Thursday, May 29, 2014

France Note: Cathedrals

Paris again, or rather France, or rather Northern France, the potion between Paris and the great battlefields of World War I. The subject of the late outing was cathedrals--more precisely, the cathedrals most easily reached by SCNF. That would include, for one,  Rouen, locus of the pivotal scenes in Madam Bovary; also the great facade which you'd remember from countless Monets, even if you've never seen countless Monets.   Also Reims, where they used to crown the kings.  And Amiens.  My heavens, Amiens.  I probably haven't seen enough to say with confidence, but I can believe those who say that Amiens is the most remarkable of all: massive and yet delicate, as if just this once, the builder(s) kept everything in balance.  And the whole only enhanced by the irony that the city itself is surely as grim and charmless as any you would want to imagine.

The obvious virtue of a trip like this is that you get a chance to assimilate some stuff, to begin to see particulars out of the blur. And perhaps in particular, to begin to see the evolution of techniques, as the builders learned from their mistakes.  It becomes easy to see, for example, how Reims grows out of Chartres and Amiens out of both.  It becomes also possible to understand how Henry Adams might have favored the earlier, more primitive, Chartres over the other two: precisely because the builders of Chartres still needed to learn a thing or two, the building carries a kind of weird otherness that its progeny cannot match.

Aside from ourselves,we traveled in the company of a rewarding guidebook by one Stan Perry, otherwise unknown to us.  It's an amateur's book with the passions and enthusiasm of one's personal taste but hardly less worthwhile therefore.   And another: I tucked in a copy of a little book on the finance of cathedral construction,  by an American, but which I found in a French translation last year in Belgium.  It was useful enough on its own terms but it provided an unexpected extra: in discussing the sources of funds, the author does an admirable job of making vivid the unstable confrontation of social strata--churchmen, townsmen and chivalric rural strongmen--whose contention defined the age.  

I said that Amiens is, or must be, the greatest.  I'll stick to that until I learn better.  But I do have to admit that my personal favorite remains the much less grand little cozy corner at Wells in England, so obviously the local of so many Trollope novels.

Afterthought:  Oh, and I neglected to mention the great cathedral of Paris--i.e., the Gare Saint Lazare, the train station from which Monet himself and tourists today begin their journey out to the gardens at Giverny.


bjdubbs said...

I don't know how much of it I understood (it's been a while) but Panofsky's book on Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism is a good read, and short.

marcel said...

Having heard my first Messiahs back in the area when the musicians arrived by battalions, ...

Are you referring to La Liberation? I think you must be exaggerating your age or your memory (or both).

Buce said...

[Was this comment meant for the Messiah post?]--anyway: here's Thomas Beecham with tams: