IF we observe ourselves and the multitudinous life about us, we shall all agree that most of what is typical, characterktic of our own generation, perishes with us. Man is largely a thing of the present. Most of his time is spent in fighting off decay and death, that, nevertheless, press on him with the slow and certain speed of the Alpine glacier. Of the popular daily life of the middle of the last century, only reminiscences remain; and when those are gone whose hearts and minds still retain vivid impressions of the past, the tide of oblivion makes swifter haste, and soon obliterates all but the most striking landmarks, those great events and institutions that are the common property of a race or a nation. Even literature, though it is usually said to hold the most sacred experiences of every people, is only a fragment of fragments, retains but a tithe of the passions, the hopes, the struggles, the triumphs, and glories, that made up the sum of life as it was actually lived by men and women. As far as the past is concerned, we walk amid shadows and reflections, in an ever deepening twilight.
This thought is of some importance when we look back over the thousand years of the Middle Ages for some great convincing illustration of the spirit and scope of Catholicism, something that shall be as strictly its own work as the Homeric chants or the marbles of the Parthenon are the work of the Greek soul, the great roads of Europe and the Code of Justinian the product of the genius of Rome. Catholic Christianity in that thousand years of the Middle Ages dominated fully and freely the life of European mankind. What legacy has it left the human race, at once monumental and unique, useful and holy, worthy of its own claims, and comparable with those remains by which we judge other religions that lay, or once did lay, claim to universal acceptance? Say what we will, make what appeal we will to the social benefits of a religion, its written documents of a literary character or value, its political uses, its successful moulding over of the common heart, its answers to the eternal questions of the soul, the common conscience, its upbuilding of the spiritual man, individually and collectively -- develop all these admirable arguments as we will, there remains the deep and just query: What monuments has it left behind?
The hand of man is very cunning, and tends very naturally to fashion in some public and permanent manner the ideals that the brain has conceived and the heart cherished. The most refined Greek ethnicism had its Acropolis at Athens, its Temple of Diana at Ephesus. Roman ethnicism had ills Temple of Fortune at Praeneste, its Coliseum at Rome. Those philosophies of life that are as religions to the followers of Confucius and Buddha have each flowered in a peculiar art that may seem fantastic to us, but has yet an intimate relationship with the doctrines that it glorifies and perpetuates. General doctrines, that have got themselves lived out, large and constant views of the meaning, uses, and end of human life, usually blossom out in great monuments, almost as naturally as the thought of the brain leaps to the tongue and clamors for expression.
It was as a religion that Catholicism dominated the Middle Ages. The natural monuments of a religion are its temples. You may simplify a religion as you will, curtail its functions, reduce its influence -- but so long as itpretends to bind man with his Maker, so long will it need places of meeting for its people, and so long will it set up therein some symbol or symbols of its creed.
The refined paganism of Greece and Rome, with which Catholicism came into conflict, had such popular centres of worship -- the temples and shrines of its gods. But paganism had nothing truly spiritual about it. It was all based on fear of its deities, was a religion solely of low and coarse propitiation, a mass of deceptive practices, a double religion -- base superstition for the multitude, quasi-agnosticism for the elevated classes. It had no fixed doctrine to preach. It had no central fire of love to which all were bidden, no mystic banquet, no divine revelation to communicate. Hence, its temples were only abodes of the mysterious deity. He alone dwelt behind marble walls, within which, as a rule, only the priest went and the needed servants. Outside, on the temple-square, stood the multitudes, watching the evisceration of sheep and oxen, or the other mummeries of paganism, but utterly without any serious share in the act of religion that was entirely the affair of the priests and the magistrates, a State act.
With the Christians, from the very beginning, it was otherwise. They were one body with Jesus Christ, their mystic head. They had been all born again in Him, and the true death was to lose that new higher life. They were destined to union with Him in eternity. They had His history in four little books, and the letters of His first agents, the apostles. He had fixed a certain form for their meetings, that were to be very frequent, and at which all who confessed His name should assist and partake of a divine banquet that was none other than His own body and blood.
So the Christians needed a large, free space, where all could see one another, where all could hear, where access was easy to the eucharistic table or altar, around which the ministers of the banquet could serve the presiding officer and distribute to all the assistants, in an orderly way, the celestial food. The God of the Christians was no longer far away. He was with them day and night. He spoke to them all with equal love, and demanded from all an equal service. In other words, the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament, of the Real Presence, demanded at once and created all the essentials of a Christian church, such as they are found in the catacombs and such as they will exist as long as the religion itself -- a table for the sacrifice, a space for its ministers, an open space sufficient for the assistants, light for the performance of the mysteries in which all were sharers and, in a true but mysterious sense, actors, light also for the reading of the gospels, the Old Testament, the letters from distant brethren, the accounts of martyrdom. In time, the pagan had to be kept out, the novice admitted slowly, the unfaithful excluded and chastised for a time, the goods, deposits, plate, records, of the little communities stored away. Thus vestibules, courts, and sacristies were added. Thus, too, arose, almost in the Cenacle, the first Christian Church, all whose essential elements are curiously enough foreshadowed in the Apocalypse -- indeed, in the holy Temple of Jerusalem itself.
