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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
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 Strasburg

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

I arrived in Nancy Sunday evening at seven o'clock; at eight the diligence started again. Was I more fatigued? Was the road better? The fact is I propped myself on the braces of the conveyance and slept. Thus I arrived in Phalsbourg.

I woke up about four o'clock in the morning. A cool breeze blew upon my face and the carriage was going down the incline at a gallop, for we were descending the famous Saverne.

It was one of the most beautiful impressions of my life. The rain had ceased, the mists had been blown to the four winds, and the crescent moon slipped rapidly through the clouds and sailed freely through the azure space like a barque on a little lake. A breeze which came from the Rhine made the trees, which bordered the road, tremble. From time to time they waved aside and permitted me to see an indistinct and frightful abyss in the foreground, a forest beneath which the mountain disappeared; below, immense plains, meandering streams glittering like streaks of lightning; and in the background a dark, indistinct, and heavy line - the Black Forest - a magical panorama beheld by moonlight. Such incomplete visions have, perhaps, more distinction than any others. They are dreams which one can look upon and feel. I knew that my eyes rested upon France, Germany, and Switzerland, Strasburg with its spire, the Black Forest with its mountains, and the Rhine with its windings; I searched for everything and I saw nothing. I have never experienced a more extraordinary sensation. Add to that the hour, the journey, the horses dashing down the precipice, the violent noise of the wheels, the rattling of the windows, the frequent passage through dark woods, the breath of the morning upon the mountains, a gentle murmur heard through the valleys, and the beauty of the sky, and you will understand what I felt. Day is amazing in this valley; night is fascinating.

The descent took a quarter of an hour. Half an hour later came the twilight of morning; at my left the dawn quickened the lower sky, a group of white houses with black roofs became visible on the summit of a hill, the blue of day began to overflow the horizon, several peasants passed by going to their vines, a clear, cold, and violet light struggled with the ashy glimmer of the moon, the constellations paled, two of the Pleiades were lost to sight, the three horses in our chariot descended rapidly towards their stable with its blue doors, it was cold and I was frozen, for it had become necessary to open the windows. A moment afterwards the sun rose, and the first thing it showed to me was the village notary shaving at a broken mirror under a red calico curtain.

A league further on the peasants became more picturesque and the waggons magnificent; I counted in one thirteen mules harnessed far apart by long chains. You felt you were approaching Strasburg, the old German city.

Galloping furiously, we traversed Wasselonne, a long narrow trench of houses strangled in the last gorge of the Vosges by the side of Strasburg. There I caught a glimpse of one facade of the Cathedral, surmounted by three round and pointed towers in juxtaposition, which the movement of the diligence brought before my vision brusquely and then took it away, jolting it about as if it were a scene in the theatre.

Suddenly, at a turn in the road the mist lifted and I saw the Munster. It was six o'clock in the morning. The enormous Cathedral, which is the highest building that the hand of man has made since the great Pyramid, was clearly defined against a background of dark mountains whose forms were magnificent and whose valleys were flooded with sunshine. The work of God made for man and the work of man made for God, the mountain and the Cathe dral contesting for grandeur. I have never seen anything more imposing.

Yesterday I visited the Cathedral. The Munster is truly a marvel. The doors of the church are beautiful, particularly the Roman porch, the facade contains some superb figures on horseback, the rose-window is beautifully cut, and the entire face of the Cathedral is a poem, wisely com posed. But the real triumph of the Cathedral is the spire.

It is a true tiara of stone with its crown and its cross. It is a prodigy of grandeur and delicacy. I have seen Chartres, and I have seen Antwerp, but Strasburg pleases me best.

The church has never been finished. The apse, miserably mutilated, has been restored according to that imbecile, the Cardinal de Rohan, of the necklace fame. It is hideous. The window they have selected is like a modern carpet. It is ignoble. The other windows, with the exception of some added panes, are beautiful, notably the great rose-window. All the church is shamefully whitewashed; some of the sculptures have been restored with some little taste. This Cathedral has been affected by all styles. The pulpit is a little construction of the Fifteenth Century, of florid Gothic of a design and style that are ravishing. Unfortunately they have gilded it in the most stupid manner. The baptismal font is of the same period and is restored in a superior manner. It is a vase surrounded by foliage in sculpture, the most marvellous in the world. In a dark chapel at the side there are two tombs. One, of a bishop of the time of Louis V., is of that formidable character which Gothic architecture always expresses. The sepulchre is in two floors. The bishop, in pontifical robes and with his mitre on his head, is lying in his bed under a canopy; he is sleeping. Above and on the foot of the bed in the shadow, you perceive an enormous stone in which two enormous iron rings are imbedded; that is the lid of the tomb. You see nothing more. The architects of the Sixteenth Century showed you the corpse (you remember the tombs of Brou?); those of the Fourteenth concealed it: that is even more terrifying. Nothing could be more sinister than these two rings...

