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Proust, Marcel - Extract from the Death of Cathedrals

Identifier

019780

Type of Spiritual Experience

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A description of the experience

Extract from THE DEATH OF CATHEDRALS - Marcel Proust Le Figaro August 16, 1904

full translation for Rorate by John Pepino, PhD

Suppose for a moment that Catholicism had been dead for centuries, that the traditions of its worship had been lost. Only the unspeaking and forlorn cathedrals remain; they have become unintelligible yet remain admirable.  

Then suppose that one day scholars manage, on the basis of documentary evidence, to reconstitute the ceremonies that used to be celebrated in them, for which men had built them, which were their proper meaning and life, and without which they were now no more than a dead letter; and suppose that for one hour artists, beguiled by the dream of briefly giving back life to those great  and now silent vessels, wished to restore the mysterious drama that once took place there amid chants and scents—in a word, that they were undertaking to do what the Félibres have done for ancient tragedies in the theatre of Orange.[1]

Is there any government with the slightest concern for France’s artistic past that would not liberally subsidize so magnificent an undertaking? Do you not think that it would do what it did in the case of Roman ruins for these cathedrals, which are probably the highest, and unquestionably the most original expression of French genius? After all, one may well prefer the literature of other peoples to ours, prefer their music to ours, their painting and sculpture to ours, but it is in France that Gothic architecture created its first and most perfect masterpieces.  All other countries have done is to imitate our religious architecture without ever matching it.

                And so, to return to my hypothesis, here come scholars who have been able to rediscover the cathedrals’ lost meaning. Sculptures and stained-glass windows recover their significance, a mysterious odour once again wafts in the temple, a sacred drama is performed, and the cathedral starts to sing once more.  When the government underwrites this resurrection, it is more in the right than when it underwrites the performances in the theaters of Orange, of the Opéra-Comique, and of the Opéra, for Catholic ceremonies have an historical, social, artistic, and musical interest whose beauty alone surpasses all that any artist has ever dreamed, and which Wagner alone was ever able to come close to, in Parsifal—and that by imitation.

The source of the experience

Proust, Marcel

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