It is a long and charming chapter in the history of the fine arts how the typical Catholic Church grew up. There was the upper room in the residence of the principal Christian of the community; perhaps, too, they hired occasionally a public hall or reading-room. Then came the little chamber of some cemetery where an illustrious martyr lay. When freedom came, there was the little overground chapel, with its triple apse and its roofless but enclosed courtyard, just over the martyr's resting-place; then the vast Roman halls of justice were abandoned to them. Sometimes the temples were transformed for Christian service. Soon they built their own -- at Rome St. Peter's and St. Paul's, the "Great Church" at Carthage, the "New Church" at Antioch, at Tyre. Emperors paid for them, and crossed the world to assist at their dedication. They were often of the style of the Roman courts of justice known as basilicas; again they were octagonal or round. Every city, every village, had its own. But whatever their form or material, they were places of meeting for a community of men and Women, therefore roomy and lightsome. By reason of the great central act of the religion, they were decently ornamented, provided with an elevated altar, beneath which lay the body of some distinguished martyr or confessor of Christ, whose death was the pledge of final victory over a bad and unjust society, a seal of hope, an assurance that with faith in Jesus Christ lay the only certainty of eternal life.
The first great Christian churches were owing to the constructive skill of Roman architects and builders. They embodied the best traditions of imperial architecture, such at least as had survived into the fourth century. That they were not in absolute decay may be seen from the splendid ruins of the Palace of Diocletian at Salona. But, given the collapse of Roman power, the great building-arts could not long survive. Their traditions were easily lost for want of exercise. In the Christian Orient perhaps they lived on much longer, in Greek Constantinople, and the remnants of the Roman power that Islam did not absorb. But in the West a mysterious transformation took place. We quit the sixth century holding on to traditions of classical forms and workmanship at Rome and Ravenna, but we emerge into the seventh, in possession no longer of what is known as Roman architecture, but of what the historians of art are agreed to call Romanesque. For five hundred years nearly all the churches of Europe are ranged in this category. We have no longer in their purity the solemn, long nave of the basilica, with its noble monolith pillars, tied by correct round arches, on which rests the main roof, while the altar is in the apse, that is solidly built up and holds on its own semicircle of brick its suitable roof. If side-naves are needed, they are added from without, with their own columns, low roofs, and enclosing walls. In place of such majestic buildings that retained no little of the majesty of imperial Rome, and of which a specimen may yet be seen at Trier on the Moselle, or even in some Roman churches, we get smaller edifices. For the great monolith column there are low pillars, often made of separate stone drums. The arches are lower, more squatty, and depend on very thick walls for their support. The open upper roof of the old basilica gives way to a few narrow windows, mere apertures, but decorated with pretty colonnettes. An inside gallery, low and narrow, runs around the church just over the pillars. A low roof made of wooden beams gives an air of dimness and depression to the whole edifice.
Where did the Christian architects of Northern Italy, in whose cities it surely arose, get the essentials of this style? Did a school of genuine Roman architects and builders survive the downfall of their State and culture? Did they live on Lake Como, and perpetuate there the skill and cunning in building of their Roman ancestors? Are they the real builders of the first Lombard churches, the originators of Romanesque, that afterward was carried by them into France, and Germany, and England, in which lands one beauty, one utility after another, was added, until such glorious old churches as Worms, Speyer, and others of the Rhineland, were created, until St. Ambrose at Milan, St. Michael's at Pavia, and many others, were either rebuilt anew or made over after the prevailing style? Or is the Romanesque church the result of inherited barbarian tastes and traditions struggling for expression at the hands of men yet raw in the history and forms of architecture? Is it the Greek architect of Constantinople, an exile, or a left-over from the ruinous exarchate at Ravenna, who himself executed, or gave the first impulse to those curious buildings in which, all over Europe, the traditions of Old Rome are seen to underlie a number of new principles and suggestions? Anyhow, Christian architecture from Roman became European by way of the Romanesque. Specimens of the latter soon arose in every land. The Roman architects and builders who followed St. Augustine to England, St. Boniface to Germany, built in that style. Those who crossed the Alps at the bidding of Charlemagne, and created the octagonal basilica of Aix-la-Chapelle for him, showed that they were masters of both Byzantine and Romanesque, for they left after them work of both kinds.
Somehow, even though imperfectly, the building-arts were yet taught in Italy, architecture was yet understood in the large style of the ancients. The great models of antiquity still existed -- for their final complete destruction dates from the late Middle Ages, not from the time we are dealing with. There was always kept up some interchange of influences between Constantinople and the West, at least until the Iconoclastic follies and excesses of the eighth century arrested the normal development of Christian art in its natural home. From the city of Rome in the West, and the city of Constantinople in the East, were kept up a constant supply and demand of all that pertained to building and the arts that depend on it.
