears and moustaches dribbled with the moisture of the breath. But, worse than the frost was the thaw. Then Val-des-Saints resembled a sewer; everyone waded in mud, with no hope of escape. Durtal had tried clogs, but they twisted his ankles and he could not walk in them; after trying other kinds of boots without success, he resigned himself to goloshes. But in these he kept slipping about in the mud, or else the goloshes refused to follow their lord and master, and when he insisted, spat out spitefully the mire they had drunk in the puddles, and, finally parted company.
The chief hardship was having to rise early, and, in a darkness that could be felt, make one’s way to the church.
Waking at half-past three, he again tucked himseIf under the eiderdown and dozed in comfort until four o’clock, when a bell rang faintly out in the night. It was the cloister bell to rouse the sleepers; five minutes later, other bells rang; then after ten minutes’ silence, the bells began again, slowly, to strike their hundred strokes.
Durtal lay still, seeing in fancy the bustle in all the cells, and the monks rushing down the stair-cases, for, by the hundredth stroke of the bell, all had to be in the church. It is true that good St. Benedict, foreseeing that some would be late, lays it down in his Rule that the sixty-sixth Psalm should be recited rather slowly, so as to give late-comers a chance to be in time. That is why this Psalm is called the "Psalm of the Lie-abeds"; for, after it has been recited, those who are not in their place must do penance.
"As for me, there is no need to hurry," thought Durtal, for by previously consulting the Order of the day, he knew pretty well how long the Office of Matins and Lauds would last. Sometimes, on certain semi-doubles, it lasted till ten minutes past five; on greater festivals it might not be over till a quarter to six; the end was made known by the ringing of the Angelus, and straightway the Masses began.
’In conscience I am only bound to go to the first Mass on Communion days, but I should be sorry to miss Lauds;" and so saying he dragged himself out of bed.
When the weather was fine and the sun had risen, it was easy enough to be present at early Office, but in the gloomy heart of winter it was most trying, especially in a church, destitute of hassocks, never heated, and horribly damp, there being no crypt beneath it. Yet Durtal thought himself comparatively lucky to find himself in the shelter of the nave where the air seemed tepid and soft after the bitter blast without.
Then there were the sinister, moonless country nights, when he would stagger about and run into a wall which he thought much further off. On such nights as these he often lost his way, his lantern being less a light than a lure. It seemed to make the darkness recede two feet in front of it, and then to increase the gloom. And, when it rained, he stumbled blindly through the slush, holding his lantern first in one hand and then in the other so that he might warm his numbed fingers in his pocket, as he floundered through the puddles and strove to keep his goloshes from vanishing in the mire. The quarter of an hour’s walk to the church seemed never to end; but, jogging along, he reached the porch. There the light through the keyhole served as his guide, glowing like an ember in the darkness. Gleefully he put out his lantern and lifted the latch.
As he entered from the gloom, the apse at the far end of the nave shone with splendour. Shaded lamps above the stalls threw a light on the motionless monks, and as their chants of pity and of praise rose up in the midst of a dreaming village while the tempest raged without, the effect was one of celestial radiance, an enchanting glimpse, as it were, of a world beyond our own.
Durtal generally arrived about the end of Matins when the monks, standing, were singing the short hymn Te decet laus; immediately after the prayer they began Lauds.
This Service which, like that of Vespers, comprises psalms and anthems, was a splendid one. It included a canticle from the Old Testament, changed according to the day, then the three Psalms of Exultation, with no intervening doxology, the Little Chapter, the Brief Responsary, the hymn for the season, and, instead of the Magnificat, the Benedictus with its anthem. It was even superior to Vespers because its Psalms have a significance lacking to those of the evening service.
Apart from the psalms of praise, which explain the name of Lauds, the others all refer to the rising sun and to Christ’s resurrection; no morning prayer was more beautiful nor more compact.
If Durtal had ever entertained any doubts as to the power of the Liturgy, he had to admit its presence in this grand service, which induced in those who heard it a kind of ecstasy or spiritual intoxication and prepared them for entering more fully and actively into the holy and eloquent mystery of the Mass.
And, at the end of Lauds, in the silence of the choir, while the monks knelt with bowed heads, the Angelus rang out its triple peal, and as the last stroke resounded through the night all rose, and the priests went to vest for Mass. They were served by lay-brothers and sometimes by novices; often it was the Abbot, assisted by two monks, who celebrated the first Mass at the High Altar.
Madame Bavoil was very fond of attending this Mass, because, when communicating, she could kiss Father Abbot’s ring; and, more courageous than her master, she went to Mass daily; it is true she despised alike lanterns and sable skies; she was in this respect like the cats, who can gaze at the sun without blinking, and are in the dark. Her little steps neither storms could check nor frosts quicken; besides, she wore so many wraps and shawls, one over another, that she was proof against the heaviest downpour.
"When you have gulped down your coffee, my friend," she said as they walked back from Church, "you won’t feel so cold." And, indeed, after his walk in the frost and gloom, Durtal found it delightful to sit down in his study before a blazing fire of crackling pine-cones; he was already thoroughly warm when he took his cup of black coffee with the slice of bread.
"To-day, for once in a way, the time of the Services is altered," said Madame Bavoil one morning, "for it is Christmas Eve. What time is Matins ?"
"At ten o’clock to-night."
"Is the Service to be found in the breviaries that Abbé Gévresin left us?"
"It is and it isn’t; the Service is there, but I must warn you that the monastic Matins differs from that in the Roman Breviary; the Psalms are not the same nor the Anthems, and, though the Lessons are the same, they are split up differently. There is the chant of the genealogy and a short hymn unknown to the Roman Office-book. So you can’t follow the Service with the books of our good Abbé, but, if you like, I can lend you an old eighteenth-century Breviary in Latin and French, used by the Benedictine nuns of France. It is a big book, but it is at least correct."
"If it gives the French, then it will suit me. I suppose we shall have to start about a quarter to ten?"
"I shall go earlier; I have to make my confession first, so I shall leave at nine and pay a visit to Father Felletin in his cell."
When evening came, Durtal lighted his lantern and, muffled up in a huge coat which would have done credit to an old cabby, he sallied forth into the mud.
"I don’t suppose," he said to himself, "that Brother Arsène the porter will be on duty at this hour, so it would be wise to go through the church and enter the monastery through the door under the belfry."
On reaching the church he saw in the dimly lighted choir Dom d’Auberoche rehearsing the ceremony with his novices. He was making them advance, turn, bow, genuflect before the Abbot’s throne, then file past the altar, showing them the depth of the bow they were expected to make in this or that place.
He was also anxious that, when genuflecting, they should first by a slight jerk bring the folds of their habit behind them in such a way as to hide their feet; when they failed, lie proceeded to do it himself so that they might see exactly how it was done.
"At any rate, there won’t be any hitch to-night," thought Durtal; "but, oh dear, how the poor Father is worrying himself about it!"
He went down the few steps leading to the first door of the belfry which was never locked; inside he found himself in a kind of vestibule under a groined roof so high as to be scarcely visible; against the wall hung a row of huge bell-ropes. With his key he opened the further door which communicated with the cloister.
The place was empty, with never a lamp to light it. A huge hooded caricature of Durtal stalked along the walls, being his shadow cast by the lantern he was carrying. As he passed the refectory door, he noticed a gleam of light underneath it and heard the sound of steps.
"Good gracious!" thought he, "are they having supper? If so, I shan’t meet Dom Felletin." He went up the stairs to the first floor and knocked gently at the Father’s door. No answer.
He raised his lantern to look at the board outside the door, which shows where a monk is when away from his room. But the peg which ought to be fixed in the hole opposite the name of the place to which the monk had betaken himself hung mutely at the end of its string. As he had leave to enter the Father’s cell whenever the latter had made an appointment with him, and as the key was still in the lock he opened the door, placed his lighted lantern on the desk and sat down on a chair to wait.
He looked round the room with which he was already familiar. It was whitewashed and had two doors, one being that by which he had entered and the other opening on the novitiate. Between the two doors there was a shabby iron bedstead, with a straw mattress and a mustardcoloured coverlet, but no sheets; it was plain that his friend slept fully dressed. There were also a zinc washstand, a prie-dicu, two rush-bottomed chairs and a fair-sized desk, littered with books and papers; on the walls a wooden cross, without the Redeemer, in a pitch-pine frame and a Beuron coloured print of the Blessed Virgin, a discreet-looking Madonna, insipid, maybe, but kind-faced. And that was all.
"How bitterly cold it is in here!" murmured Durtal; "I only hope that he hasn’t forgotten the appointment." The sound of steps in the corridor reassured him.
"I am late," said the priest; "We have just been having a bowl of hot wine in the refectory, according to a time-honoured custom; it helps to warm our blood; for we shall now have to stand and chant until early dawn. Are you ready?"
"Yes, Father," replied Durtal, who, kneeling at the prie-dieu, made his confession. Having given him Absolution, Dom Felletin, in the same quiet, deliberate way in which he talked to his novices, spoke of Advent which had just ended and of Christmas now at hand. Durtal sat down and listened to him.
