Killing The Soul
As the centuries pass, the greatest glory of any nation, its highest
satisfaction and pride, is in the works of art which it possesses. In
each country there are works of art which have been preserved through
many generations. They are the great inheritance of all the past ages.
Every nation prizes this inheritance and wishes to hold it in
safekeeping for still another generation; for into these creations of
have put their souls.
If a famous inventor of machinery dies and the particular machine which
he made is destroyed, there are yet other machines left, which have
been made after his pattern, usually much better than the first one
which he constructed.
While steamboats, railways, telegraphs, and automobiles are very
useful, they are not so mysterious and individual but that they may be
exactly copied and many, many duplicates be made and used by every
country under the sun.
If all the music of the great composer Beethoven should be destroyed so
that no copy remained in the world, there perhaps would be some master
musicians of to-day who could remember and write down the notes, and so
reproduce the wonderful compositions once more.
But there have been artists who have seen visions and dreamed dreams of
God and heaven and the best and happiest things they had found in life.
Such a one, with the power of his great genius, has made the dream into
a picture, a painting, a statue, or a wonderful building, which no
other person in the world is able to copy exactly. Indeed, there are
many half-finished works which no artist, however great, has been able
to complete. The creator has put into the work his soul, the best of
all he thought and knew. So when many artists with their many dreams
brought their finest works together into one place, it was certain that
forever that place would be cherished and the wonder of it would belong
to all people everywhere. While the artists have died long ago, their
spirits, their very souls, seem alive to-day in the beautiful art works
which they have left. It is for this reason that we speak of great
artists who lived eight or nine hundred years ago, as if they were
still living to-day, for their souls are alive in what they so
wonderfully made. Those who look upon these works are mysteriously
inspired to live better and happier lives themselves.
The loveliest art works in France are its Gothic cathedrals, and of
them all, the Cathedral at Rheims was probably the most wonderful. No
monument of ancient or modern times is more widely known to the world.
It was built in the Middle Ages and expressed all the aspiration and
faith of the people of that time. For seven hundred years it has been
cherished for its great beauty, for the memory of the men who made it
so beautiful, and for the sacred services which have been held in it.
All the kings of France, except six, were crowned in it. One of the
most striking services was the coronation of Charles VII, while Joan of
Arc stood beside him with the sacred banner in her hands.
The cathedral held the works of many ancient artists. It was especially
famous for its rose window, in which the figures of prophets and
martyrs were glorified by the afternoon sun. Beneath the window was a
magnificent gallery. Statues of angels, a beautiful statue of Christ,
and one of the Madonna were to be found in this wonderful building. The
stained glass windows were all very beautiful. Even the bells in the
tower were famous.
With the excuse that the French were using the great towers of the old
cathedral as observation posts, the Germans bombarded and destroyed the
church. The roof was battered in and burned, the stained glass windows
broken, the famous bells pounded into a shapeless mass of metal, and
the wonderful statues and decorations hopelessly destroyed. Only the
statue of Joan of Arc, in front of the cathedral, remained uninjured,
as though to say, "I am the soul of France. You cannot injure or kill
me." Afterwards the Germans bombarded the church a second time,
attempting to tear down even the walls that were still standing.
Even savages in war respect sacred places, but the Germans deliberately
aimed their guns at them. No excuse can ever be accepted by the
civilized world for this deliberate destruction, and certainly the
excuse cannot be accepted by military men that the act was due to bad
Other ancient churches were horribly damaged. The Germans stabled their
horses in them, broke down the candelabra and statues, and carried away
many valuable relics.
The burning of the University buildings at Louvain completely destroyed
the treasures that had been preserved for centuries. Priceless
manuscripts, paintings that can never be replaced, and valuable books
in rare bindings were lost to the world.
The Germans scornfully but ignorantly declared, "Why should we care if
every monument in the world is destroyed? We can build better ones."
But the German idea of beauty is great strength and huge size. Their
own public buildings and statues are often horrible in color, immense
and awkward in appearance. They give people the impression of a
fearsome brute spreading himself out before them. With few exceptions,
there are no dainty figures and designs, nor any beautiful thoughts and
feelings, as shown in the work of real artists.
The old cathedral at Rheims can never be restored. No one can ever
bring back the old beauty and color; no one can revive those statues
and paintings so that ever again they will seem to breathe forth the
soul of the artists who fashioned them seven hundred years ago. The
walls may be rebuilt, and artists of tomorrow may beautify them, but
the spirit of the great men of the Middle Ages is gone--it has fled
from the place forever. Thus the Germans, not content with killing the
bodies of men, have in this way killed the souls of some of the
greatest of the geniuses of the past. How can she pay the damage, or
meet a fitting punishment?
* * * * *
What a peerless jewel was this cathedral, more beautiful even than
Notre Dame in Paris, more open to the light, more ethereal, more
soaringly uplifted with its columns like long reeds surprisingly
fragile considering the weight they bear, a miracle of the religious
art of France, a masterpiece which the faith of our ancestors had
called into being in all its mystic purity.