It is now an exploded fable that there was in the year 1000 A.D. a general terror among the Christian peoples of Europe at the supposed approach of the end of the world. Nevertheless, the two hundred years that followed did see a general revival of human interests, owing to other reasons. With the civilizing of the Northmen, the last stages of the old classical world of Greece and Rome disappeared. Latin ceased finally to be a spoken tongue. The new vernaculars made out of it began to move independently, to affect a higher range of activity. With these new instruments of thought the life of the peoples of Europe takes on a new character. The last border-land of the old and the new is reached. Right here Catholicism entered more profoundly than ever into the lives of these new and ardent peoples. Their wills and testaments show it. The population increased rapidly, new churches were built in great numbers, and old ones were restored or enlarged. Constant demand created a great supply of workmen. The intelligence of Italian and Greek architects, and the devotion and sacrifices of a great multitude of monks, brought about improvements in the ordinary Romanesque. Little by little it graduated into the incomparable Gothic. The round arch gave way to the pointed arch, that could be carried much higher, and needed for its support no thick and cumbersome walls, only a sufficient lateral resistance or pressure to prevent it from falling. Now the heavy stone piers could be reduced in size, the massive walls could be thinned down and cut out, until a new theory stood forth in practice -- the building was no longer a roof resting on heavy walls propped up by thick piers that were themselves bound and dove- tailed into the walls. It was now a great, open, airy framework, in which the tall main arches were caught precisely at their weakest point by slender but strong abutting piers. The roof rested partly on these arches thus secured, partly on slight but strong shafts engaged in the masonry of the great arches at their springing point. Across the nave independent arches were thrown, always pointed, that showed beneath each vault, upheld it, and produced the new and artistic effect of groining. The light spaces of the clerestory were now raised and widened; the spaces between the great lateral arches were also broadened, until at last almost no solid wall at all was left, nothing but the masonry built up beneath the huge glass windows to support their weight, and enclose the worshippers. Here at last was something absolutely new in architecture. Some modern scholars maintain that its first suggestions caine from Constantinople, or from Christian Antioch. Be that as it may, it was the genius of mediaeval Catholicism in the West that caught up the idea long dormant. In Normandy and the territory of Paris and Orlans, the new architecture first spread. It is not German, it is not Italian or English. It is French in its original and purest monuments. When we look at the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens, we see its loveliest chefs d'oeuvre; when we go through the ancient towns of Normandy, we see its first examples. Here in the north of France, during the first fifty years of its development, arose many specimens of the genuine Gothic, until all Europe caught the sacred fire. The new style spread from one land to another, was modified somewhat in each, reached its apogee in the early part of the fourteenth century, and then fell into a decline and disuse that it has recovered from only in the last century through the efforts of a Pugin in England and that Romantic movement in Germany which is identified with the completion of the cathedral of Cologne and the names of Joseph Grres, its philosopher, and August Reichensperger, its preceptor.
The mediaeval cathedral, house of prayer, museum, gallery of art works, in whatever way we look at it, was the great popular enterprise of that period. It arose gradually, through several generations, and is the true mirror of the ideals and endeavors of our mediaeval ancestors. It furnished employment for the major part of the city's craftsmen. It stirred up rivalry and ingenuity, and brought together on one site a multitude of workers whose combined experience alone could raise such buildings. Industry and commerce flourished around it, good taste was exercised and developed by it -- the great triumphs of painting and sculpture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are only the flowering of the good seed planted in the twelfth and thirteenth. The life of every family in the city was intimately bound up with the great monument that they had helped to build. Its windows held the portraits of their ancestors. Their arms were blazoned on many a glorious rose or chancel-light, while before the altar lay buried their parents and relatives. When Adam Krafft raised his ineffably beautiful slender tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament at Nrnberg, that reaches from floor to ceiling of the great church, he built it on the backs of bronze figures of himself and his assistants, each with his master's apron and tools. From his workshop to the altar of God there was but a step in his lifetime. And he wished it to be so forever.
It is the cathedral that kept alive good handiwork, for all the domestic architecture, all civic and military architecture, of the period is based on the religious, and only follows it, imitates it. The castle, the fortress, the city palace, the town-hall, the gates, the bridges, the guild-houses, all the civic buildings, copy their ornaments and decoration from the workshops of the cathedral, when, indeed, they were not built by the same architects and workmen. There they found the infinite variety of decoration, the models of bronze and iron work, the perfect forms of pointed window and stone mullion, the proportion of stories and cornice, the proper precautions for the roof and the eaves, the charming system of fresco-coloring and painted tile- work that lent to every old mediaeval town, like Bruges or Freiburg, its haunting spiritualesque beauty, its distinctive cachet of personality.
This helps to explain another peculiarity of the great Gothic cathedrals. They had no architects in our modern sense of the word. There was, indeed, a great head whose general plans were known and followed out. But it was a time of master workmen. Every one fit to do any responsible work on the building was a finished artist in his own line. Moreover, he had usually a heart and an imagination, those true sources of spontaneity and inventiveness. He had a personal fondness for his work, and a great pride in being a responsible agent in the common undertaking. The individual workmen had much freedom in the execution of their details, a circumstance that aided notably in impressing an air of distinction, a stamp of personal inventive finish, on every line and member of the work. Around such buildings as Strasburg and Paris, that were slowly carried to completion, arose practical schools of superior masonry, joiner and cabinet work, framing and mortising, carving in wood and stone. Originally all the workmen formed one great corporation, but in time the painters and the sculptors became conscious of their own importance, and established independent guilds or crafts. So with the others. But their real apprenticeship had been on the huge pile that overtopped everything in the city, and their best masterpieces were long to be seen only there. Sometimes one family worked for two hundred years or more at one particular line of occupation in the same building. Thus, all the mosaic altars in the great Certosa at Pavia were built from father to son for two hundred years by the Sacchi family. A moment's reflection will show that in such cases we almost touch with the hand the original workmen of the thirteenth century. Elsewhere, in Northern Italy, one family built during three hundred years nearly all the fine churches of a whole extensive neighborhood.
