For Nantes Cathedral Ravaged by Arson in July 2020, a Tribute This holy place, where the enthusiasm of builders was succeeded by doubt following catastrophe, then hope expressed in restoration, is it not the symbol of the Church of Christ, and of our own history? – 2015 cathedral brochure Saint Clair, first bishop here, caused vast sensation As Christ in clear, cured eyes of blind men shone; The martyr youths, Donatian and Rogatian, Spellbound the town with courage not their own. Its civic heart was claimed, a place whereon Saint Peter’s gate to heaven could rise anon, When wood had been well structured to reveal God’s Eden, and Saint Felix’ flock might kneel: Terribilis, the blessing antiphon. It tells the marvel of a consecration, The awe surrounding the Almighty’s throne, But terrifying was the devastation Three centuries from then. A traitor lone, Perfidious count, brought Northmen down upon The church with fiery brands and Viking brawn; Saint Gohard’s Mass became doom’s grave ordeal, And charred though holy ground could scarce conceal A hundred sixty years’ oblivion. The year one thousand started fabrication Of Europe’s cloak, cathedrals of white stone; Her Val de Loire tuffeau formed Nantes’ oblation, A sacred space on earth, in which alone Mankind can breathe, and be an orison Of chosen, living stones. True built thereon, It brought the region’s pious commonweal Through arches Romanesque, with stalwart feel. New eras passed. “Too small,” said wise Duke John. He laid a more magnificent foundation, A Gothic fane that heavenward has grown. Françoise d’Amboise nearby gave habitation To Carmel’s nuns, the first the realm had known; Good Breton Anne in marble wrought hereon Her parents’ tomb beyond comparison; In Pity’s chapel glowed Christ’s presence real, A church’s corporal yet mystic seal; Tones flowed from organ pipes in echelon. Much revolutionary consternation But strengthened many willing to atone With works of art in fresh accumulation, Though bombs marked Saint Anne’s apse a battle zone, But Satan’s modernist phenomenon Smashed faith as France became the Hexagon: Confusion’s catechesis spread piecemeal; Lost sheep and tourists knew its scant appeal; The organs (angels’ voices) now are gone. Bishop, no novelty but ancient zeal Can sweep out sacrilege, and blindness heal. Let missionary spirits hope for dawn: Tradition’s faith, old Latin rites ideal, The lex orandi here to sing, “Live on!” Time Line *Clair, first bishop of Nantes, lived in the 3rd century or earlier. *Donatian and Rogatian, called “children of Nantes,” were martyred in 289. *Nantes’ first cathedral, dedicated like succeeding ones to Saints Peter and Paul, was consecrated by Felix, bishop between 550 and 582. *The introit antiphon Terribilis begins the traditional Roman Rite consecration of a church, quoting Genesis 28:17, “How terrible is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and gate of heaven.” According to Jungmann’s definitive study, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origin and Development (1948), this particular Roman ritual is “the old Gallican rite , still retained in today’s Pontificale Romanum.” *In 843, Viking raiders killed Bishop Gohard and many others at Mass, and burned the cathedral. *The millennial year 1000 inspired construction of splendid churches in stone rather than wood, leading Raoul Glaber, a monk of Cluny, to write a famous passage about the world donning “a white mantle of churches.” *Tuffeau is an extraordinarily fine limestone, with smooth and velvety texture more like a fabric than a mineral. *In 1434, Duke John V of Brittany, finding the Romanesque cathedral too small for the city’s increased population, embarked on the building of a larger Gothic cathedral, not finished until 1891. *Blessed Françoise d’Amboise (1427–1485), duchess consort of Brittany, established a Carmel at Vannes, and when widowed herself took the veil, becoming prioress at Nantes, where she is honored by a chapel in the cathedral. *Duchess Anne of Brittany (1477–1514), last reigning ruler of that independent state, and Queen of France, commissioned a Renaissance masterpiece group of sculptures in Carrara marble to honor her parents. Anne’s features appear on a figure of the cardinal virtue, Prudence (sometimes incorrectly identified as Wisdom). *The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Chapel of Our Lady of Pity. *The grand organ was constructed in the 17th century. It survived the Revolution called French because a quick-witted organist suggested that it could be used for revolutionary ceremonies. *Among the treasures acquired by Nantes Cathedral during the 20th century was a second organ, noteworthy as the largest choir organ in France. *In 1944, a wartime air raid destroyed a portion of the cathedral, including a statue of Saint Anne, one of the patron saints of Brittany. The damaged area was restored over time, and a new statue placed in 1995. *Following World War II, France’s borders were changed to a shape that fits neatly into a regular hexagon, and “the Hexagon” is a modern nickname for the country. *Modernism, “synthesis of all heresies,” was condemned in the earlier 20th century, but later overpowered much Catholic teaching, leading to a drastic decline in Catholic practice. Since the introduction of a new liturgy, many parishes in France (and elsewhere) have been closed or combined with others for fewer services. *In July 2020, a trusted church volunteer (who has repented) used the two Nantes Cathedral organs as tinder to start a conflagration that entirely destroyed the grand organ and the roof. The building will be unusable for years. *Nantes was without a bishop when the fire took place, but in August 2020, a new bishop was appointed. Lex orandi, lex credendi is a historic motto that means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” Margaret Coats lives in California. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.