28 September 2008


How brilliant. Was it Fr Rowlands's idea? To make the climax of our pilgrimage an event not in Lourdes but at the older nearby shrine of our Lady of Betharram? One can get a trifle tired of the two styles of architecture in Lourdes itself: that heavy and idiosyncratic French Gothic Revival in the older churches, and the concrete brutalism of the newer ones (all rather like the Jubilee Line, as one of our seminarians acutely put it). So on our last full day we went to a jewel of early C18 baroque so that, as Father put it, he could show us what we ought to like. A profound piece of theology. Wonderful shrine that it is, Lourdes lacks a hermeneutic of continuity. At the beginning of the C20, even the old parish church - S Bernadette's church - was demolished so that a new one could replace it in guess-what style (although you can see some of the altar furnishings from the church S Bernadette worshipped in Sunday by Sunday preserved in the chapel of the Fort which looms over Lourdes). But Betherram is an unbroken masterpiece in the same style: bright and joyous and playful; as Bishop Ladds put it, not a straight line in sight (except that in one of the side chapels I did see something rather nasty: a square kitchen table with some chairs informally around it). There are lots of those Salomonic pillars, curvy like the supports of the ciborium in S Peter's in Rome, reminiscent of Raffael's cartoons inthe V and A showing the Temple pillars at Jerusalem. The porch north of Oxford's University Church (the porch with the statue of our Lady which formed part of the indictment leading to Archbishop Laud's indictment and martyrdom) has just such columns. So here we have an art style diachronically continuous in its idiom, and synchronic in its tying-together of Caroline Anglican Oxford and post-Huguenot Conte Bearn. Except that Laud's porch doesn't have putti with wobbly little bottoms climbing up the pillars. You need something to go to Aquitaine to see.

Father, I don't know if you read this humble blog, but, if you do, I did like what you showed us and I think the whole pilgrimage was simply wonderful.

1 comment:

Gregory of Langres said...

Your readers may like to refer to some photographs of B├ętharram that appear here: http://www.massinformation.org/2008/09/lourdes-2008-btharram.html