It is not enough that we should know how a great cathedral got itself built up. It is well to know how it was administered and kept together. After all, it was a centre of good government, when good government was rare. At its head stood the bishop, elected for life. He was often a sovereign temporal authority, like the Bishop of Durham in England, or the great German elector-bishops of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz. In any case his authority was the source of all rights, and his will the normal spring of administration. For many centuries all his clerics lived with him, ate at the same table, and slept under the same roof. The temporal goods of the see were under the supervision of an officer known as the archdeacon, who also looked after the clergy. A cathedral school, where boys were brought up as in a seminary, where the young choristers were trained, was attached to the building. Other buildings were close by, apartments for the clergy of the cathedral, a house for the guests, the pilgrims, the poor penitent travelling to Rome or to St. James in Spain. In England a noble circular hall, whose roof was upheld by a single pillar, was affected to the meetings of the clergy and to the synods. Numerous officials were on the personnel of the cathedral -- a master of the choir or precentor (a very important office), a chancellor or legal adviser and officer of the diocese, a treasurer, a dean or head of the chapter with its numerous priests or canons bound to sing the psalms at fixed times during the day, and to carry on the services of the cathedral according to the laws of the Church. A great number of laymen were usually attached to such a building -- caretakers, janitors, laborers, bailiffs, messengers -- sometimes the family of the bishop ran up to many hundred heads. A great wall was often drawn about the whole establishment, and the gates closed and patrolled at night as in a little fortress. With daybreak began the round of divine service that almost never ceased, the space between the High Mass and the Evensong or Vespers being filled up with many minor and local ceremonies of great interest -- in England, e.g. the distribution of the Holy Loaf, the chanting of the lovely Bidding Prayer, or public petitions for divine mercy, the calling over from the pulpit of the Bede-Roll or names of dead benefactors, the chanting of litanies, the conduct of processions, and a hundred and one forms of religious life that kept the entire clerical force on their feet the livelong day. Besides the varied religious life of the cathedral itself, there was the wonderful social life without -- the weekly market, the pedlers and tradesmen, the ale-house that often belonged to the church, the great breweries for a people who seldom drank water, like the English and the Germans, the children at their games, the smithies wide open and resounding, the granaries and stores of the bishop. Between that cathedral and the next great church, there were only hamlets, some monasteries, small ones maybe, and an occasional nobleman's castle perched inaccessible on some high crag. As a matter of fact, here were the original elements of mediaeval civil life, here the germs out of which grew first most mediaeval cities and small States of Europe, and then our own civilization. When a man of learning and distinction, of high birth and great piety, like a Grosseteste of Lincoln, or a Maurice de Sully of Paris, or an Engelbert of Cologne, presided over such a work, one can imagine how close to ideal contentment the life of his people could come.
The decorations and furniture of the cathedral corresponded to the beauty of the structure. The altar arose on marble or bronze columns, sometimes resting on couchant lions or on human figures. Reliefs in marble or bronze decorated it. The costliest embroideries and laces were made for it; stuffs of gold brocade, and ornamented with precious stones, were hung upon it, worth a king's ransom. Embroidered frames, richly painted panels, were often used to embellish it on high festivals. Often a great baldachino, or open roof, held up by columns of costly material covered it. In Germany and elsewhere the altar worked gradually back from the front line to the wall of the apse, whither the relics were taken. In time they were put upon the altar itself, and thus arose the elegant reredos. It is all visible in the painted folding-doors that may yet be seen -- lovely work by the schools of Cologne or of Bruges, of Hans Memling or Albert Drer. The chalices of silver and gold were gems of artistic skill, covered with precious stones, engraved in niello, heavy with pearls and mosaic, decorated in arabesque or filigree. Though the smallest of them was of inestimable value, yet the richest was looked on as all too unfit for the holy service it rendered. From being round and large they became tall and slender, according as they were more immediately for the personal use of the celebrant. The ciborium for the communion of the people, the pyx for the communion of the sick, the monstrance for the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, were each a new object for the artist's taste and the generosity of the donor. For all of them the pointed arch of the Gothic fixed the shape and the details. The Mass and service books were of enormous size, made of the finest parchment, illuminated by the deftest hands, bound and ornamented with lavish fondness and a skill never since surpassed. Every vessel that was in any way connected with the eucharistic service became at once an art- object -- the censer, the cruets, the basin, and even the candlesticks and candelabra, the Mass bells, the portable crosses, the reliquaries. Even when done in iron or brass, like the massive lecterns, these objects affected the most exquisite forms, and were the starting-point of the loveliest work that later generations expended on domestic interiors, or on buildings devoted to civic purposes. The baptismal fonts, round or octagonal, offered the sculptor an interesting field for his inventive genius, and even the well, always found in the cathedral cloister or close, was often seized on for purposes of sculptural decoration. The empty spaces in the cathedral were gradually filled with splendid family tombs of marble or bronze, on which the symbolism of religion and heraldry disputed the palm with the truth and vividness of portraiture and history. The dead bishop and his canons were in time remembered for their services or their legacies. Thus every cathedral was soon a city of the dead, where the effigies of priest and layman, of abbess and noble dame, looked down from their silent places on the ebb and flow of the human life that they had once graced and enlivened. Never was there a more moving and romantic lesson of the transient nature of life than these great cathedral-spaces in their first days when the dead builders stared on the living, and the living felt that day by day they were only drawing closer to the beloved dead. Over them all there is even yet something of a sacrosanct Christian fondness --the knight cherishes yet his falcon or his hound; at the feet of the sweet chatelaine is yet carved the little spaniel, the companion of her leisure and the witness of her womanly virtues.
