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Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Kremlin
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
The Pyramids
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Windsor Castle
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln

The Cathedral Of Antwerp

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



I was awakened this morning with the chime which the Antwerp Cathedral clack plays at half hours. The tune has been haunting me ever since, as tunes will. You dress, eat, drink, walk, and talk to yourself to their tune; their inaudible jingle accompanies you all day; you read the sentences of the paper to their rhythm. I tried uncouthly to imitate the tune to the ladies of the family at breakfast, and they say it is "the shadow dance of Dinorah." It may be so. I dimly remember that my body was once present during the performance of that opera, while my eyes were closed, and my intellectual faculties dormant at the back of the box; howbeit, I have learned that shadow dance from hearing it pealing up ever so high in the air at night, morn, noon.

How pleasant to lie awake and listen to the cheery peal, while the old city is asleep at midnight, or waking up rosy at sunrise, or basking in noon, or swept by the scudding rain which drives in gusts over the broad places, and the great shining river; or sparkling in snow, which dresses up a hundred thousand masts, peaks, and towers; or wrapped round with thunder - cloud canopies, before which the white gables shine whiter; day and night the kind little carillon plays its fantastic melodies overhead. The bells go on ringing. Luot vivos vocant, martuos plangunt, fulgura frangunt; so on to the past and future tenses, and for how many nights, days, and years! While the French were pitching their fulgura into Chasse's citadel, the bells went on ringing quite cheerfully. While the scaffolds were up and guarded by Alva's soldiery, and regiments of penitents, blue, black, and grey, poured out of churches and convents, droning their dirges, and marching to the place of the Hotel de Ville, where heretics and rebels were to meet their doom, the bells up yonder were chanting at their appointed half hours and quarters, and rang the mauvais quart d heure for many a poor soul. This bell can see as far away as the towers and dikes of Rotterdam. That one can call a greeting to St. Ursula's at Brussels, and toss a recognition to that one at the town hall of Oudenarde, and remember how, after a great struggle there a hundred and fifty years ago, the whole plain was covered with flying French chivalry - Burgundy, and Berri, and the Chevalier of St. George flying like the rest. "What is your clamour about Oudenarde? " says another bell (Bob Major this one must be). "Be still thou querulous old clapper! I can see over to Hougoumont and St. John. And about forty-five years since, I rang all through one Sunday in June, when there was such a battle going on in the cornfields there as none of you others ever heard tolled of. Yes, from morning service until after vespers, the French and English were all at it, ding-dong! "And then calls of business intervening, the bells have to give up their private jangle, resume their professional duty, and sing their hourly chorus out of Dinorah.

What a prodigious distance those bells can be heard! I was awakened this morning to their tune, I say. I have been hearing it constantly ever since. And this house whence I write, Murray says, is two hundred and ten miles from Antwerp. And it is a week off; and there is the bell still jangling its shadow dance out of Dinorah. An audible shadow, you understand, and an invisible sound, but quite distinct; and a plague take the tune!

Who has not seen the church under the bell? Those lofty aisles, those twilight chapels, that cumbersome pulpit with its huge carvings, that wide grey pavement flecked with various light from the jewelled windows, those famous pictures between the voluminous columns over the altars which twinkle with their ornaments, their votive little silver hearts, legs, limbs, their little guttering tapers, cups of sham roses, and what not? I saw two regiments of little scholars creeping in and forming square, each in its appointed place, under the vast roof; and teachers presently coming to them. A stream of light from the jewelled windows beams slanting down upon each little squad of children, and the tall background off the church retires into a greyer gloom. Pattering little feet of laggards arriving echo through the great nave. They trot in and join their regiments, gathered under the slanting sunbeams. What are they learning? Is it truth? Those two grey ladies with their books in their hands in the midst of these little people have no doubt of the truth of every word they have printed under their eyes. Look, through the windows jewelled all over with saints, the light comes streaming down from the sky, and heaven's own illuminations paint the book! A sweet, touching picture indeed it is, that of the little children assembled in this immense temple, which has endured for ages, and grave teachers bending over them. Yes, the picture is very pretty of the children and their teachers, and their book-but the text? Is it the truth, the only truth, nothing but the truth? If I thought so, I would go and sit down on the form cum parvulis, and learn the precious lesson with all my heart.

But I submit, an obstacle to conversions is the intrusion and impertinence of that Swiss fellow with the baldricthe officer who answers to the beadle of the British islands -and is pacing about the church with an eye on the congregation. Now the boast of Catholics is that their churches are open to all; but in certain places and churches there are exceptions. At Rome I have been into St. Peter's at all hours: the doors are always open, the lamps are always burning, the faithful are forever kneeling at one shrine or the other. But at Antwerp it is not so. In the afternoon you can go to the church and be civilly treated, but you must pay a franc at the side gate. In the forenoon the doors are open, to be sure, and there is no one to levy an entrance fee. I was standing ever so still, looking through the great gates of the choir at the twinkling lights, and listening to the distant chants of the priests performing the service, when a sweet chorus from the organ-loft broke out behind me overhead, and I turned round. My friend the drum-major ecclesiastic was down upon me in a moment. "Do not turn your back to the altar during divine service," says he, in very intelligible English. I take the rebuke, and turn a soft right-about face, and listen a while as the service continues. See it I cannot, nor the altar and its ministrants. We are separated from these by a great screen and closed gates of iron, through which the lamps glitter and the chant comes by gusts only. Seeing a score of children trotting down a side aisle, I think I may follow them. I am tired of looking at that hideous old pulpit, with its grotesque monsters and decorations. I slip off to the side aisle; but my friend the drum-major is instantly after me - almost I thought he was going to lay hands on me.

"You mustn't go there," says he; "you mustn't disturb the service. "I was moving as quietly as might be, and ten paces off there were twenty children kicking and chattering at their ease. I point them out to the Swiss. "They come to pray," says he. "You don't come to pray; you -" "When I come to pay," says I, " I am welcome," and with this withering sarcasm I walk out of church in a huff. I don't envy the feelings of that beadle after receiving point blank such a stroke of wit.



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