Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I See the Light in St. Gervais

[Eglise St. Gervais]
A few days ago I had a religious experience in St. Gervais, a church in Paris.

It was night. The church was huge and dark, with only a small area around the altar lit. Which made it grand and mysterious and beautiful. There is a small monastery behind the church and most of the mass celebrants were monks and monkesses.

At one point the priest held up a round matzah. Everybody bowed to it. At first that seemed bizarre. Then I remembered the doctrine of transubstantiation. For them the matzah had literally become the flesh of G_d. So they bowed to it. The accusation that Catholics are idol worshippers because of their statues is nonsense because they understand full well that the statues are just stone and plaster not Mary and Jesus. However revering the host actually is idolatry - the belief that G_d is contained in an inanimate object.

They sang hymns which were ethereally beautiful because St. Gervais has glorious acoustics. Then, still singing, and wearing long white capes, they marched in procession to a chapel at the back of the church, or the head of the nave, if you will. There was a big, softly lit, marble statue of the Virgin by some almost-famous Italian Renaissance sculptor. They knelt in front of it and meditated in the dark. After a while, as they finished their devotions, one by one they rose and left.

Almost the last to leave was a tiny nun, who not only knelt but also prostrated herself. From where I sat in the pews just outside the chapel, she was silhouetted in the soft light from the statue of the Virgin.

I was strongly tempted to take what could have been a dramatic and beautiful photograph. But I remembered my religious commitment to 'The Decalogue for Idiots', a variant of Hillel's 'Torah While Standing On One Foot', which is "Don't be a schmuck". So I didn't.

The little nun has her religion. I have mine.


  1. Anonymous4:24 AM

    There is nothing more irritating than an American taking pictures. Well done for resisting that innate urge.

  2. Whereas a Japanese or a European taking pictures is fine with you?

    Consider the possibility that you have a screw loose.

  3. Nick Danger11:27 PM

    Actually, you already are a schmuck, and a darn good one, too.

  4. What the hell, why do it if you can't do it well.