The railings of the choir, and the screens to separate it from the people, the screens for the altar itself, the pulpit, the tabernacle, the reading desks for the daily office, the organ fronts, the stalls for the canons, the marble pavement, the entire furniture of the cathedral, were turned over to the artists as an inexhaustible province for their skill and genius.
Two great arts formed a congenial home in the Gothic cathedral -- the art of painting and the art of sculpture. The mediaeval man was color- mad. We see the relics of his great monuments in a faded or colorless garb. When they issued from the hands of the architects and artists they were far different. The roof of the cathedral was finished in colored tiles -- red, blue, green --often in tasty designs. The walls within were tinted in fresh and pleasing colors, the carvings of the capitals brought out in red and blue and gold; in the vaults the groined ribs of stone were similarly treated, -- the doorways were painted and gilded, the pavements often done in mosaic, or in geometric patterns of colored marbles, the ceilings a deep blue, often dotted with little golden stars. Compositions of great size often adorned the vacant spaces -- here the "Madonna and Child," there "St. Christopher bearing the Christ-Child," here the "Dance of Death" with its stern comment on the vanity of human life, elsewhere the prophets and apostles, or martyrs and holy virgins and confessors, met the eye. Sometimes the interior is cold and severe, as at Marburg, and again a great blaze of blue and gold and red as at Assisi. It was the experience thus gained that prepared the way for the lovely Madonnas of the artists of Cologne and Bruges in the fifteenth century, the work of a Master Schngauer and a Hans Memling, without which a Drer and a Raphael would be unintelligible.
Nevertheless, the real immortal painting of the Gothic cathedral is not the fresco, no matter how perfect. It is always somewhat out of place and distracts the attention from the sublime simplicity of the architectural lines, from the religious severity of the tall open arches and the sombre masses of stone. Its true and natural painting is the great glass window. Indeed, when finished, a genuine Gothic monument is like a vast transparent house of glass. Originally the aim of the artist in colored glass was to give the impression of a great piece of tapestry covering the open space and toning down the garish light of day. Such tapestries had been much used in the earlier Romanesque churches, and were one great source of artistic education in the numerous nunneries. The bits of glass were put together like a mosaic, each a separate bit, and leaded to one another. All drawing was in outline. It was a handsome shining tapestry that the artists desired to produce, and such is always the effect of the best glass, as at Chartres and Cologne. Later, as the windows became only frames for the imitation of painting in oil, the original artistic reason of the great glass windows was forgotten. The accessory had become the principal.
Although in the treatment of artistic glass, as in other details, there was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a rapid decline of intelligence and pure taste, one great effect was retained in every church that could at all call itself Gothic --an abundance of light, but toned down, softened, robbed of all its heat and blare and vulgarity. An air of religious mystery was thus created throughout the vast building, in which all things were seen indeed, but dimly and with a constant suggestion of the beyond, of a glory and a majesty to which these walls were but the vestibule. The city streets usually led up to the great portals of the cathedral, so much so that in time the lofty transept became almost a highway for the ordinary foot-traffic of the community. The mighty collective work of the population was ever in their very heart, a thing of beauty and joy, all fresh and sharp in its carved surfaces, all grace and slender elegance in the upward sweep of its arches, its roof, its towers and spires, all solidity in its immovable piers and locked buttresses, all variety in the flashing colors of the tiled roofs and spires, the native hues of the local freestone or granite, the broken lines of the external framework, all utility in the thousand uses of daily life for which, little by little, every member of the splendid pile had been excogitated, all harmony in the blending of imperishable material, plastic forms, moulding genius - - one mighty architectonic idea imprisoned, but barely imprisoned, throbbing day and night with a celestial music akin to that which the starry spheres are said to emit in their courses. Its glorious chimes flung out the praises of God from a perfect metal, the like of which has never been reproduced in later centuries. But the showering melodies that they loosened in the upper air were as silence compared with the voice of the vast mass itself. It was one great psalm of praise and prayer --the incarnation, as it were, of the divine psalmody that went ceaselessly on beneath its fretted and painted vaults. Not without reason has such a building been called a poem in stone. No ordinary poem indeed, but a solemn epic, in which all the uses of life are transfigured, smelted into unity, uplifted and set in living contact with the common Father in heaven. Chartres and Amiens, Rheims and Ronen, Cologne and Marburg, are as surely the interpreters of Catholicism in the Middle Ages as St. Thomas and Dante --nay, in one sense more so -- for such solitary voices appealed largely to the reason, or to the reasoning fancy, whereas the Gothic cathedral soars at once beyond the weak discursive or analytic methods, appeals at once to the common heart of the city, the multitude, to all its common emotions, all its collective experiences. It calls out all the idealism latent in the most sluggish soul. The history of the Catholic Church, seen from the proper view-point, is one of her greatest arguments, one of the deepest sources of her theology and her discipline. But its true folios are not the dusty volumes that lie upon the shelves of libraries. They are rather those great religious buildings of the Middle Ages, every one of which was a forum for the broadest discussions that could engage human thought, every one of which is as a leaf in the annals of her civilizing energy. Who can look upon the white head of Shasta and not feel that peace descends upon him and enfolds him with her wings? So no one can suffer the vision of Strasburg or Freiburg, and not experience a great stilling of the heart, a sensation as of a mother resting her soft palm on one's fevered brow and looking into the eyes unutterable thoughts of pity and consolation and relief.
What is the cause of this sentiment so universal that it cannot be gainsaid? It is something similar to the power exercised over the imagination by a battle-field, an Austerlitz or Waterloo, by the ruins of some great city, Carthage or Antioch or Rome. There the most awful experiences of man with man have gradually but inseparably blended with the surroundings. Here the dealings of God with man lend an unspeakable dignity to the scene of such great mysteries. For centuries the Saviour of mankind has dwelt beneath those holy roofs until every detail, every ornament, every element, has become in some way familiar with Him. For centuries the sacraments of the Catholic Church have been administered at those altars, and her solemn services have resounded in every corner of those vast edifices. For centuries a public worship, the offering of the whole heart of man -- the act of the society as of the family -- has developed and grown in manifold novelty and charm. In all this long time those huge spaces have been the meeting-places of heaven and earth, and if some of the dust and stain of the material garment of man still cling to them, they are also full to overflowing of angelic presences and divine emanations. If the muddy currents of life have left their irregular line along the foundations, there cling to every altar and shrine countless sighs of genuine repentance, of ecstatic fondness for Jesus, of longing to be one with Him. There is everywhere the aroma of human tears, and human sorrows that are beyond the poor relief of tears. There are the cries of oppressed innocence, of hunted virtue, of outraged justice, of equity foiled and scorned. If each of these noble buildings is a museum, a gallery, immeasurably more instructive than the big lumber-rooms which are dignified with such titles, it is also a battle-field, where the wrestlings of the spirit and the conquests of grace fill out the conflict.
Of our poor little lives, made up of the smiles of joy and the tears of woe, the greater part is generally concern and solicitude. Still, there is the usual percentage of recreation and merriment, without which each heart would cease to be social, and life become an utter burden. So it came about that the Gothic cathedral was not all a creation of unrelieved earnestness. True religion, though grave and thoughtful, is also joyous and refined. It has ever been a note of genuine Catholicism that it is in many things the enemy of the extreme; the philosophy of moderation. In its palmiest days the Gothic architecture made a place for the humorous and grotesque, unconsciously perhaps, but instinctively. It was truly the expression of real life, public and private. So, with photographic accuracy, every side of that life must be reproduced. By a great and, natural law that ran through the building from corner-stone to spire, everything must be not only useful, but beautiful, must be treated and finished artistically. For instance, the ugly water spouts, originally of lead and marble, ran out eventually into monstrous heads known as gargoyles. All the fabled and fantastic beasts of the imagination were made to do similar service. The horror of sin, the reign of Satan, were here symbolized in a way that was dear to the mediaeval mind, quite attached to the external and visible, inexperienced in the realm of pure reason and cold exact logic. Here were sermons in stone for the peasant as he looked up on market-day at the vast parapet of Rheims or Strasburg. Similarly, in a thousand corners of the building, the free-working fancy of the artist moulded itself in a multitude of caricatures either personal or symbolical. Sometimes the carving monk cut out a hideous head of his abbot, guilty of too severe principles, too much addicted to penances of bread and water. Sometimes the workmen made ridiculous figures of one another or gave flight to pure invention in the reign of the grotesque. Oftener, however, some general law of symbolism runs beneath all these excrescences of humor. The mediaeval man was very much addicted to satire of. a drastic type. He must see his victim wince and writhe, must know that the stripe cut into the bone. Yet it was a very healthy thing, and if the clergy, as the ruling power, got their share, perhaps more than their just share, they did not complain. The severest caricatures are precisely on the carved seats of the great choir where the bishop and his priests might gaze almost hourly on them and remember that the world had eyes and ears and a good smart tongue, even if it did not know Latin and could only pray on its beads. The cunning fox come to grief, the gaunt robber wolf laid low, the vanity of gluttony and impurity, the fate of pride and injustice, the shame of meanness and avarice, the comic effects of sloth and stupidity, -- all these and many other moral lessons were thereon written so large that he must be deaf indeed for whom the stone and wood of his very seat did not daily preach a convincing lesson, did not daily rouse the voice of conscience and the longing for a better life.
