Sunny Memories Of Foreign Lands - Volume 2 - By Harriet Beecher Stowe


This morning we went to the Cologne Cathedral. In the exterior of both
this and Strasbourg I was disappointed; but - Page 90
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This Morning We Went To The Cologne Cathedral.

In the exterior of both this and Strasbourg I was disappointed; but in the interior, who could be?

There is a majesty about those up-springing arches - those columns so light, so lofty - it makes one feel as if rising like a cloud. Then the innumerable complications and endless perspectives, arch above arch and arch within arch, all lighted up and colored by the painted glass, and all this filled with the waves of the chant and the organ, rising and falling like the noise of the sea; it was one of the few overpowering things that do not _satisfy_, because they transport you at once beyond the restless anxiety to be satisfied, and leave you no time to ask the cold question, Am I pleased?

Ah, surely, I said to myself, as I walked with a kind of exultation among those lofty arches, and saw the clouds of incense ascending, the kneeling priests, and heard the pathetic yet grand voices of the chant - surely, there is some part in man that calls for such a service, for such visible images of grandeur and beauty. The wealth spent on these churches is a sublime and beautiful protest against materialism - against that use of money which merely brings supply to the coarse animal wants of life, and which makes of God's house only a bare pen, in which a man sits to be instructed in his duties.

Yet a moment after I had the other side of the question brought forcibly to my mind. In an obscure corner was a coarse wooden shrine, painted red, in which was a doll dressed up in spangles and tinsel, to represent the Virgin, and hung round with little waxen effigies of arms, hands, feet, and legs, to represent, I suppose, some favor which had been accorded to these members of her several votaries through her intercessions. Before this shrine several poor people were kneeling, with clasped hands and bowed heads, praying with an earnestness which was sorrowful to see. "They have taken away their Lord, and they know not where they have laid him." Such is the end of this superb idolatry in the illiterate and the poor.

Yet if we _could_, would we efface from the world such cathedrals as Strasbourg and Cologne? I discussed the question of outward pomp and ritual with myself while I was walking deliberately round a stone balustrade on the roof of the church, and looking out through the flying buttresses, upon the broad sweep of the Rhine, and the queer, old-times houses and spires of the city. I thought of the splendors of the Hebrew ritual and temple, instituted by God himself. I questioned where was the text in the gospel that forbade such a ritual, provided it were felt to be desirable; and then I thought of the ignorance and stupid idolatry of those countries where this ritual is found in greatest splendor, and asked whether these are the necessary concomitants of such churches and such forms, or whether they do not result from other causes. The Hebrew ritual, in a far more sensuous age, had its sculptured cherubim, its pictorial and artistic wealth of representation, its gorgeous priestly vestments, its incense, and its chants; and they never became, so far as we know, the objects of idolatrous veneration.

But I love to go back over and over the scenes of that cathedral; to look up those arches that seem to me, in their buoyant lightness, to have not been made with hands, but to have shot up like an enchantment - to have risen like an aspiration, an impersonation of the upward sweep of the soul, in its loftiest moods of divine communion. There were about five minutes of feeling, worth all the discomforts of getting here; and it is only for some such short time that we can enjoy - then our prison door closes.

There are four painted glass windows, given by the King of Bavaria. I have got for H. the photograph of two of them, representing the birth and death of Christ. They are gorgeous paintings by the first masters. The windows round the choir were painted in a style that reminded me of our forests in autumn.

Well, after our sublimities came a farce. We went to St. Ursula's church, to see the bones of the eleven thousand virgins, who, the chronicle says, were slain here because they would not break their vows of chastity. I was much amused. As we entered the church, C. remarked impressively, "It is evident that these virgins have no connection with cologne water!" The fact was lamentably apparent. Doleful looking figures of virgins, painted in all the colors of the rainbow, were looking down upon us from all quarters; and in front, in a glass frame, was a bill of fare, in French, of the relics which could be served up to order. C. read the list aloud, and then we proceeded to a small side room to see the exhibition. The upper portion of the walls was covered with small bones, strung on wires and arranged in a kind of fanciful arabesque, much as shell boxes are made; and the lower part was taken up with busts in silver and gold gilding, representing still the interminable eleven thousand. A sort of cupboard door half opened showed the shelves all full of skulls, adorned with little satin caps, coronets, and tinsel jewelry; which skulls, we were informed, were the original head-pieces of the same redoubtable females.

At the other end of the room was a raised stage, where the most holy relics of all were being displayed, under the devout eye of a priest in a long, black robe. C. and I went upon the stage to be instructed. S., whom the aforesaid lack of cologne water in the establishment had rendered peculiarly unpropitious, stood at a majestic distance; but C., assuming an air of profound faith, stood up to be initiated.

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