"The four weeks of Advents," said the Father, "stand for the four thousand years before the coming of Christ. The first of January in the ordinary Calendar is a day of rejoicing for the world; for us the liturgical New Year’s day, the first Sunday in Advent, is a day of sorrow. Advent, the symbol or Israel fasting in ashes, and sighing for the coming of the Messiah, is indeed a time of penance and of mourning. No Gloria, no organ on the ferials, no Ite, missa est, no Te Deum in the nightly Office. As a sign of mourning we use violet vestments; formerly, certain dioceses, like that of Beauvais, adopted vestments of an ashen hue; others again, like those of Le Mans, Tours and the churches of the Dauphiné went so far as to drape themselves in black, the colour of the departed, the better to express the desolation of the Advent season.
The Liturgy of this time of the year is a splendid one. With the distress of souls bewailing their sins are blended the fervent cries of Prophets foretelling the near coming of forgiveness; the Ember Day Masses, the great O Anthems, the Vesper hymn, the Plorate, Coeli, at Benediction, the Responses in the Matins on the first Sunday, may be reckoned among the most precious jewels in the treasury of the Office, matched only by Lent and Passion-tide; but now we have put them away for a year. The term of affliction is followed by a term of joy for hopes fulfilled; yet, all is not yet over; Advent portends not only the Birth of Christ but also His Second Coming, when, according to the Creed, He will come to judge the living and the dead. Hence it behoves us to remember this, and to let our joy at the Birth of the Saviour be tempered by a wholesome fear of the coming of the judge.
"Thus Advent may be said to be of the Past and also of the Future; but it is likewise in some sort of the Present, for the spirit of Advent is the only one that remains within us always; the spirit of the others vanishes with the revolving year; the year itself ends, though, so far, the world itself has not disappeared in a general cataclysm; from generation to generation we bear anew the same anguish; it is our lot always to live in an everlasting Advent, for, while awaiting the general end of all things, each one of us meets his particular end in death.
"Nature herself has undertaken to symbolize the cares of Advent; the shortening of the days serves as an emblem of our unrest and regrets; but the days grow longer directly Christ is born; the Sun of Righteousness scatters the darkness; it is the winter solstice; and it seems as if the earth, freed from the overhanging gloom, begins to grow glad.
"So, like Nature, for a time we ought to dismiss from our minds the thought of punishment, and meditate only on the unspeakable event of God becoming a child for the redemption of the world.
"By the way, my friend, you have no doubt carefully gone through the Service beforehand? You will have read the beautiful anthems of Matins. You confessed to me just now your distractions during the singing of the Psalms, and you fear that you do not enter fully into the spirit of the Liturgy. You asked me if routine was not stopping our prayers. You are too fond of arguing against your better self. But I know you well enough to be sure that, to-night, you will jump with joy, when you hear the Invitatorium. Why should you feel called upon to weigh every word? Can’t you feel the presence of God in that enthusiasm which is so far removed from discussion and analysis? The truth is, you are not simple enough with God. You, more than anybody, love the inspired prose of the Hours, and yet you strive to convince yourself that you don’t understand it well enough to love it! It’s sheer madness. If you go on that way you will only succeed in smothering all your enthusiasm. Take care; it is a return of those scruples from which you suffered so much at La Trappe!
"Try and be more indulgent towards yourself, and less narrow in your dealings with God. He does not expect you to take your prayers to pieces like a clock that wants mending; nor does he wish you to puzzle out their inside meaning before you dare to say them. He only merely tells you to say them. Take for example a saint whose authority you will not question, St. Teresa. She was ignorant of Latin and had no wish that her nuns should learn it, yet her Carmelites chant the Office in that tongue. According to your theory they pray badly; but the truth is, they know that they are singing the praises of the Most High and praying for those who do not pray for themselves; and that is enough. It is with this thought in their minds that they repeat words of which they do not know the exact meaning, but which accurately express their desires; they remind our Lord of His own promises and of His own complaints. Their prayers present to Him, if I may so speak, a draft signed with His Blood which He cannot repudiate; for, indeed, are we not His creditors under some of His promises given in the Gospels?
"Only — only -," continued the Father after a pause, as if talking to himself, "such promises, due to His infinite love, if they are to be realized, require that we should deal justly with Him, and make Him some return of love, poor and finite though our means of doing this may be. This love comes only through suffering. To love, one must suffer; and so long as one loves, one must go on suffering.
"But let us put sad thoughts away and not dull the joy of these few hours; we shall recover ourselves afterwards; first let our minds dwell upon this wonderful night, upon this feast of Christmas, which has moved all the ages to tears. The Gospels are brief; they relate the events without comment and without detail; ’there was no room in the Inn’; that is all; but how comely is the body that the Liturgy has fashioned about this dry bone The Old Testament serves to complete the New; in this case it is the reverse of what is usual; contrary to all precedents, the earlier texts complete the later. It is not to St. Luke, but to Isaiah that we owe the ox and the ass, and these have become our cherished possession in the O magnum mysterium of the Second Nocturn of this night.
"Oh, how radiantly beautiful is this manifestation of God to Man! Christ as a new-born infant, unable yet to speak, mutely preaches the doctrines which later on He was to expound so clearly. His first care is to confirm by example His Mothers’ canticle, her exaltavit humiles in the Magnificat.
"His first thought is one of deference towards her. He wishes to justify before all men the Virgin’s cry of victory; He witnesses that the humble and meek are preferred to the mighty, and that the rich will find it harder than the poor to be admitted to His presence. And to make this clear, a long journey is imposed on the wise men, who stand for the kings and scholars, while the poor shepherds are exempted from fatigue and danger and receive the first summons to adore Him. He gives dignity and grandeur to the lot of the lowly by appointing a choir of angels to lead them to His cradle, but the rich lie guides thither by the cold radiance of a single star. And the Church follows her Master’s hint. On this night of Christmas the Magi do not come upon the scene, their service being postponed till the feast of the Epiphany. To-day it is the shepherds who occupy the stage.
"Mary, too, followed her Son’s teaching in her practice; whenever she vouchsafed to appear on earth, it was usually to poor shepherdesses, not to scholars, or kings or wealthy women."
"You are right, Father," said Durtal, "But, if you will allow me, may I remark that the lesson in humility that you just mentioned was not really taken to heart. The Middle Ages invented many legends about the Magi, but never a one about the poor shepherds. The relics of the Magi, who rank as Saints, are still venerated at Cologne, but nobody has ever troubled his head about what became of the remains of the lowly shepherds, or asked whether they, too, ought not to be called Saints."
"That is true," said the monk, smiling; "but, you know, people dote on mystery; there was something so cryptic and strange about the Magi that the Middle Ages never ceased to dream about these potentates, who stood for all that is wealthy and grand; but the medival mind forgot, the kindly shepherds, just because they seemed in no way different from every-day shepherds. It is the eternal truth; the first before God are the last before men. Now, go in peace, my dear child; when you receive Communion, you will pray for me."
Durtal rose to take his leave.
"By the way," said Dom Felletin, "I have received some news about the effect produced upon the public by the Pope’s letter concerning the Bill against Religious Congregations. It reiterates in milder and more diplomatic terms what he said in the interview with Des Houx published in the Matin. If France molests the Orders, Leo XIII. will deprive her of the protectorate of the Levant; after such an ultimatum the Government will certainly draw in its horns, and the threat of the Freemasons will come to naught."
"But suppose the Ministry have reason to believe that His Holiness will throw down his arms at the first alarm, and persist in carrying through this Bill?"
"Ah, there’s no convincing you!"
"Well, let us hope for the best!"
Durtal shook hands with his confessor and went down the stair-way leading to the cloister. Under the arches he saw a light moving ahead of him; it was little Brother Blanche, the acolyte, with his candle. He was walking in front of Father d’Auberoche who was on his way to the church bearing relics on a tray covered with a veil. The apse was like a hive; novices were busy putting the last touch to everything, and the dimly-lit choir was black with them. Dom d’Auberochc passed, the buzzing ceased and all the novices moved aside; he laid his salver with the relics on the altar; he removed the linen cloth and, taking the brass and bronze gilt reliquaries, he put them between the candlesticks; to honour the relics and to apprise the faithful of their presence, novices lighted two gold lamps at each end of the altar. Father d’Auberoche made due obeisance to these holy remains, genuflected before the tabernacle, and retired; the Father sacristan proceeded to light the lamps and the candles. Very soon the far end of the sanctuary was one blaze of light.
An oriental carpet had been laid down, covering the altar-steps and the pavement of the choir. The altar was adorned with candles and evergreens, and on it were placed the priestly vestments of the Abbot and the two mitres, the gold mitre and the precious mitre, one on the Epistle side and the other on the Gospel side.
The choir was draped with white, fringed hangings and on the left, with three steps leading up to it, stood the Abbot’s throne. The seat of red velvet, with a canopy overhead, stood out in relief against the white drapery; behind the throne was the Abbot’s coat of arms painted on a board. The Abbot’s usual seat, somewhat in front of the monks’ stalls, was covered with red velvet with a gold fringe, like the throne; there was also a prie-dieu, covered with green baize, placed before the altar.
"Oh, oh!" said Durtal to himself, "the Smyrna carpet and the green prie-dieu are always the signs of a first-class feast!"
