Rorate Caeli

“Death Comes for the Cathedrals”: Proust's Masterful Essay Now Published as a Deluxe Hardcover

In keeping with recent news about Notre Dame Cathedral, it's worth mentioning a beautiful new title just released by the Catholic publisher Wiseblood Books: Death Comes for the Cathedrals.

The heart of this book is a translation of Marcel Proust's influential 1904 essay in Le Figaro that brilliantly argued, from a cultural and philosophical viewpoint, against the total secularization of churches in France, and led to less extreme measures being taken by the French anticlerical government. This eloquent translation by John Pepino made its first appearance here at Rorate Caeli on January 13, 2015.

The essay is preceded by an historical introduction from Dr. Pepino, and followed by an Afterword that I was invited to contribute, describing my experience of Chartres cathedral and the lessons my son and I learned from it about the primacy of traditionary excellence over the suicidal embrace of modernism.

The text is complemented by full-color images of the glories of Chartres's architecture, stained glass, and statuary. A gorgeous hardcover book — and, thanks to a generous benefactor who supported the project, priced at $12 from the publisher (or $15 at Amazon).

And how timely is the Proust! As Rorate readers know, just a few days ago, over a hundred French cultural figures signed a manifesto (published, of course, in Le Figaro) protesting the proposed vandalization of the interior of Notre Dame — this time not by anticlericals but by the archdiocese of Paris. Somehow, one is not surprised... since the revolutionaries are now the ones in charge.

Publisher's Description

"Suppose for a moment that Catholicism had been dead for centuries, that the traditions of its worship had been lost. Only the unspeaking and forlorn cathedrals remain; they have become unintelligible yet remain admirable."

So begins Marcel Proust's Death Comes for the Cathedrals (La mort des cathédrales), originally published in Le Figaro (1904). Proust addresses the political and religious debate concerning the "the Briand bill," a parliamentary proposal which imperiled the fate of French Cathedrals, "the first and most perfect masterpieces" of Gothic architecture. The great author of In Search of Lost Time gives prophetic voice to his own fear that "France would be transformed into a shore where giant chiseled conches seemed to have run aground, emptied of the life that inhabited them and no longer bringing an attentive ear to the distant murmur of the past, simply museum objects, themselves frozen." As Proust makes plain, though the cathedrals of France and the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite are the spiritual inheritance of the Church, they are part of the patrimony of all humanity and, pending preservation, their loss would leave all the world impoverished.

This Wiseblood Books edition of Death Comes for the Cathedrals includes an introduction by its translator, Dr. John Pepino, and an afterword by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who wonders whether life may yet return to the cathedrals. Throughout, beautiful color images of Chartres and its architectural features grace the pages.

     52 pp. | 6 in x 9 in
     December 8, 2021

Wiseblood Books is offering a coupon for December: