CHAPTER VIII. CHRISTIAN ARLES.
Sunday in France - Improved observance - The cathedral of Arles - West front - Interior - Tool-marks - A sermon on peace - The cloisters - Old Sacristan and his garden - Number of desecrated churches in Arles - Notre Dame de la Majeur - S. Caesaire - The isles near Arles - Cordes - Montmajeur - A gipsy camp - The ruins - Tower - The chapel of S. Croix.
I spent the first Sunday after Easter at Arles. It was a bright and joyous spring day. I went to the cathedral at nine o'clock and found a good congregation there, listening to a sermon on the obligation of observing the Sunday. It was dull, and I left. But I may here observe what a great change has taken place in France of late years relative to this observance. I can remember when I was a boy how that every shop was open, and business went on much as on other days. But the Church has made great efforts to obtain a due recognition of the Lord's Day, and all who consider themselves to be good Catholics now shut their shops, and others, who find that there is now very little trade going on upon Sunday, shut their shops also because it is of no use having them open. It is only the polemical infidels who continue to keep their factories in full work and their places of merchandise open to invite purchasers.
Some few years ago I was talking with a Frenchman in Rome, a commercial man, about the phylloxera that was devastating the vines, and ruining the peasantry, and I asked him what was being done to correct the evil. "Bah!" said he. "Everything has been tried. Mon ami. We don't observe the Sunday. Voila le vrai phylloxera."
Now this observation of his was only worth so much, that it showed how that the clergy had been going hammer and tongs at the consciences of their sheep, till they had impressed a conviction on them that if they neglected the commandment of God relative to the observance of one day in seven, He would chastise them till they realised that they had erred, acknowledged their error, and endeavoured to rectify it.
The cathedral of Arles is a very interesting church indeed. Externally the west front is rich in the bold rude style of the twelfth century, and consists of a deeply-recessed semicircular arch resting on a horizontal sculptured frieze which forms the lintel of the door, and is continued on each side upon pillars that rest on the backs of lions and have apostles and saints standing between them. The interior of the church is very solemn and striking. It has been cleaned, but judiciously, without sand-papering away the tool-marks on the ancient stone. Has the reader never been puzzled to note the difference between old work and new, even when the new is a reproduction of the old? In the new there is an absence of something, but what we cannot tell. This something is very probably nothing more than the old tool-marks. The ancient workers left on the stone the tale of every stroke they dealt, and to ages on ages these marks tell us: here was a strong arm employed, here was dealt a vigorous blow; here Symon the hewer was tickled with a comical story that mason Peter told and he laughed, and the blow he dealt ran jagged with his laughter. These strokes were done in the morning, when the workers were fresh; those at even, when their arms were weary. But nowadays the stone is all gone over with a metal toothcomb, and scraped till not a tool-mark remains, and wood is glass-papered till every particle of sharpness and character is taken out of the work.
The aisles of the cathedral of Arles are but five feet wide, the arches are round, the windows Romanesque; the church is barrel-vaulted, nothing could be plainer, and yet somehow that old church is full of poetry and charm. I went to High Mass at eleven. It was all very homely, quiet and reverent. Another congregation was gathered; a Gregorian simple service sung, which the congregation knew and joined in heartily. Then up into the pulpit got a canon, and gave out his text, from the Gospel, S. John xx., end of verse nineteen. My heart stood still. Why - you shall hear.
Just twenty-two years ago, I was in Switzerland on Whit Sunday, and went to the little village church. The cure gave out these same words as his text, and preached a very good sermon on Peace, though perhaps not very appropriate to the day. Peace, he said, was an excellent thing, whether (1) in a country; (2) in a household; (3) in the conscience. There we had the three heads; on these he dilated. First we had a picture of the miseries of war in a country, and the converse picture of prosperity in peace. Then, secondly, we had a description of domestic discomfort, where husband and wife were at loggerheads, and - naturally, a charming family piece where both were in unity. Then came, thirdly, the special topic of his discourse, peace in the conscience, and how it was to be obtained and secured.
I bottled up that sermon in my memory and have preached it since, myself, once or twice.
One day, some fifteen years ago, I was at Eichstaedt in Bavaria, on a Saturday. The church of S. Michael there is reserved for the episcopal seminary; I wanted to see the interior and found it locked, but discovering a side door into the cloisters open, I, and my wife who was with me, entered. The church was empty, save that a sacristan with a feather brush was dusting the side altars, but to my surprise I heard a sermon being preached, and caught a glimpse of a priest in the pulpit haranguing and gesticulating to an empty church.