The bells began to ring. In single file, wearing alb and headed by the Prior, the monks now came out of the sacristy and approached the door of the church that opened on to the cloister to receive the abbot, and present him with the holy water. The nave was filling with village folk, the monk who acted as parish-priest put the children in their proper places amid a loud clatter of clogs and boots. Pushing his way through the crowd, M. Lampre took his seat next to Durtal. The Most Noble Baron des Atours, with his family, also made his entry. With an air of patronage he glanced round at his menials as they made way for him; he knelt down in the front row of chairs and buried his face in his hands; but only for a moment, for soon one hand was needed to twist his stubbly moustache and the other to pat the smooth ball-like surface of his skull. The distinction of his wife was somewhat problematic, but the ugliness of his daughter painfully plain; she was not unlike her mother, but even more provincial and commonlooking; as for the son, a worthy enough young man who had been brought up in the most fashionable pious schools, he remained standing, his gloved hands grasping the knob of his cane, while the other end dug its way into the rotten straw of the chair in front of him.
One felt inclined to wonder whether these people knew how to read; at any rate they had not a book among them, but, whether at Mass, or at Matins, or at Vespers, did nothing but finger their costly, silver-stringed rosaries, that made a jingling noise like that of a horse champing its bit.
Suddenly the organ burst into a triumphal march; the Abbot entered the nave, preceded by two masters of ceremonies; between them walked the crosier-bearer, wearing an alb and on his shoulders the vimpa, a scarf of white satin lined with cherry-coloured silk, in the ends of which he clasped the stem of the crosier. The Abbot, whose long black train was borne by a novice, gave his blessing right and left as he passed to the kneeling throng of worshippers who crossed themselves.
He knelt at the prie-dieu, and his whole court of attendants, cope-men, and religious vested in albs, likewise knelt, so that all one saw was a golden note of interrogation overlooking a field of dead moons, the crosier dominating the big white tonsures.
At a signal from Father d’Auberoche all arose and the Abbot went to his throne, on each side of which his assistant deacons took their place; whereupon the prie-dieu was removed.
The choir was full, two upper rows of stalls being occupied by the professed and the novices in their black cowls, while in the lower ones were the lay-brothers in brown cowls. Below them again, on benches, were the choir boys in bright red cassocks; and in the empty space between, limited though this was, the servers deployed with absolute precision, crosier-bearer and candle-bearer and mitre-bearer all performing their duties without the slightest hitch.
The Abbot began the Office.
As Father Felletin had foreseen, Durtal was at once fascinated by the Invitatorium. It was the usual Psalm, Venite, exultemus, summoning Christians to adore their Lord, with its refrain, sometimes short "Christ is born to us"; sometimes long, "Christ is born to us; O, come, let us worship."
This splendid psalm, with its tender half mournful melody, tells of Creation, and of God’s rights; the wondrous works of God are set forth and His lament at the ingratitude of His people.
The. voice of the cantors recounted measuredly His marvels: "The sea is His and He made it, and His hands prepared the dry land. O, come let us worship and fall down and kneel before the Lord, our Maker, for He is the Lord our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand." Then the choir took up the refrain, "Christ is born to us, O come, let us worship."
Then, after the glorious hymn of St. Ambrose, Christe Redemptor, the Office proper began. It was divided into three "vigils" or nocturns, composed of psalms, lessons and responses. These nocturns had a meaning. Durandus, the thirteenth-century Bishop of Mende, explained them clearly in his Rationale. The first nocturn deals allegorically with the period before the Law given to Moses; and, in the Middle Ages, whilst it was sung, the altar was hidden by a black veil to symbolize the gloom of the Mosaic Law and the sentence pronounced on man in Eden. The second nocturn shows the time that elapsed since the written Law, and then the altar was hidden with a white veil because the prophecies of the Old Testament already shed a sort of furtive light on fallen mankind. The third nocturn sets forth the love of the Church and the mercies of the Comforter, and the altar was draped with purple, an emblem of the Holy Ghost and of the Blood of our Saviour.
The service proceeded with alternate psalmody and chanting. The whole was splendid, but the finest was found in the Lessons and their Responses. A monk, led by a master of ceremonies, came down from his stall and took his place at the lectern in the middle of the choir; there he chanted or recited, for it was not exactly the one nor yet the other. The tone was even, the melody slow and somewhat plaintive, sounding like a lullaby of the soul, and breaking off abruptly on a mournful note, like a tear that falls.
"Ah! Dom Felletin was right," thought Durtal. "It is a grand service for a grand night. While the old world is sinning or sleeping, the Messiah is born and the shepherds, dazzled, come to adore Him; and at the same moment those men of mystery, those dream-figures foretold long before St. Matthew by Isaiah and the Psalmist, set out from one knows not where and race on dromedaries through the night, led by a star, to adore in their turn a Child, and then to disappear along a road other than that by which they came.
"To what a mass of controversy has this star given rise! But to all the blundering hypotheses of our astronomers I prefer the view the Middle Ages borrowed from the Apocryphal Book of Seth and which we find in St. Epiphanius and in the Imperfect Commentary on St. Matthew. They thought that the Star of Bethlehem that appeared to the Magi showed the Child seated beneath a Cross in a glowing sphere and most of the early masters depict the star thus, for instance, Roger Van der Weyden, in one of the panels of his marvellous Nativity in the museum of Berlin,"
Durtal’s reflections were cut short by monks moving to and fro in the choir. The Abbot was being vested. A master of ceremonies, standing in front of the altar, removed one by one the vestments placed on it, the alb, the girdle, the stole and the cope, and handed them to novices who one after another presented them to the deacons at the throne, first bending the knee to the Abbot.
When his long black cappa had been removed and he was robed in his white alb, Dom Anthime Bernard looked taller still, as from the steps of his throne he overlooked the entire church and, after he had put on the girdle, as he moved his arm to adjust the pectoral cross, the ring on his finger sparkled in the light of the tapers. At a sign from Père d’Auberoche the mitre-bearer, covered with a shawl similar to that of the crosier-brearer, approached the throne, and, having donned the stole and cope, the abbot intoned the Te Deum.
Here Durtal was obliged to moderate his enthusiasm, for he remembered other Te Deums heard in the great Paris churches; he said to himself that, for instance at St. Sulpice, the hymn sounds far grander, sung to the blare of a great organ by a full choir reinforced by the whole body of the seminarists. The "Royal" Magnificat, also, had a majesty and a fullness lacking to the jejune and feeble settings used by Solesmes. But, indeed, to give such splendid pieces their full significance, it would need hundreds of voices, and in what monastery could one hope to find so large a choir?
His disenchantment, however, did not last long, for the Abbot, surrounded by cope-men, thurifer and candlebearer, began to chant the genealogy of Christ from a Gospel-book held by a monk in his two hands and resting against his forehead; the strange, sad monotonous cadences seemed to evoke a procession of the Patriarchs who each at the mention of his name flashed past, and then sank back into the gloom.
When the reading was at an end and whilst the Abbot was changing his cope for a chasuble the choir sang the short hymn, Greek in origin, the Te Decet Laus and the Office closed with the prayer of the day and the Benedicamus Domino.
The four principal cantors who had gone to robe themselves in the sacristy now returned and Dom Ramondoux, the Precentor, had stuck in a ring near his seat surmounted by a statuette of St. Bénigna the copper rod which was his sign of office.
He and the others were now seated on low-backed benches, just inside the communion rails at the entrance to the choir and opposite the altar. Thus their coped backs were turned to the public, backs splendid in shimmering velvet, interwoven with silver and with cherry-silk, on which the Gothic monograms of Christ and our Lady were embroidered in gold.
Leaving their benches and standing in the middle of the choir, they chanted the Introit, whilst the Abbot, attended by his court, began Mass,
When they had reached the Kyrie Eleison, the congregation joined in, the girls and boys of the village being led by the parish-priest. The same happened at the Creed.
Durtal, for a moment, seemed to get a clear glimpse into the past, and to see and hear villagers singing the melodies of St. Gregory in the Middle Ages. Obviously such chanting was not as perfect as that at Solesmes, but it was something different. It lacked art, but it had vim; it was an outburst, an effusion of the soul of the people, the fervour of a mob that for a moment is touched. It was as if, for a few minutes, an early Church had come to life, in which the people, throbbing in unison with its priests, were truly taking a part in the ceremonies and praying with them and using the same tongue and the same musical dialect, and this, for this to happen in our own times seemed so utterly unlooked-for that Durtal thought that he must once more be dreaming.
Thus the Mass went on while the organ flooded the church with sound. The Abbot stood before the altar, or took his seat on the throne; he was shod and gloved in white; he was now bare-headed, then wearing the gold mitre and then the precious mitre all edged with gems; his hands were now clasped, now held the crosier, then restored it to the kneeling novice who kissed his ring. The smoke of incense hid the altar-lights and the two lamps on either side of the relics each looked like a topaz glowing in the blue mist. Through this perfumed haze which was rising to the roof could be seen a motionless figure in gold at the foot of the altar steps; of the sub-deacon holding up before his eyes the paten veiled, waiting for the end of the Paternoster; he was the symbol of the Old Testament, of the Synagogue which had not eyes to see the accomplishment of the mysteries. And the Mass went on, all the serving boys kneeling in a row with lighted torches in their hands during the Elevation which the sound of bells proclaimed to the night outside; finally, after the Agnus Dei, the Abbot gave the Pax to the deacon, who went down the steps and gave it in turn to the sub-deacon, who, preceded by the master of ceremonies, went to the stalls and there embraced the senior monk who transmitted it to the others, each leaning over each other’s shoulders and then bowing to each other with hands joined.
And now Durtal watched no longer; the moment of Communion was at hand and in the apse the little bell was ringing loudly; there was a stir among the novices and the lay-brothers who began to range themselves in double file; the deacon chanted the Confiteor in a tone hardly expressive of contrition, and, while two monks held an outstretched long white cloth, all knelt down to communicate. Then the Abbot came down the altar steps with all his following and gave the Blessed Sacrament to the faithful, while behind him stood the serving boys, each holding a torch.
A noise of rough boots and clogs filled the church, making the Abbot’s voice almost inaudible; one could catch the words "Corpus Domini," but the rest was lost in the clatter of feet; coming back to his place, Durtal forgot the Liturgy and the Mass, caring only to implore God to forgive him his sins and deliver him from evil. He came back to the world when he heard the Abbot chanting the Pontifical blessing.
"Sit nomen Domini benedictum."
And all the monks responded:
"Ex hoc nunc et usque in sceculum."
"Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini."
"Qui fecit coelum et terram."
And the Abbot, staff in hand, gave the blessing:
"Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus."
And at each invocation of the three Persons he made the sign of the cross over the people, to his left, towards the centre, and to his right.
As Lauds began Durtal went out. His feet were frozen. Madame Bavoil met him at the porch with the lanterns which they lighted. It was freezing hard and slow was falling.
"Wait for us," cried Mlle. de Garambois, who, muffled up in furs and accompanied by her uncle, was just behind them.
"I must take you home," she said, "not to supper that would hardly do, but to have a glass of hot punch in front of a good fire."
They set off along a path already half hidden by snow lights were to he seen, hurrying in all directions, while the window-panes of the inns glowed in the darkness.
Under the pretext of giving them punch, their kind hostess had loaded a table in the dining-room with pastry and cold meat.
It was a quiet homely room; the sideboard and chairs were in the style of Henry ll.; the pine cones blazed and crackled on the hearth, giving forth their odour of resin, and Durtal sat toasting his shoe-soles.
"We have fallen into a trap," said Mme Bavoil, laughing, "it is a regular supper that we are threatened with. But I suppose that, on Christmas Day, a little greediness is allowed."
But, in spite of all persuasion, she herself would only swallow a morsel of bread and cheese.
The snow was still falling and the lantern lights along the roads had disappeared. Drunken shouts were heard in every direction; the peasants were all getting tipsy in the shelter of the inns.
"What a pity! They were behaving so nicely just now when they were singing with the monks;" said Madame Bavoil.
"Oh!" exclaimed Durtal, "we mustn’t mind that. Those who sang in church are employees of the monks. They go to Mass to please the Fathers, but wait till the monks have gone..."
"In any case," said M. Lampre, "even admitting that these fellows are in earnest, they do but conform with medival tradition, for piety in olden days among our ancestors did not preclude a certain coarse jollity, especially in Burgundy. Whatever fools may say about the Middle Ages, that period was not one of prudery. Would you believe it, Madame Bavoil, that in olden times, before the Mass of this day, in certain churches they solemnly celebrated the Feast of the Ass and, what is more, that the author of the service, of both words and music, was no other than the Right Reverend Lord Archbishop of Sens, Pierre de Corbeil? So you see that from the thirteenth to the fifteeenth century the poor Ass shared in the triumphs of the Redeemer."
"When I think that he bore on his back Jesus," murmured Madame Bavoil, "I long to caress his muzzle."
"There was also the Feast of Fools," continued M. Lampre. "The performers elected a Bishop whom they enthroned with many laughable ceremonies, and this buffoon gave his blessing to the people gathered in the church, while peasants, smeared with must and dressed up as clowns, and harridans swung censers around him, the incense being made of old shoe-leather."
"I fail to see anything religious about such drunken revelry," observed Madame Bavoil.
"And yet they were. These parodies had a Biblical origin. The Ass was honoured because of the one that spoke, and by its rernonstrances called forth Balaam’s famous prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. The ass was thus, in a way, one of the prophets of Christ. The ass, too, was present near the cradle when He was born; and it was again an ass that carried Him in triumph on Palm Sunday; hence the ass well deserved to have a place in the Christmas festival."
As for the Feast of Fools, its real name was Feast of the "Deposuit," with a reference to Deposui potentes de sede from the Magnificat. It aimed at humbling pride and at exalting humility. On that day Bishops and priests counted for nothing, were, in fact, deposed. It was the common people, the menials and serving-lads of the monasteries who were the masters, and they received and used their right to twit the monks and prelates with their hypocrisy, their simony, their favouritism, and occasionally with other sins. It was a topsy-turvy world yet, by tolerating such occasions of harmless retaliation — until, indeed, they degenerated into pure farce — the Church surely showed her condescension and broad-mindedness; by smiling on such follies she proved her indulgence towards the small and lowly, and of her readiness to let them vent their grievances."
"Suppose we go to bed," said Madame Bavoil, "it’s rather late, and, after all, we shall have to get up tomorrow."
"Today, if you please, for three o’clock is striking," replied DurtaI as he re-lit the lanterns.
"That M. Lampre is a very learned man," said Madame as they trudged through the snow; "I am sure he is kind-hearted, but he always seems to be too critical of others and not critical enough of himself."
"Ah, you too, you always expect everybody to be a saint. Alas! I fear the stamp that coined the saints is broken and the Great Master of the Mint now strikes no more coins; here and there, perhaps, in provincial retreats, or in obscure corners of towns, you may yet find some. There are certainly some in the cloisters I personally have known a few at La Trappe de Notre Dame de L’Atre; but they fly the outside world and, living unseen, how can one ever hope to know them?
"Such a saint, however, who enjoyed a certain notoriety, died lately in a Benedictine monastery in Belgium; but the information I have about him is contradictory and I give it to you for what it is worth.
"This monk, Father Paul de Moll, is said to have been one of the most extraordinary wonder-workers of our time. He healed all ills with a touch; nothing came amiss; tooth-ache and head-ache vanished like consumption and cancer; incurable diseases were dealt with as easily as indispositions; men and animals, he healed them both; his one simple prescription being the use of water in which a medal of St. Benedict had been dipped.
"This monk, who was our contemporary, for he was born in 1824 and died in 1896, belonged to the Abbey of Termond. He himself re-established the Abbey of Afflighem, and founded the Priory of Steenbrugge. He was a great ascetic and loved self-sacrifice in all its forms, though, to look at him, a kindly, jovial man, quietly smoking his pipe, one would never have suspected it.
"But among the hundreds of miracles that he is supposed to have wrought in Flanders, how many are true? Some seem supported by good evidence, others require further examination, for they seem to rest on mere hearsay.
"His life, written in all good faith by a gentleman named Van Speybrouck, is so incoherent and, historically, so faulty that it cannot be relied upon. For the honour of the Order, let us hope that this Father de Moll was not a simple wizard, but a real saint. But it is for the Holy Church to enlighten us."
CHAPTER VIII AT last the weather grew milder and the wind less bitter. The sun, invisible till now, made fitful reappearances in the pitiless sky, touching the earth with furtive rays of light. There was a momentary awakening in the garden where living shrubs emerged from an apparently lifeless soil. The box, with its little yellow spoon-shaped leaves that broke when touched, and the juniper with its bluish needles and berries of black-indigo, pushed through their pall of half-melted snow.
The spindle-wood, the variegated laurel, the yew, the rosemary, still green, the holly whose bright red berries now looked tanned, helped to enliven the shrubberies, when all the other bushes showed only dry twigs all shrivelled and burnt by the burning frost of the north wind. Even so, all the plants looked ailing, like convalescents just risen from their bed of snow.
The only group which had thriven in the frost was the hellebore. They grew in abundance along the paths; some of them, such as the Christmas roses, were in full bloom, their blossom, of an unwholesome purplish hue, suggesting the colour of a scar, or of a closing wound, fitted well their poisonous nature; and there were other hellebores, black ones, with cut, saw-edged leaves, reeking of poison more venomous still. If you pulled them up, you found that they had slender roots like those at the bottom of a bulb. Old sixteenth-century botanists set store by them, saying that they expelled phlegm and choler, and cured the itch, ringworm, scab, mange, impetigo, and other disorders of the blood; but they had a sinister look, with their funereal leaves and blossoms of the colour of unripe apples; like their sisters, the Christmas roses, they hung their heads and lacked the frank charm of wholesome flora.
Indeed, at this time of the year the garden was far from attractive in its bareness and its array of suspicious plants, and Durtal rather avoided it. But that morning he happened to be there, as he had ten minutes to spare before catching his train. As the weather seemed slightly more favourable, he thought of going to Dijon to buy ties and boots, a plan hitherto postponed by the prospect of freezing in a railway-carriage and of not being able to walk about the town. "I may well be excused from attending High Mass here," he said to himself, "as I am getting to know it by heart. It has been the same Mass for six days running, as the Octave of Epiphany interferes with the order of saints’ days. No doubt this Mass is a nice one in spite of a rather poor Introit. The plaintive Kyrie is very fine if somewhat affected; the Gloria has a certain cheerful dignity about it and the versicle of the Gradual "Surge, et illuminare, Jerusalem," and also the Alleluia are exquisite; the "Reges Tharsis" of the Offertory goes like an arrow to its mark; but I have still got to-morrow to hear that; for to-day a Low Mass will do; I may as well make the best of the fine weather." And he went to the station.
