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Chapter 21

My real consolation was an hour I spent in Saint-
Sernin, one of the noblest churches in southern France,
and easily the first among those of Toulouse. This
great structure, a masterpiece of twelfth-century ro-
manesque, and dedicated to Saint Saturninus, - the
Toulousains have abbreviated, - is, I think, alone worth
a journey to Toulouse. What makes it so is the
extraordinary seriousness of its interior; no other term
occurs to me as expressing so well the character of
its clear gray nave. As a general thing, I do not
favor the fashion of attributing moral qualities to
buildings; I shrink from talking about tender porticos
and sincere campanili; but I find I cannot get on at
all without imputing some sort of morality to Saint-
Sernin. As it stands to-day, the church has been
completely restored by Viollet-le-Duc. The exterior is
of brick, and has little charm save that of a tower of
four rows of arches, narrowing together as they ascend.
The nave is of great length and height, the barrel-roof
of stone, the effect of the round arches and pillars in
the triforium especially fine. There are two low aisles
on either side. The choir is very deep and narrow;
it seems to close together, and looks as if it were
meant for intensely earnest rites. The transepts are
most noble, especially the arches of the second tier.
The whole church is narrow for its length, and is
singularly complete and homogeneous. As I say all
this, I feel that I quite fail to give an impression of
its manly gravity, its strong proportions or of the lone-
some look of its renovated stones as I sat there while
the October twilight gathered. It is a real work of
art, a high conception. The crypt, into which I was
eventually led captive by an importunate sacristan, is
quite another affair, though indeed I suppose it may
also be spoken of as a work of art. It is a rich museum
of relics, and contains the head of Saint Thomas
Aquinas, wrapped up in a napkin and exhibited in a
glass case. The sacristan took a lamp and guided me
about, presenting me to one saintly remnant after an-
other. The impression was grotesque, but sorne of
the objects were contained in curious old cases of
beaten silver and brass; these things, at least, which
looked as if they had been transmitted from the early
church, were venerable. There was, however, a kind
of wholesale sanctity about the place which overshot
the mark; it pretends to be one of the holiest spots
in the world. The effect is spoiled by the way the
sacristans hang about and offer to take you into it for
ten sous, - I was accosted by two and escaped from
another, - and by the familiar manner in which you
pop in and out. This episode rather broke the charm
of Saint-Sernin, so that I took my departure and went
in search of the cathedral. It was scarcely worth find-
ing, and struck me as an odd, dislocated fragment.
The front consists only of a portal, beside which a tall
brick tower, of a later period, has been erected. The
nave was wrapped in dimness, with a few scattered
lamps. I could only distinguish an immense vault,
like a high cavern, without aisles. Here and there in
the gloom was a kneeling figure; the whole place was
mysterious and lop-sided. The choir was curtained
off; it appeared not to correspond with the nave, - that
is, not to have the same axis. The only other ec-
clesiastical impression I gathered at Toulouse came to
me in the church of La Daurade, of which the front,
on the quay by the Garonne, was closed with scaffold-
ings; so that one entered it from behind, where it is
completely masked by houses, through a door which
has at first no traceable connection with it. It is a
vast, high, modernised, heavily decorated church, dimly
lighted at all times, I should suppose, and enriched
by the shades of evening at the time I looked into it.
I perceived that it consisted mainly of a large square,
beneath a dome, in the centre of which a single person
- a lady - was praying with the utmost absorption.
The manner of access to the church interposed such
an obstacle to the outer profanities that I had a sense
of intruding, and presently withdrew, carrying with me
a picture of the, vast, still interior, the gilded roof
gleaming in the twilight, and the solitary worshipper.
What was she praying for, and was she not almost
afraid to remain there alone?

For the rest, the picturesque at Toulouse consists
principally of the walk beside the Garonne, which is
spanned, to the faubourg of Saint-Cyprien, by a stout
brick bridge. This hapless suburb, the baseness of
whose site is noticeable, lay for days under the water
at the time of the last inundations. The Garonne
had almost mounted to the roofs of the houses, and
the place continues to present a blighted, frightened
look. Two or three persons, with whom I had some
conversation, spoke of that time as a memory of horror.
I have not done with my Italian comparisons; I shall
never have done with them. I am therefore free to
say that in the way in which Toulouse looks out on
the Garonne there was something that reminded me
vaguely of the way in which Pisa looks out on the
Arno. The red-faced houses - all of brick - along the
quay have a mixture of brightness and shabbiness, as
well as the fashion of the open _loggia_ in the top-
story. The river, with another bridge or two, might
be the Arno, and the buildings on the other side of
it - a hospital, a suppressed convent - dip their feet
into it with real southern cynicism. I have spoken of
the old Hotel d'Assezat as the best house at Toulouse;
with the exception of the cloister of the museum, it is
the only "bit" I remember. It has fallen from the
state of a noble residence of the sixteenth century to
that of a warehouse and a set of offices; but a certain
dignity lingers in its melancholy court, which is divided
from the street by a gateway that is still imposing,
and in which a clambering vine and a red Virginia-
creeper were suspended to the rusty walls of brick

The most interesting house at Toulouse is far from
being the most striking. At the door of No. 50 Rue
des Filatiers, a featureless, solid structure, was found
hanging, one autumn evening, the body of the young
Marc-Antoine Calas, whose ill-inspired suicide was to
be the first act of a tragedy so horrible. The fana-
ticism aroused in the townsfolk by this incident; the
execution by torture of Jean Calas, accused as a
Protestant of having hanged his son, who had gone
over to the Church of Rome; the ruin of the family;
the claustration of the daughters; the flight of the
widow to Switzerland; her introduction to Voltaire;
the excited zeal of that incomparable partisan, and
the passionate persistence with which, from year to
year, he pursued a reversal of judgment, till at last he
obtained it, and devoted the tribunal of Toulouse to
execration and the name of the victims to lasting
wonder and pity, - these things form part of one of
the most interesting and touching episodes of the social
history of the eighteenth century. The story has the
fatal progression, the dark rigidity, of one of the tragic
dramas of the Greeks. Jean Calas, advanced in life,
blameless, bewildered, protesting. his innocence, had
been broken on the wheel; and the sight of his decent
dwelling, which brought home to me all that had been
suflered there, spoiled for me, for half an hour, the
impression of Toulouse.

Henry James