"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."
So begins Marcel Proust's Death Comes for the Cathedrals (La mort des cathédrales), originally published in Le Figaro (1904). Proust addresses the political and religious debate concerning the "the Briand bill," a parliamentary proposal which imperiled the fate of French Cathedrals-"the first and most perfect masterpieces" of Gothic architecture. The great author of In Search of Lost Time gives prophetic voice to his own fear that "France would be transformed into a shore where giant chiseled conches seemed to have run aground, emptied of the life that inhabited them and no longer bringing an attentive ear to the distant murmur of the past, simply museum objects, themselves frozen." As Proust makes plain, though the cathedrals of France and the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite are the spiritual inheritance of the Church, they are part of the patrimony of all humanity and, pending preservation, their loss would leave all the world impoverished.
This Wiseblood Books edition of Death Comes for the Cathedrals includes an introduction by its translator, Dr. John Pepino, and an afterword by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who wonders whether life may yet return to the cathedrals. Throughout, beautiful color images of Chartres and its architectural features grace the pages.
With impeccable--or providential--timing, Wiseblood Books released this translation of Marcel Proust's pamphlet urging the Third French Republic not to close the great Gothic Cathedrals of France and turn them into museums or other cultural sites as news came of the proposed, controversial changes to the interior of Notre Dame de Paris, which have been approved to some extent by the French National Heritage and Architecture Commission.
Advocates argue that the approved plan will make Notre-Dame “even more beautiful and welcoming” for the millions of people who visit the site each year, according to a diocese press release. Critics, however, say that the renovations will reduce the standing of the historical building into a theme park. . . .What about the people of Paris who attend Mass, Evening Prayer, the devotions to the Crown of Thorns, or other services? Or Catholics from around the world visiting Paris and attending Sunday Mass? How are they served by these renovations?
Visitors will now be able to enter the cathedral through its grand central doors rather than the side entrance as previously directed. The diocese also plans to rearrange altars and other items to free up space for people to move around, per the Times. . . .
The commission rejected some details of the diocese’s plan, including a proposal to remove statues from some chapels, per the Times. Experts have also asked to review a prototype of newly proposed benches, which would replace the traditional straw chairs. In theory, the benches might be designed to descend into the floor when not in use—freeing up more space for tourists, reports the AFP. . . .