FULCANELLI : Le Mystère des Cathédrales
Posted by lahar9jhadav on April 30, 2007
Le Mystère des Cathédrales
The strongest impression of my early childhood−I was seven years old−an impression of which I still retain a vivid memory, was the emotion aroused in my young heart by the sight of a Gothic cathedral. I was immediately enraptured by it. I was in an ecstasy, struck with wonder, unable to tear myself away from the attraction of the marvellous, from the magic of such splendour, such immensity, such intoxication expressed by this more divine than human work.
Since then, the vision has been transformed, but the original impression remains. And if custom has modified the spontaneous and moving character of my first contact, I have never acquired a defence against a sort of rapture when faced with those beautiful picture books erected in our closes and raising to heaven their pages of sculptured stone.
In what language, by what means, could I express my admiration? How could I show my gratitude to those silent masterpieces, those masters without words and without voice? How could I show the thankfulness which fills my heart for everything they have taught me to appreciate, to recognize and to discover?
Without words and without voice? What am I saying! If those stone books have their sculptured letters−their phrases in bas-relief and their thoughts in pointed arches−nevertheless they speak also through the imperishable spirit which breathes from their pages. They are clearer than their younger brothers-the manuscripts and printed books. They have the advantage over them in being translatable only in a single, absolute sense. It is simple in expression, naïve and picturesque in interpretation; a sense purged of subtleties, of allusions, of literary ambiguities.
‘The language of stones, spoken by this new art,’ as J. F. Colfs (l) says with much truth ‘is at the same time clear and sublime, speaking alike to the humblest and to the most cultured heart.’ What a moving language it is, this Gothic of the stones! A language so moving, indeed, that the songs of Orlando, de Lassus or Palestrina, the organ music of Handel or Frescobaldi, the orchestral works of Beethoven or Cherubini, or, which is greater than all these, the simple and severe Gregorian chant, perhaps the only real chant there is, do nothing but add to the emotions, which the cathedral itself has already aroused. Woe to those who do not like Gothic architecture, or at least let us pity them as those who are without Heart.
The Gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of the Tradition, Science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs; a perfect whole, to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors.
The bold vaulting, the nobility of form, the grandeur of the proportions and the beauty of the execution combine to make a cathedral an original work of incomparable harmony; but not one, it seems, concerned entirely with religious observance.
If the tranquility in the ghostly, multi-coloured light from the tall stained-glass windows and the silence combine as an invitation to prayer, predisposing us to meditation; the trappings, on the other hand, the structure and the ornamentation, in their extraordinary power, release and reflect less edifying sensations, a more secular and, quite bluntly, an almost pagan spirit. Beside the fervent inspiration, born of a strong faith, the thousand and one preoccupations of the great heart of the people can be discerned there, the declaration of its conscience, of its will, the reflection of its thought at its most complex, abstract, essential and autocratic.
If people go to the building to take part in religious services, if they enter it following a funeral cortege or the joyful procession of a high festival, they also throng there in many other circumstances. Political meetings are held there under the aegis of the bishop; the price of grain and livestock is discussed there; the drapers fix the price of their cloth there; people hurry there to seek comfort, to ask for advice, to beg for pardon. There is scarcely a guild which does not use the cathedral for the passing-out ceremony of its new journeyman, scarcely a guild which does not meet there once a year under the protection of its patron saint.
During the great medieval period it was the scene of other ceremonies, very popular with the masses. There was the Feast of Fool – or of the Wise – processional hermetic fair, which used to set out from the church with its pope, its dignitaries, its enthusiasts and its crowds, the common people of the Middle Ages, noisy, frolicsome, jocular, bursting with vitality, enthusiasm and spirit, and spread through the town…. What a comedy it all was, with an ignorant clergy thus subjected to the authority of the disguised Science and crushed under the weight of undeniable superiority. Ah! The Feast of Fools, with its triumphal chariot of Bacchus, drawn by a male and a female centaur, naked as the god himself, and accompanied by the great Pan; an obscene carnival taking possession of a sacred building; nymphs and naiads emerging from the bath, gods of Olympus minus their clouds and minus their clothes; Juno, Diana, Venus and Latona converging on a cathedral to hear Mass. And what a Mass! It was composed by the initiate Pierre de Corbeil, Archbishop of Sens, and modelled on a pagan rite. Here a congregation of the year 1220 uttered the bacchanal cry of joy: Evoe! Evoe!-and scholars in ecstasy replied:
Haec est clara dies clararum clara dierum!
Haec est festa dies festarum festa dierum! (2)
There was also the Feast of the Donkey, almost as gaudy as the one just mentioned, with the triumphal entry under the sacred archway of Master Aliboron, whose hoof (sabot) once trod the streets of Jerusalem. Thus our glorious Christ-bearer was celebrated in a special service, which praised him, in words recalling the epistle, as this asinine power, which was worth to the Church the gold of Arabia, the incense and the myrrh of the land of Saba. The priest, being unable to understand this grotesque parody, had to accept it in silence, his head bent under the ridicule poured out by these mystifiers of the land of Saba or Caba, that is the cabalists themselves. Confirmation of these curious celebrations is to be found graven by the chisels of the master image-makers of the time. Indeed Witkowski (3) writes that in the nave of NotreDame of Strasbourg ‘the bas-relief on one of the capitals of the great pillars represents a satirical procession, in which a pig may be seen carrying a holy stoup, followed by donkeys dressed in priestly clothes and monkeys bearing various religious attributes, together with a fox enclosed in a shrine. It is the Procession of the Fox or the Feast of the Donkey. We may add that an identical scene is illuminated in folio 40 of manuscript no. 5055 in the Bibliotheque Nationale.
Finally there were some bizarre events in which a hermetic meaning, often a very precise one, was discernible. These were held every year, with the Gothic church as their theatre. Examples include the Flagellation of the Alleluia, in which the choirboys energetically whipped their humming-tops (sabots) (4) down the aisles of the cathedral of Langres; the Procession of the Shrovetide Carnival; the Devilry of Chaumont; the procession and banquets of the Infanterie dijonnaise? The latter was the last echo of the Feast of Fools, with its Mad Mother, its bawdy diplomas, its banner on which two brothers, head to foot, delighted in uncovering their buttocks. Until 1538, when the custom died out, a strange Ball Game was played inside Saint-Etienne, the cathedral of Auxerre.
1. J. F. Colfs, La Filiation genealogique de toutes les Ecoles gothiques. Paris, Baudry, 1884.
2. This day is the celebrated day of celebrated days! This day is the feast day of feast days!
3. G. J. Witkowski, L’Art profane à L’Eglise. Etranger. Paris, Schemit. 1908, p. 35.
4. Top with the outline of a Tau or Cross. In cabalistic language, sabot is the equivalent of cabot or chabot, the chat botte (Puss-in-Boots) of the Tales of Mother Goose. The Epiphany cake sometimes contains a sabot instead of a bean.
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