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

genius, me
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.