Having taken his seat in the train he caught sight of Father de Fonneuve on the platform, who, seeing him, got into his compartment.
After the usual chat, the prior asked Durtal if he had seen the new parish-priest, who had taken up his duties a few days ago.
"Yes, he did me the honour of calling upon me yesterday, and, if you want to know my opinion, the impression he made on me was unfavourable. He was like a somewhat ill-bred young peasant-woman trying to be coy. He has a way of wriggling about in his chair, of flirting, of fanning himself, as it were, with all the gestures of some silly girl. By means of a few questions I soon found that he was utterly devoid of mysticism and wanting in any appreciation for the Liturgy, and that, to boot, he is vain; I very much fear, Father, that you are in for trouble. But tell me, are those repairs to the presbytery going on satisfactorily?"
"Yes; directly it was not a question of monks living there, the Mayor and the Municipal Council became quite pleasant. So long as we occupied the Presbytery they refused to put so much as a slate on the roof, but, now, Socialists though they be, they simply beam on their new pastor. Obviously they want to make us quarrel with him, but I hope that they will not succeed; indeed, we have resolved to knuckle under as much as possible so as to avoid a conflict. Moreover, though the little curd is, I admit, somewhat affected and too full of himself, he is really a good fellow and quite friendly towards us. You judge him too much by his meekness, but he has been living with us in the monastery for the past week and we are giving him board and lodging until the Presbytery is habitable, and we like him and have taken to him."
"Father, I sometimes think that you are too kind; you think everyone good."
"Oh dear, no! we are all of us over-apt to judge others severely; nothing could be more unjust; for, after all, even when a man does you harm, that does not necessarily prove that he may not be right. He may be acting up to what he believes to be just; he looks at things from a different angle, but that is no reason why he should be in the wrong. You should always assume that there is some good cause for the persecutions to which you may be exposed in order to make certain that you do not deceive yourself. Besides, suffering and humiliation are excellent things. We ought to let Christ live within us, and how do so if we do not endure the buffetings and the spittings of the praetorium?"
"Agreed, but are you quite sure that, if it came to a fight between Presbytery and Monastery, your monks would not rather have Christ live in the parish-priest’s heart than that the parish-priest should make Him live in theirs? Indeed, that would be a most charitable thong to do, for by his death all would gain."
"What a bad boy you are, this morning!" said Father de Fonneuve, laughing. "But, here we are at Dijon. I am going to my Carmelite sisters. Are you coming, too?"
"No, Father, I have got some shopping to do in the town."
They walked along together as far as the Place St. Bénigne, and here the old historian could not leave Durtal before he had first expatiated on the pomp of this ancient abbey, of which only the sanctuary remained, restored and tinkered up in every part.
"There stands one of the grandest monuments of the Benedictine Order," he said, as he took Durtal’s arm and drew him closer so that their shoulders touched, a habit of his whenever speaking to friends; it was in that monastery that the Dukes of Burgundy came to take formal possession of their Duchy; there they swore on the Gospels, at the foot of the altar, before the shrine of the Saint, not to interfere with their subjects’ privileges; and, after a sermon, the Abbot placed a ring on their fingers to symbolize that they were wedded to the townships."
"In the tenth century, after the Venerable William of Cluny had been sent thither by St. Mayeul with twelve monks to rouse its torpid inmates, this cloister flourished exceedingly; but it again degenerated when it became an abbey in commendam. Its superb collection of manuscripts was dispersed and lost; only with the advent of the reforms of St. Maur were matters again put to rights; the monks of St. Benigne could then boast such indefatigable scholars as Dom Benetot, Dom Lanthenas, and Dom Leroy, whose labours in the archives of our Burgundian Abbeys were of such great value; Dom Lanthenas, in particular, was one of Mabillon’s co-workers and it is also quite right to mention Dom Aubrey who amassed the materials which allowed Father Plancher to write his great History of Burgundy, the bulky folio volumes of which you have seen in our library."
"At last, as everywhere else, the Revolution spelt the end of the monastery; only the church was spared. But what a funny idea to have roofed its towers with coloured tiles which make it look like esparto matting! They did better, however, in restoring the crypt, which owed its re-discovery to an accident."
"To us Benedictines, this Cathedral is a blessed spot, a place of pilgrimage. Of the Apostle of Burgundy, a disciple of St. Polycarp, who baptized him in the name of Benignus, we, indeed, do not know much; nevertheless, the Abbé Chomton, in the work he wrote on the Cathedral, adduces reasons for believing that this Saint suffered martyrdom at the end of the third century. The Acts of the Martyrs at any rate provide us with details of his martyrdom; they tell us that he was first stretched on the rack; sharp instruments were then driven under his nails; then his feet were fastened with molten lead in a hole in a stone, which was still in existence at the time of Gregory of Tours; then he was exposed to furious hounds; then his neck was struck with iron bars, and, finally, since lie still refused to die, he was stabbed with a dagger. On his tomb was erected the church."
"He was undoubtedly a great saint, but it is only natural that we should equally venerate our own great Abbot who was the glory both of Burgundy and of this Abbey, the Venerable William of Cluny.
"He received his early education as a boy-oblate in the monastery of Locedia in Italy; from there he went to Cluny. As I told you just now, he was sent by his Abbot, Dom Maycul, to reform the monastery of St. Benigne, which had been reduced to a band of undisciplined monks whose religious observances were practically non-existent. Besides enforcing the Rule of St. Benedict, he brought to his task a passion for the symbolical and for the Liturgy; his love of art and learning was surprising. He established free schools for clerics and the common people. He revived the Gregorian chant, of which the text had been corrupted by the cantors, and it was his wish that the services should be faultless and splendidly performed.
"He also blossomed forth into an architect of the first water; indeed, there was nothing to which this monk could not turn his hand. He built his own abbey church, which, alas, has disappeared and is replaced by the one in front of us. It had nine towers and all the symbolism of Holy Scripture was unfolded around the structure; it was built upon an underground church, the form of which reproduced the mysterious T of Ezechiel, an as yet imperfect ililage of the cross, recalling pre-Messianic times; the nave, higher and brighter, stood for the light of the Gospels, the Church of Christ; and every night, to confirm the symbol, they went down to the crypt to chant Matins, whilst, on the other hand, the day Office took place in the church above.
"Everything was in proportion; the capitals, the pillars and the statues were in keeping with the general idea of the edifice. All were carved by the monks themselves; the name of one of them, Hunald, has come down to us.
"The abbey was an enormous one; after having sent out more than a hundred monks to various religious houses, William still governed a like number at St. Bénigne, and in spite of fatigue and in spite of age he travelled far and wide to put fresh life into monasteries which had fallen away from their allegiance to God. We see him at Fécamp, at St. Ouen, at Mont St. Michel, at St. Faron in Meaux and at St. Germain des Prés in Paris. We also find him in Italy at St. Fruttaria, where to a monastery of Benedictines he added a convent of nuns. He is met with everywhere, until worn out by these endless journeys, he dies in Normandy; there he is buried in the Abbey of Fécamp.
"William was an artist, a scholar and a marvellous administrator and, what is better still, an admirable saint. I must lend you his Life, by the Abbé Chevallier. But I am hindering you from going to Mass, and I shall be late, too. My patience! how talkative one does get as one grows old! Good-bye, say a prayer to the Blessed Virgin for me and I, on my part, will pray for you when I reach my good Carmelites."
Durtal watched him as he walked away with a step that was still alert, and thought, "What a beautiful life that good monk leads, a life of study and of prayer! And what a beautiful life, too, is this Benedictine life, which soars so high above the centuries and beyond the ages! Indeed, how could one well travel heavenwards with firmer step and marching to better music? Such a life as theirs is the realization upon earth of the life of angels above in which we, too, shall have our share hereafter. When our march is ended we come before the Throne, not as novices but as souls already trained by careful study for the duties which we are for ever to perform in the eternal bliss of His Presence. In comparison to this, how turbulent and how vain seem the lives of other men!"
"Dear Father de Fonneuve! I can’t help thinking how, often, in summer or autumn when I was in his cell, palaeographers from Paris or the provinces came to consult him on points of ecclesiastical history or the authenticity of certain texts. It made me think of another monastery of Germain des Prés where Dom Luc d’Achery and his pupil Mabillon discussed the foundations of Diplomatics with their visitors, the genuineness of charters or the value of seals. Father de Fonneuve is as learned as Dom Luc d’Achery, but which of his pupils can be compared to Mabillon, even to the obscurest satellites of the congregation of St. Maur?
"He stands alone, far above anybody here; but then again, among his lay clients who is there that can approach the wonderful Du Cange, or Baluze or those learned booksellers, the Anissons? The level of learning is, therefore, lower on both sides, and it is not just to blame the monks alone.
"That laymen on the whole are more learned than monks seems beyond doubt, yet, even lay-scholars are now much inferior to those laymen who frequented the Abbey of St. Germain des Prés in the seventeenth century. So let us be modest and indulgent.
"Meanwhile, this mania of mine for soliloquizing by fits and starts, will make me miss the service," he said to himself as he entered the church. A Mass at the High Altar was almost at its end, but, as he saw by the time-table near the sacristy, another was to follow it. During the few minutes’ interval he determined to stroll round the cathedral.
