A TIME TO KEEP SILENCE by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A TIME TO KEEP SILENCE by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Author:Patrick Leigh Fermor
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Publisher: New York Review Books
Published: 2011-10-25T16:00:00+00:00


AFTER St. Wandrille, nothing in the routine of life at Solesmes proved unfamiliar. Its saga, from the time of its foundation in the eleventh century, was the same, on broad lines, as that of the first abbey I had visited. It had been an important rallying ground for the Crusades, from which a warrior had brought back the Holy Thorn still among the monastery’s treasures; and in the aisle of the church lies the tomb of the Seigneur de Sablé who commanded the navy of Richard Cœur de Lion. Standing in the heart of the Maine, next to the Duchy of Anjou, it was in the centre of the debatable provinces of the Hundred Years War; and it underwent terrible devastation at English hands. The Huguenots, Commendation, and the Jacobins all did their work; and at the end of the Revolution, the priory of Solesmes was a ruined and empty shell. As they advanced, the armies of Napoleon emptied the monasteries of Europe; and, at the time of the Emperor’s eclipse, the monastic idea was nearly dead. But, in the eighteen-thirties, a phœnix-like revival raised the Priory of St. Peter of Solesmes to an eminence only inferior to that of St. Benedict’s own foundation at Monte Cassino—a phenomenon due to the personality and drive of a single man: Dom Prosper Guéranger. This phenomenal monk rescued the ruins from the house-breakers, found backers who helped him to buy them, and established himself in their midst with three other monks. The community grew; the abbey walls rose; gaps were roofed over. Before he had reached his thirtieth year he was the abbot of a flourishing monastery, quelling revolts, quarrelling with his bishop, arguing with Cardinals, conversing lengthily with the Pope and, soon afterwards, purging the liturgy, publishing enormous volumes of theological commentary, corresponding, and presently falling out with, Montalembert, and founding monasteries in half-a-dozen countries. In the whole of Catholic Christendom, not a note of primitive church music can now be changed without the sanction of his abbey. His friendship with Villiers de l’Isle Adam persisted until the Abbot’s death, and a brief but lively portrait of him remains in the pages of Histoires Insolites. His face, in photographs—bright-eyed, wilful, humorous, square-jawed—indicates his character as unerringly as the monastery that is his monument: a massive mid-nineteenth-century pile, its high towers and buttresses reflected in the Sarthe, and bearing, through half-closed eyes, the fantastical and exaggerated aspect of a Rhine castle drawn by Doré or Victor Hugo. When, during the Commune, the monks were evicted, they were sheltered by the villagers, and subsequently, little by little, they were able to re-instate themselves. The persecution of 1902 drove them to England, whence they returned after the First World War, leaving behind them, at Quarr in the Isle of Wight, a thriving daughter abbey. Dom Cozien, Guéranger’s fourth successor, now presides in the ancient premises over a brotherhood of more than a hundred monks.

Much in Solesmes, and especially the refectory, reflects the Romantic movement.


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