The tomb of which I have spoken is in the left arm of the cross. In the right arm there is a chapel, which scaffolding prevented me from seeing. At the side of this chapel runs a balustrade of the Fifteenth Century, leaning against a wall. A sculptured and painted figure leans against this balustrade and seems to be admiring a pillar surrounded by statues placed one over the other, which is directly opposite and which has a marvellous effect. Tradition says that this figure represents the first architect of the Munster- Erwyn von Steinbach...

I did not see the famous astronomical clock, which is in the nave and which is a charming little building of the Sixteenth Century. They were restoring it and it was covered with a scaffolding of boards.

After having seen the church, I made the ascent of the steeple. You know my taste for perpendicular trips. I was very careful not to miss the highest spire in the world. The Munster of Strasburg is nearly five hundred feet high. It belongs to the family of spires which are open-worked stairways.

It is delightful to wind about in that monstrous mass of stone, filled with air and light hollowed out like a joujou de Dieppe, a lantern as well as a pyramid, which vibrates and palpitates with every breath of the wind. I mounted as far as the vertical stairs. As I went up I met a visitor who was descending, pale and trembling, and half-carried by the guide. There is, however, no danger. The danger begins where I stopped, where the spire, properly so-called, begins. Four open-worked spiral stairways, corresponding to the four vertical towers, unroll in an entanglement of delicate, slender, and beautifully-worked stone, supported by the spire, every angle of which it follows, winding until it reaches the crown at about thirty feet from the lantern surmounted by a cross which forms the summit of the bell-tower. The steps of these stairways are very steep and very narrow, and become narrower and narrower as you ascend, until there is barely ledge enough on which to place your foot.

In this way you have to climb a hundred feet which brings you four hundred feet above the street. There are no hand-rails, or such slight ones that they are not worth speaking about. The entrance to this stairway is closed by an iron grille. They will not open this grille without a special permission from the Mayor of Strasburg, and nobody is allowed to ascend it unless accompanied by two workmen of the roof, who tie a rope around your body, the end of which they fasten, in proportion as you ascend, to the various iron bars which bind the mullions. Only a week ago three German women, a mother and her two daughters, made this ascent. Nobody but the workmen of the roof, who repair the bell-tower, are allowed to go beyond the lantern. Here there is not even a stairway, but only a simple iron ladder.

From where I stopped the view was wonderful. Strasburg lies at your feet, - the old town with its dentellated gables, and its large roofs encumbered with chimneys, and its towers and churches-as picturesque as any town of Flanders. The III and the Rhine, two lovely rivers, enliven this dark mass with their plashing waters, so clear and green. Beyond the walls, as far as the eye can reach, stretches an immense country richly wooded and dotted with villages. The Rhine, which flows within a league of the town, winds through the landscape. In walking around this bell-tower you see three chains of mountains - the ridges of the Black Forest on the north, the Vosges on the west, and the Alps in the centre...

The sun willingly makes a festival for those who are upon great heights. At the moment I reached the top of the Munster, it suddenly scattered the clouds, with which the sky had been covered all day, and turned the smoke of the city and all the mists of the valley to rosy flames, while it showered a golden rain on Saverne, whose magnificent slope I saw twelve leagues towards the horizon, through the most resplendent haze. Behind me a large cloud dropped rain upon the Rhine; the gentle hum of the town was brought to me by some puffs of wind; the bells echoed from a hundred villages; some little red and white fleas, which were really a herd of cattle, grazed in the meadow to the right; other little blue and red fleas, which were really gunners, performed field-exercise in the polygon to the left; a black beetle, which was the diligence, crawled along the road to Metz; and to the north on the brow of the hill the castle of the Grand Duke of Baden sparkled in a flash of light like a precious stone. I went from one tower to another, looking by turns upon France, Switzerland, and Germany, all illuminated by the same ray of sunlight.

Each tower looks upon a different country.

Descending, I stopped for a few moments at one of the high doors of the tower-stairway. On either side of this door are the stone effigies of the two architects of the Munster. These two great poets are represented as kneeling and looking behind them upward as if they were lost in astonishment at the height of their work. I put myself in the same posture and remained thus for several minutes. At the platform they made me write my name in a book.

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