It had three naves of the normal breadth and height, but, by the side of the great cathedrals, it seemed extremely small, almost insignificant. It contained a certain number of statues of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, respectable productions, which, having seen, one never wished to look at again. The old stained-glass lights had disappeared and had been replaced by plain-glass, or, worse still, by modern stained abominations. In the left transept was a huge green cross on which was stretched a grey figure of Christ, flanked by two angels, one showing Him a deed of consecration to the Sacred Heart, and the other a plan of a church.
In brief, interesting as this cathedral was because of its monastic souvenirs, it was, from the point of view of art, intensely dull; certainly not equal to the round building erected by William of Cluny; two of his ancient bas-reliefs, now relegated to the archeological museum of the town, are of a quality very different from the present Bouchardon reliefs borrowed from the old church of St. Etienne.
Durtal took a seat to hear the Mass; though he knew it by heart, it could never be tedious to him; the fact was that this Feast of the Epiphany meant more to him than any other.
At all seasons of the year he was wont to recur to it; for it commemorates not only the manifestation to the Magi and the Baptism in Jordan, but also the miracle of the Marriage at Cana; this miracle always gave him food for reflection.
It was, indeed, the first miracle that Christ wrought, the only one caused by a joyous episode, for all those that followed were performed with the view to relieving hunger, healing the sick and assuaging grief.
Jesus, whom the New Testament depicts as weeping, but never as laughing, here displayed His divine power before the time which He Himself had appointed, at a wedding feast and simply in order to give pleasure to the guests, a trifling enough motive and seemingly unworthy of Him.
When the Blessed Virgin says to Him, "They have no wine," His reply suggests that He has been taken unawares, and that the request was indiscreet: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." And Mary, usually so eager to divine his slightest wish, does not even listen to Him, nor does she reply, but speaks to the cup-bearers, telling them to obey the orders of her Son.
And, thereupon, Jesus does not refuse to work the miracle, but changes the water into wine.
This scene, unique in the Gospels, in which our Lady, as it were, gives the command, and appears to force the hand of Jesus to work the miracle which she desires, is a wonderful one when its symbolism is laid bare.
There was no question, in fact, of contenting the guests, who had already had their full, by giving them a wine better than that which they had so far consumed, there was no question of a marriage of a man and woman, whose names St. John deems it unnecessary to give. The real significance of the miracle must be sought in the union between God and His Church, in the nuptial joy of our Lord and the soul; and it is not water that is changed into wine, but wine that is transmuted into Blood.
The marriage-feast of Cana is but a pretext and an emblem, for all commentators agree in finding in this scene the symbol of the Eucharist.
All admit that the Old Testament pre-figures the New. May we not also conjecture that certain passages of the Gospels pre-figure, in their turn, others in the same books? The Marriage of Cana really foreshadows the Last Supper. The first miracle wrought by the Messiah at the commencement of His public life proclaims the other miracle to be accomplished on the eve of His death; and we may note that they reflect each other, as it were; for St. John who wrote his Gospel to confirm and to complete the work of his predecessors, is the only one who records this miracle. The others do not mention it, and he, on the other hand, alone among the Evangelists, is silent about the bread and wine, which are flesh and blood in his account of the Last Supper. In this story there is a strange inversion; here we have the last of the Evangelists anticipating the information given by the other three, and showing us in veiled form, as in the Old Testament, the figure of the Sacrament which the synoptic Gospels reveal.
"Yet," continued Durtal, "the Marriage of Cana provides other matter for thought. Just as we saw the Redeemer perform in this scene his first miracle, so in the same way we see Mary for the first time availing herself of her right to mediate and intercede for those new children which she is to adopt at the foot of Calvary; members of the Church there brought into being by her Son.
"She goes straight to the point; she asks simply and clearly for the greatest of all graces. She desires and she obtains the promise of the Holy Eucharist, which is to heal and save the souls of those children whom she would be called upon to take under her care.
"And Christ yields to her gentle firmness, if lIe shows a certain reluctance, it is only because He wishes to teach us that all that He grants is granted only through the intercession of His Mother.
"To sum up this episode of Cana is the point of departure of two primary devotions, both essential to Catholicism: the Blessed Sacrament, and the Blessed Virgin.
"How strange it is," he went on thinking, when, having left the Cathedral, he was proceeding through the Place d’Armes and the Place Rameau on his way to the Museum, "how strange it is that miracles of such supreme importance receive no attention, or at any rate are hardly expounded at all by priests in the pulpit, or thought of by their people!
"How hideous!" he sighed, as, at the foot of the staircase in the museum, he caught sight of a statue of the Republic; it showed a girl with the shoulders, arms and breasts of a fish-wife with vulgar, commonplace features, underneath which was the motto, at once blasphemous and stupid: "Stat in aeternum." It had been perpetrated by a man named Coutant.
On the first floor Durtal made his way through the picture galleries, where contemporary art was exhibited. Occupying a prominent place on the walls he noticed a depressing portrait of Carnot the Depressing, by Yvon; there was also one of Marshal Vaillant, by Horace Vernct, where the cleverness of this military colourman is shown by a tiny detail: the Marshal, with the head of a hewigged notary of the time of Louis Philippe apparently did not know where to place one of his arms; Vernet accordingly hit upon the original notion of letting it rust upon a pile of cuirasses, which in turn were propped up to the requisite height by bundles of faggots, the whole set in a fantastic landscape, crude and disagreeable in colour. Then there was an early work by Gustave Moreau, the Song of Songs, wholly third rate, in the style of Chasseriau, and giving no hint of the artist’s subsequent talent as evinced in his "Hérodiade." Finally, there were some lurid absurdities by Anatole Devosge. He and M. François, his father, were among the comic glories of Dijon; the bust of one of these grotesque persons, with the face of a beadle and tufts of whiskers like rabbit’s feet on his cheeks stood on a pedestal in one of the halls. One amazing daub of the aforesaid Anatole Devosge was called "Hercules and Phillo." It showed a woman in chains, grasping a boy and seeking to flee from the jaws of a lion, which a wrathful Hercules is about to strangle. The lion was a hopeless mongrel and, with his tongue hanging out, seemed to gasp in surprise at being treated with so little tact by the map. who is wringing his neck. Hercules himself was huge, with the physique of an Auvergnat maddened by drink; his muscles were phenomenal and his sturdy beam-like naked legs supported astounding hindquarters reminding one of pink silk balloons. As for the woman, in her apricot and gooseberry-green robes, to express her terror, she showed the whites of her eyes, while the child shed the conventional tears, depicted as metal pius after the fashion of the detestable David, whose pupil this painter had been.
"Oh, what an absolute ass was this Devosge, what a priceless old woman!"
The modern element in the Museum was unspeakably bad; and yet, amid this heap of queer outlandish stuff, a splendid picture stood forth from the wall, the "Ex Voto" of Alphonse Legros.
Nine women are shown praying before a little Calvary, set against a landscape seemingly woven on wool; seven of them are kneeling side by side; in the foreground, one stands dressed in white, turning over the leaves of a book in the background another, also standing, and wearing a straw hat, carries a taper.
These women, most of them old, wore white caps and were in mourning, with black mittens on their clasped hands.
The faces and the hands of these old women were drawn with an artistic accuracy and truth positively amazing when one thinks of the hasty slap-dash methods of our own time. The simple yet concentrated look on the faces of those praying women as they kneel before the cross, absorbed in their devotions and oblivious of the world, creates treally religious atmosphere. The features look as if they had been etched with an engraver’s needle; this strong, sober picture might well have been the work of a painter-engraver of the school of Albert Dürer. The woman in white suggests Manet, but a Manet grown more balanced, firmer, and wiser.
This was certainly the finest picture by Legros that Durtal had yet seen. But what was it doing here among all this rubbish, when it might have held its own triumphantly at the Louvre among the masterpieces of the French School? The catalogue stated that it was a gift of the artist to his native city. Yet his ungrateful city seemed prouder of its Desvosge, whose name it had given to one of its streets.
Except for its group of paintings of the modern French school, the Dijon Museum, as provincial museums go, is well furnished with collections of Art treasures; pottery, ivories, enamels and engravings, all of which are really good. M. His de la Salle had also given an interesting series of drawings by famous masters; but where the museum reaches the first rank, is in the old Salle des Gardes, which contains the old marble and alabaster Mausoleums of the Dukes Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur. These tombs, shattered during the Revolution, had been adroitly reconstructed, regilt and repainted.
Various craftsmen had had a share in producing Duke Philippe’s tomb. A Flemish artist, Jehan de Marville, prepared the plan, dying before he had completed it. A Dutchman, Claus Sluter, succeeded him and died also, and it was his nephew, Claus de Werve, who finished the work of his two predecessors. But how much of it is really his, is hard to say.
The body of Philip the Bold lies on a black marble table; between the legs of the table, on all the four sides, there runs a little Gothic cloister, peopled with miniature monks, and nobles in the Prince’s suite. Wrapped in his blue ermine-lined ducal cloak, Philippe le Hardi rests his mailed feet on the back of a kindly lion and his head on a cushion, behind which two angels with outstretched wings support a visored helmet.
The second monument had been entrusted for execution to a Spaniard, Jehan de la Huerta, or de la Verta; but he did nothing, or hardly anything, and it was a certain Antoine Le Moiturier who finished the cenotaph, if the work, indeed, is not altogether his.