Where did the funds come from that built these mighty edifices? Not a few were put up by royal generosity; others by public taxation. But even in such cases individual help was solicited and given very largely. We have yet the account-books of some of these enterprises, and the entries are very curious. Much of the material -- the marble, granite, brick, wood --was contributed gratis. A multitude of peasants offered their horses and oxen and carts to transport the same, and when they were too poor to own such property, they gave their time and labor. Women and children even stood by to contribute such help as their weak hands might offer. Every one felt that here a solemn act of religion was going on, something that transcended all ordinary enterprises. With that strong collective sense that the Church has developed, they moved on, as one man, to the creation of a monument that should bear the stamp of faith -- immortality, eternity. Hundreds of noble churches were built in this way, even in small villages. To build a large and lovely house of God, and to dwell within the shadow of its graceful spire, was the one common purpose of every community from Sicily to Norway. One deep vivifying current of religion surged through all Europe, and where it passed, edifices of the highest beauty arose, each an incarnation of profound religious temperament, each a phase of a social life that recognized gratefully the existence of God as the Father of human society, and the public duty of the latter to Him. The very poorest contributed -- on the account-books we may yet read how one gave a bed, another a coat. The knight sacrificed his gilded helmet and his blade of Damascus, with his coat-of-mail. The parish priest gave up his tithes, the curate his modest salary. The lady sent in her laces and jewellery, the women of the people their little heirlooms of gold or silver, even such neat and desirable articles of clothing as they possessed. The farmer gave his best cow, the pedler offered a choice trinket, the serf came up with his weekly wages. And when men and women were too poor to give anything as individuals, they clubbed together in little associations. Their pennies soon swelled to silver, and the silver was turned into gold, and with the gold they cast in their hearts, and so the stones of the building got each a tongue that is yet eloquent with praise of the popular devotion. Much of the money was gotten by the weekly auction of these articles that was carried on in the public square by the foreman of the works. Indeed, the whole enterprise was like a majestic social song, a solemn hymn, whose notes rose slowly and sweetly from the earth to heaven, telling of the transformation of avarice into open- handedness, of coarsefless into refinement, of selfishness into altruism, of blank ignorance and stupidity into a creative faith. Prayer and adoration, propitiation and gratitude, were finely blended in the great popular chorus. King and serf, princess and milkmaid, pope and poor sacristan -- the whole of Europe moved in a vast procession before the throne of Jesus Christ, and cast each a stone on the memorial pile of religion. And, for the first time, the quasi-divine hand of art, made infinitely cunning, transformed these crude offerings into ten thousand caskets of rarest beauty, out of which rose forever the spiritual incense of love, the ravishing aroma of adoration, the delicate perfumes of humility and human charity, the sweet odor of self-sacrifice. For a short time in the history of mankind art was truly a popular thing, truly an energizing softening influence on the common heart. Insensibly artistic skill became common and native. The hand of the European man was born plastic and artistic. His eye was saturated with the secrets of color, his imagination crowded with the glories of form in line and curve, in mass and sweep. His own surroundings were insensibly dominated by the spirit of pure beauty. He was once more a Greek, only born again in Jesus, and seeing now, with the divinely soft eyes of the God-man, a spiritual world of beauty that Phidias and Praxiteles may have suspected, but only in the vaguest manner.
Who were the actual workmen on the cathedrals? They were built by corporations of workingmen known as guilds. In the Middle Ages all life was organized, was corporative. As religion was largely carried on by the corporations of monks and friars, so the civic life and its duties were everywhere in the hands of corporations. It was not exactly a government of the multitude -- that was abhorrent to the men of that time. It was rather an aristocratic democracy, a kind of government in which men shared authority and power, according to the stake they had in the State, according to their personal intelligence and skill, and their personal utility or serviceableness to the common weal.
These building corporations or guilds arose out of the very ancient unions of the stonemasons. Perhaps, very probably, these unions were never destroyed even by the first shock of barbarian conquest. On its very morrow palaces and churches and public buildings had to go up or be restored. It is certain that capable hands were forthcoming. In any case, the master-masons were more than mere stonecutters. They were artists in the truest sense of the word. They must know the capacities of their material, its uses, its appliances, from the moment it is hewn out of the earth to the moment it shines in the wall, all elegance and strength. They were at once engineers and architects, designers and contractors. They are known simply as "Master" -- no more. Master Arnulf builds the cathedral of Florence, Master Giotto builds its lovely tower or campanile. The masters are all bound together in a lifelong union. Their apprentices serve a long term of years, but they serve on all parts of the building. They can handle the trowel and the chisel, the pencil and brush, as well as the jack-plane and the hammer. Never was there so unique and so uplifting an education of the senses as that of the mediaeval apprentice. One day he will appear in the weekly meeting of the guild, and exhibit some object that he has himself made. It must be useful, and it must be beautiful. It must differ from all similar work, must have an air of distinction, be something highly personal and characteristic. This is the masterpiece, the proof that he is fit to apply for work in London or Dublin, Paris or Milan. It may be a hinge or a door-knob, a carved head or a tool, a curious bit of framing or a specimen of filigree. It is judged by the criteria I have mentioned, judged by his peers and elders. If accepted, he passes into their society, and is assured of occupation for his lifetime.
He will now attend the meetings, pay his dues to support the sick and crippled members, assist with advice and help at the general consultations, devote his whole time and being to the progress of the cathedral. Whether stonecutter, carver, joiner, ironsmith, goldsmith, cabinet-maker, it is all one. The building arts are equal, ensouled by one spirit, and aiming at one end. For the present, there is but one oorporation on the building. It includes all the workers, and is divided into masters, apprentices, and administration. This is the Lodge, the Bauhtte, the Laubia or covered cloister -- like the covered walk quite common in North Italian cities -- where the finer carving was done, the plans kept and studied, and moneys taken in, the wages paid out, and the whole work or "opera" administered. The shed that yet protects our stonemasons when engaged at a public work is the modern equivalent of the mediaeval Lodge.
