La portail (de la Vierge) III

One deciduous April morning inclining bleakly back to February, Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris, evoked a vision of a celestial, Olympian cathedral from the damp, bald earth at our feet. For the next thirty-six years, until his death in 1196, he would devote his energy and fortune to this chef-d'œuvre. De Sully was correct, of course. The “parish church of the kings of Europe” must be “transcendante.”

And, so, we began to cut and finish stones. I watched the rough men heave and cart off the original Romanesque church, the Cathedral of St. Etienne founded by Childebert in 528 upon the foundations of a Roman temple to Jupiter. Suddenly, all that had been consecrated was no longer sacred. An eternal lamp became an oddly decorated lantern whose flickering tongue was cold behind a curtain of somber, once sanguine glass.

We had prayed in that church for generations. I had been baptized in the shell of its font as had my wife and our sons and daughters. The old, leaning houses sharing the church wall were removed to create la rue Neuve-Notre-Dame, a road for immediate supplies and later processions. An auberge of great planks had belonged to the parents of my grandfather; distant cousins were peremptorily removed.

I helped clear the ground, passively, stoically.

I may be the last person to have seen the holy well--the spring, la source where earliest inhabitants of this eyelet, this steady barque of land (Fluctuat nec mergitur), this Île de la Cité, worshipped the font of life and its Gardienne--before it was sealed with a great stone, marked with a fish (an alpha), omega and a second alpha (an eye).

And upon that seal was laid the foundation stone blessed with appropriate pomp and promise by Pope Alexander III. I vowed never to forget the sight and taste of the water, and this preoccupation has passed through many intervening centuries.

Behind the altar there is a false tomb
and beneath a Christian name there are thousands
of years of roots writing through stone
and water echoes up vertebrae
which must have been steps
and its light is the juice of emeralds

La portail (de la Vierge) [#29]
© 2009 Fammerée

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Richard Fammerée

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