Duke Jean and the Princess Margaret of Bavaria, his consort, lie side by side on a slab of black marble and beneath it is a Gothic cloister, the arcades of which are filled with monks. The heads of the pair rest upon cushions and their feet on the flanks of little lions; angels kneel behind them with outspread wings, one holding the Duke’s casque and the other the armorial shield of the Princess.
This monument is the more fancifully wrought of the two, its elaborate carving at once reminding one of the ornamentation of the Church of Brou, that late-Gothic structure which, in its old age, flung off its robe of stone, to die unchaste and naked beneath a shroud of lace.
The lions on these monuments are just the lions one sees on clocks; all they seem to need is a globe between their paws; the recumbent dukes and the princess in no way differ from the similar conventional figures on tombs of that epoch. The beauty of the work lies, not in these frigid effigies, nor in the blonde and charming angels which are, however, simply in the usual style of the early Flemish punters, but in the little figures under the dwarf arcades of the cloister.
Originally, no doubt, they should have stood for monks of the various Orders bewailing the demise of the dukes. They should all have been weepers," but the lively imagination of the sculptors had led them to override the directions given them, and, instead of tearful folk, they revealed the human side of contemporary monastic life, whether sad or gay, phlegmatic or fervent. And, to tell the truth, the last thing that their statuettes seem to wish to do is to deplore the deaths of dukes.
At any rate, those workmen evinced great power of observation, and reproduced attitudes and gestures that are snapshots wonderfully true to life. Unfortunately, many of these figures had been more or less restored and had been misplaced when the tombs were reconstructed. Yet not one of them is like any other, so that one marvels at the skill of these craftsmen; for from living models of monks who, being clean-shaven, looked all alike and wore very similar habits, they contrived to give an individuality of his own to each one and a face that reflects the soul within him, so that, by the folds of his robe or the position of his cowl, you can accurately gauge the character of the wearer.
In short, they were far less concerned with the portrayal of monkish grief than with depicting monkish life; and so we have portraits of the mitred Abbot, holding a crosier and the open Book of the Rule; he casts a half-lordly, half-distrustful look at his monks, who are weeping or reading, meditating or chanting or telling their beads, or merely idle and bored. One is even blowing his nose, and another is calmly picking his ear.
One might linger for hours before such a work, conceived and executed in such a spirit of good-humour, by artists who knew them, friends of the regular clergy, and poked kindly fun at them; Durtal took leave of it with regret, for its miniature figures reminded him of the monks at Val-des-Saints; both in mien and gesture the resemblance was often striking. How like Dom de Fonneuve was this old Father, smiling and pensive in his old-fashioned cowl isn’t that Dom d’Auberoche, that young monk with a hood of more stylish cut? And that surely is Dom Felletin looking down at his feet as if absorbed in research! Here, too, we have Ramondoux, the fat precentor with his mouth wide open and a Graduale in his hand! But the Abbot was different. The one at Val-des-Saints certainly looks neither lordly nor distrustful, but very kindly and frank!
In comparison with these little figures, the two wooden fourteenth-century altar-screens, exhibited in the same room, seemed clumsy and mean. But it is true, they had been much restored, and parts of them were modern. They were the work of a Flemish artist, Jacques de Bars, or de Baerze, of Termonde.
In one, St. Anthony, a beardless youth, has at his side two brown, shaggy he-devils and a she-devil with horns, cheeks rosy as apples, a round face and an up-turned nose. She is in sumptuous attire, but looks like a country wench disguised as a queen, nor does she show any inclination to try her luck on the Saint; as for the Saint, whose features have no more expression than a doll’s, he calmly raises two fingers in blessing.
In another panel of the same screen we have the Beheading of John the Baptist, with a Salome robed to the chin like St. Anthony’s temptress, a Salome of the servingmaid type, who, with an eye more fit for the kitchen than for fascinating men, watches the kneeling martyr who is expecting the headsman’s blow. These painted wooden figures are really quite poor, but one group is superior to the others, that of Herod and Herodias; the King, overcome with remorse, recoils with a gesture of horror, while she, with one hand on his shoulder and the other on his arm, reassures him.
The other screen showed an "Adoration of the Magi," a "Calvary" and an "Entombment." The Madonna in the first-named is a tall, well-built Flemish woman, less common-looking than the others in fact, of attractive and smiling demeanour. The Infant Christ holds one tiny hand to the lips of one of the Kings who is kneeling, and with the other touches a kind of ciborium that this monarch offers him. The second King, with one hand to his crown, is making a sort of military salute; the third, with the face of a carman, is pointing with his finger to the vase of spices that he brings.
As for the "Entombment," it is not happily conceived. St. John has a nose like a door-handle, and listlessly supports a Virgin who sobs on his heart, while two puppets on each side carry spices.
The screens were artless and amusing, but lacked the note of religion, being realistic rather than mystic; the art of a Fleming who had made shipwreck of his faith.
These retables, made with folding doors, had paintings on the panels of the latter by Melchior Broederlam of Ypres. On the left-hand door were an "Annunciation" and a "Visitation" and on the right a "Presentation" and a "Flight into Egypt." These works, painted on a dull gold background, had been much restored, for they had mouldered for a long while in the Church of St. Benigne before being safely housed in this museum. The Virgin in these pictures has a certain refinement in pleasing contrast to the commonness of the other figures portrayed. This is no longer the bloused wench of Jacques de Bars; with her eyes blue with the blue of the flax-blossom, this Madonna is of a more patrician type; she is not yet the exquisite Virgin of Roger Van der Weyden and Memling, butt any rate she is a Mary that might be the Mother of God.
Yet the St. Joseph of the Flight into Egypt is just a rustic, an absolute boor. Turning his back to the Virgin, he appears in profile, wearing clumsy boots, and with a stick over his shoulder on which is slung a cooking pot and a bundle of clothes; he himself is in the act of drinking from a jar.
Besides these altar pieces, there was a third, dating from the fifteenth century and hailing from the Abbey of Clairvaux. Though over-varnished, one of its panels was interesting because of the artist’s effort to represent our Lord’s glorious Body at the moment of His Transfiguration; this he seeks to do by coating it entirely in gold. The face, body, hands and robe are rubbed over with a shining gold, such as one sees on the panels by Lancelot Blondeel in the churches and the Communal Museum of Bruges. This artless rendering of the Divine glory is certainly pleasing, but the rest of the panel is dry and frigid and quite undeserving of praise.
Finally there was another panel, also of the fifteenth century, an Adoration, before which Durtal stopped, less by reason of its intrinsic value than because of the controversy of which it had been the subject.
This picture, long attributed to Memling, whose art it recalls but faintly, is in all likelihood the work of the Master of Mérode, or of Flémalle, thus named because one of his works was formerly in the Mérode Collection, and because a whole set of his pictures in the Staedel Institute of Frankfort had come from the Abbey of Flémalle.
Who was this artist? According to inquiries made in Belgium and Germany this Master of Flémalle was really named Jacques Daret, who had studied as a pupil, together with Roger Van der Weyden, under a painter named Robert Campin of Tournai, of whose work nothing remains.
He had been employed in the work of decorations for the Festival of the Golden Fleece, and for the wedding of Charles le Téméraire, his salary being twenty-seven sols a day. He had a younger brother named Daniel, born at Tournai, whom he taught to paint, but of whose work nothing now exists. That is about all we know of him.
A curious picture of his in the museum at Aix, of which Durtal possessed a fine photograph, showed a Madonna seated on a broad Gothic bench, and soaring above a town. She is a somewhat buxom Virgin and holds a very wide-eyed Infant Jesus. But the peculiarity is in her halo, which suggests a peacock’s tail composed with gilt porcupine quills; in the lower portion of the picture, between a Pope and a Bishop, both seated, a Dominican friar kneels in prayer.
Yet another Madonna, that for years past had haunted him, was suddenly recalled to his memory by this panel of Dijon. He had seen it in the Somzee Collection in Brussels. In its kind it really stood alone.
In a room, with a window opening on to a square, and furnished by a credence-table on which stood a chalice, and a red-cushioned seat on which lay a book, Mary, in a white, pleated robe, is about to suckle her Babe. Here again, about her head, there is an extraordinary nimbus, like a winnowing fan, or the bottom of a wicker basket, the sulphur yellow of it, the aureole blending delightfully with the subdued, soft tones of this picture in which the soInl)re figures are portrayed in a dim light.
This Madonna differs entirely from those of Roger Van der Weyden and of Memling. She is less slender, rather bigger-boned and has strange heavy-lidded eyes shaped like button-holes that turn up at the corners; a long nose and a short chin, whih her face is less like a kite in form than the faces of Memling’s Madonnas, and less almond-shaped than those of Roger Van der Weyden.
The truth, is, that Daret painted middle-class women who looked angelic, while the other two painted princesses who looked divine. His Madonnas have an air of distinction, but a distinction not native to them. They look somewhat self-conscious, affected, and ill-at-ease; their wish to appear good mothers is too obvious; in short, they lack real simplicity and life. "Yes, that seems to sum it up rather well," thought Durtal. Daret had not the feeling for the mystic possessed by his fellow-student, Van der Weyden; he but feebly expresses the deeper being; yet, to be just, it should he added that, if his works seem like lifeless prayers, they yet exercise a strange charm; they are of undoubted originality, and in the history of the art of that period they certainly occupy a place apart."
This Adoration in the Dijon Museum is obviously inferior; besides, it has suffered from the damp as well as from the hand of the restorer; nevertheless, it bears the artist’s impress.