On signing the articles of the union or guild, he will learn that it is intensely religious, that he must attend Mass Sundays and holydays, lead a moral and Catholic life, abstain from swearing, drunkenness, and immorality. He will learn that the guild supports its own chapel and priest to say an early Mass daily for them. He will be told that the Lodge, or workshop, is like a hall of justice, where the rights of each man, above all his free personality; must be respected. He will learn that all teaching is free to apprentices, and that, while there is a preference for the sons or relatives of the masters, natural aptitude and vocation are especially sought for. All this he will learn at Ely or Peterborough as well as at Toledo or Burgos.
Each guild was under the protection of the Blessed Trinity and some saint. It had solemn services once a year in honor of its patron. It buried solemnly its members, and held anniversary services. Gradually its own chapel became the centre of its religious life, whose details were carried on by its own priests. Religion covered every act of its corporate life -- and in the palmy days of the great guilds their self-consciousness was striking. They bowed to the bishop, indeed, and the pope, king, or emperor, who were often included as members of their roll-call -- but he was truly a strong parish priest or abbot whose authority they consented to acknowledge.
In the guild meetings a regular and perfect administration, of great probity and equity, went on, almost unremunerated. The number of apprentices, the time of their service and the degree of their graduation, the quality and quantity of work in each line, the disputes and quarrels between all workmen, the wages and the sick dues, the charity allowances, the expenses of religion, of feasts and amusements, of public contributions -- all these came up in due order, and were one open source of popular education for the uses of real life.
The guild, being a principal element of the civic life, soon had its badges of office, its mace and golden collar, its chains and rings, its great drinking-horns and table-plate of gold and silver, its countless beautiful masterpieces. It grew rich in lands and revenues, and was a factor to be counted with in every great struggle of the municipal life. In Italy the guilds play a principal role in the fierce historical warfare of Guelf and Ghibelline, the adherents of the pope and the partisans of the emperor. They are concerned in every social and political movement, sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the wrong, and it is largely in their history that must be studied the fatal decay of the democratic spirit of the High Middle Ages.
It is not my purpose to treat of their decline, and the reasons for it -- that chapter of their history is highly instructive even now. Suffice it to know that they were the real builders of the cathedral; that the principles and spirit of genuine Christian brotherhood were long the bond that held them together; that they were the creation of Catholicism at the height of its earthly power; that they looked on mutual respect and helpfulness as essential to society; that they held labor to be the noblest of human things; that they looked on beauty as an essential of true labor, its smile of contentment, its act of divine adoration; that they were guided by a sense of moderation and fairness in all their dealings; that waste of time and dilapidation of material were looked on as sinful and shameful; that in them each man felt himself a living self-determining element, a member of the whole work, and threw himself into it with a vigor and earnestness at once entire and affectionate.
Thus the building arose in an atmosphere of religion, all its lines laid by men to whom its future uses were sacred, whose families threw back into the common treasury the surplus of the master's earnings. It was a great trust that was laid on the city -- and its execution brought out in the citizens many of the virtues that trust creates -- a sense of responsibility, prudential measures, economic foresight, calm and large and disinterested counsel. In so far as we inherit many distinctive traits of this kind from our ancestors, it is the mediaeval church-building that helped originally to create them.
In her great cathedrals, therefore, the Catholic Church has created durable edifices of popular utility and perfect beauty. The old philosophers used to say that the beautiful was the splendor of the true, in which case the truth of Catholicism as the genuine religion of the people would be amply vouched for. All the arts are dependent on architecture and conditioned by it. Without its great spaces there is neither monumental painting nor sculpture, neither music in its highest forms nor the dramatic movement of public worship. In creating the noble cathedrals of Europe Catholicism thus created the fine arts, or at least was their nurse and protector. Music, indeed, is absolutely her creation, and can never utterly break away from its original home, however wild and wayward it may seem. It is not the pipes of Pan nor the songs of Apollo that echo even in our most debased modern music. It is the psalm of David, the canticle of the martyr, the praiseful hymn of the morning and the calm sad song of evening.
The cathedral was the workshop of the Church during the Middle Ages. It was vast because she had the whole city to train up. It was open on all sides, because she was the common mother of civil society. It was high because she aimed at uplifting both mind and heart, and making for them a level just below the angelical and celestial. It was manifold in its members and elements, for she permeated all society and challenged every activity and every interest. It was all lightsome and soaring, because it was the spiritual mountain top whence the soul could take its flight to the unseen world of light and joy. It was long drawn out because the long journey of life ends happily only for those who rest in Jesus. It lay everywhere cruciform on the earth, for the shadow of the cross falls henceforth over all humanity, blessing, enfolding, saving. Never did any institution create a monument that more thoroughly expressed its own scope and aims than the Catholic religion, when it uplifted the great mediaeval cathedral. It is said that since the unity of Christendom was broken at the Reformation no more harmonious bells have been cast like those of the Middle Ages. So, too, no more great cathedrals have arisen -- in more senses than one the mould was broken from whence they came, the deep, universal, practical, intensely spiritual faith of humanity that for once transcended race and nation, set aside the particular and discordant, and created things of absolute harmony, and therefore of beauty as absolute as man may evoke from the objects of sense.
The Middle Ages