Mary, kneeling before the Child, with her back to the stable, represents his usual type of Madonna; but she is more commonplace, more matronly, and less refined than his Madonnas at Brussels and Aix. St. Joseph, with his little taper, recalls the St. Josephs of Van der Weyden, which Memling also adopted. The shepherds, with their bag-pipes, the women who joylessly worship the little Jesus depicted as a puny baby, like almost all others painted at that period; the angels who unroll streamers in a landscape fresh and clear in tone, — all these things are alluring enough, but even in this there is something wrong, something cold; the impression of the whole is not one of cheerfulness. This Jacques Daret must have been a man whose fervour could find no outlet, whose prayers were dry."
"By the way," he said to himself, "I don’t notice in the series of Early Masters any trace of that famous Burgundian School, which, at the Louvre, has a room to itself containing hardly anything but pictures by Flemish artists.
To search in Museums and to go through the accounts of various officials connected with the Treasury of Burgundy is all labour lost; I find Dutch or Flemish painters, but not a single native of the olden provinces of France. Had any real French artists been in existence then, surely the Dukes of Burgundy would not have gone to the trouble and expense of importing foreigners.
This School is therefore only an invention of the Jingoes of art, only a hoax and a snare.
"But enough of this. I must be off," he said, looking at his watch. Then, glancing round once more, he added, "This Museum is something to be proud of, but, unfortunately, its contents have been rather too much tinkered up; but in Dijon everything has been restored. Jacquemartin his turret, the frescoes of Notre Dame, the façades and the naves of the other churches, even the mausoleums of the Dukes, and the altar-screens. But, never mind, what a delightfully restful room is this Salle des Gardes, with its tombs and its pictures, its Gothic mantelpiece and its tapestry, showing the siege of Dijon, with its hues of faded pink and harsher indigo against a bluish background of wool. How soothing it all is to the eye!"
He left the Museum and in a moment had reached the Place St. Etienne, at the opposite end of which stands the Church of St. Michel.
This church has a Renaissance façade with buttressed towers and octagonal cupolas, surmounted by golden balls, which, viewed from below, looked like two oranges. Although he was not enamoured of this particular style, Durtal had to admit that it was one of the purest specimens of its kind; it had been less tampered with than the other churches and, externally at least, showed signs of race. As regards the interior, it was otherwise, for, here, the style was Gothic, debased by numerous innovations introduced as an afterthought. On the left, however, there was a little Lady Chapel, its lights, painted with vague sybils and heraldic seraphs were not quite in keeping with the rest of the edifice; but the chapel, for all that, was one where the visitor could meditate in peace.
But, that day, Durtal had no time. He had to do his shopping. After calling at a Café where he glanced at the newspapers, he returned to the station.
The morning papers had little to say of the Congregations Bill, but, on the other hand, in the secular press there were articles full of abuse for monks and nuns; they urged the Government to suppress the schools conducted by religious and break up the religious congregations; and all religious, male and female, were vehemently assailed in the language of the gutter.
"Oh, if we could but lay bare the soul of one of these iniquitous scribblers, what a cesspool we should find!" thought Durtal as he walked up and down the platform.
At that moment Father Emonot, the Zelator, and Father Brugier the Cellarer, came out of a waiting-room.
"Hullo!" they exclaimed as they shook hands with Durtal, "everybody seems to be at Dijon to-day!"
Then they spoke of Mgr. Triaurault, who, owing to increasing infirmities, had decided to resign; the rumour was that his successor would be either Abbé Le Nordey, or a Paris curé. They also discussed the new curé of Val-des-Saints, and the conditions that were about to be imposed upon the monks.
"But I saw Father de Fonneuve this morning," cried Durtal, "and he said nothing about this."
"No, he didn’t know the Bishop’s stipulations. We ourselves have only just heard them, and that by mere chance, as we happened to meet in the street one of the bigwigs from the Bishop’s House."
"And what are the conditions?"
"Well, they are these," replied the Cellarer, a strongly-built, dark-eyed fellow, with a bluish chin and thin lips; he hailed from the South and had formerly been procurator in a seminary.
"We are to have the use of the Church on weekdays, but are not allowed to set foot in it on Sundays. On that day we must meet in our private chapel, the Church being wholly in the charge of the Curé. Besides that, we have no longer the right to hear the confessions of the people living in the village."
"What? Do you mean to say that we are not to be allowed to confess to the Benedictines? But it’s monstrous. They can’t compel people to go to a particular priest; every one is free to choose his own confessor; that’s the rule; so that this decree of the Bishop is nul and void. But what a pity he didn’t resign before playing us such a scurvy trick."
"Oh," said Father Emonot, "you are an oblate, or at least you are going to be one, and so you can claim to be under the Abbot’s jurisdiction, and not under the Bishop’s; hence this measure won’t affect you. Besides, whether oblate or not, every one is free to come to us in our house. There we recognise only one authority, that of our Father Abbot; with his leave, we shall continue to hear confessions as before."
"Yes," put in Father Brugier, "Mgr. Triaurault’s interdiction can be enforced only as regards the Church, which is a parochial one; it does not run within our enclosure whatever he may think."
"That is all very well, but what about the women? Mlle. de Garambois, for instance, and my housekeeper?"
"Ah, that is another matter; they can’t enter the precincts, which certainly complicates the case. Yet the problem admits of a solution. The Bishop’s ban only extends to Val-des-Saints; outside that parish we retain our faculties, so it will be easy for one of us to go once a week to Dijon and hear the confessions of our female penitents either in the Carmelite chapel, or in the chapel of some other community."
"Yes, but really it’s too bad that a prelate should thus try to impose a confessor by violence. It’s a positive outrage on conscience. Surely your Abbot must have been consulted. Why didn’t he protest?"
"He was merely informed of the Bishop’s decision," said Father Brugier.
"Father Abbot is a lover of peace," cautiously put in Dom Emonot, who thereupon changed the conversation and began chatting with the Cellarer about the novitiate.
To Durtal there was something unsympathetic about this Father Emonot, with his big head always thrown back on a short neck, his restless eyes hiding behind their glasses, and his thin, pointed nose and gaping nostrils. But it was not so much his yellow complexion, mean appearance, pompous manner and harsh laugh which created this disagreeable impression, as the perpetual twitching of the muscles of his features.
The truth was this failing was due to his scruples. Dom Enumot, like so many priests and numerous laymen, too, suffered from this fearful sickness of the soul. He would start suddenly, straighten himself and repel by a motion of his feature every vague temptation, certifying to himself thereby that he had resisted it and not committed any sin.
His infirmity was an outgrowth of his real virtue. He had an ardent desire for perfection and his narrowmindedness and prudery were explained by the fact that, for him, everything was a source of apprehension, a subject for reproach and for complaint.
Apart from this, he was far-sighted in matters concerning the future of his Order, was gifted with sound common sense, and expert in training souls, at least such souls as could tolerate his régime.
Listening to his theories on education, Durtal sometimes felt inclined to forget his prejudice.
"It is the fashion to laugh," he would say, "at the Jesuit ’mould’; they don’t seem to notice that, though all appear to have received the same stamp, no people are more unlike each other than the Jesuits. The Rule of St. Ignatius planes and prunes faults and character, but it never kills personality as many people think. Would to God that we had such a Rule! What we want so badly is just a mould in which we nught cast the raw metal of our novices. I know that in certain houses of our Congregation such methods of education are considered mean and repressive; all that they think of is how to let the soul expand. But alas it is not made to expand; it is simply left to itself."
"And even supposing that during the period of probation we succeed in imbuing the novices with a sense of discipline and in turning their thoughts towards the easier life, what then? Having passed through the trial of the novitiate, they are freed from control; when the strain is relaxed, then comes the dangerous moment; they ought to remain under supervision, be kept in check, be tamed by incessant occupation, even by strenuous manual labour.
"Yet exactly the contrary occurs. The full-blown Benedictine is free to do as he likes; he can work if he wishes, but there is a great temptation to be idle; it usually ends up in his leading the leisurely life of a gentleman who has retired on his income; and a monk who doesn’t work usually talks, upsets the others and promotes mischief. As our Father St. Benedict well said, ’Idleness is the soul’s enemy: otiosits inimica est animae.’ "
"Indeed you are right," said Durtal, "a monk who has nothing to do is a monk half-way to perdition; the more work, the less sin."
"True," said the Cellarer, "but it is easier to see the danger than to avoid it. The whole system of the novitiate ought to be changed and our standard of education ought to be higher. Above all, no idlers ought to be admitted. But that is Dom Felletin’s business; he is clear-headed enough to know it."
"Of course he is," said Father Emonot; "as a Master of Novices he is remarkably good."
"Yes, and there is something so holy about him," added Dom Brugier.
"The holiness of St. Peter," muttered Dom Emonot with a glint in his eye.
"Of St. Peter?" thought Durtal, "I wonder what he means? Is he sneering at him, and does he mean to say that, before being a saint, Dom Felletin was a traitor?"
But the monk’s eyes were now expressionless, and Durtal could read nothing there. He was already engaged in discussing with the Cellarer the matter of the vestments which the new curé claimed as belonging not to the Abbey but to the parish Church; there was an endless enumeration of stoles, and chasubles, and copes. Durtal took no part in the conversation and was not sorry, when the train stopped at Val-des-Saints, to take leave of his companions and go home.