There was a large fresco painting of Christ upon the cross, which particularly arrested my attention. You saw in it every feature of the man, united with the holiness and majesty of the Divine. The face expressed every shade of sweetness and agony; yet it was only a fresco painting. Another represents Christ preaching on the Mount of Olives, with his disciples and the people gathered about him. I was struck with a series of frescoes which were executed to illustrate the most important precepts of Christ. One is that of a warrior, sheathing his sword in the presence of his deadly enemy. It would well grace the walls of a non-resistant, but not those of a French church, which ever reverberate to the music of the drum. The church has generally illustrated that precept of Christ by pictures, not by works. Another of the frescoes represents two brothers embracing each other. Still another, a beautiful young woman giving alms in secret to a poor old blind man. A painting to the right represents Christ issuing the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The Magdalen kneels below, in devout admiration, and still lower is the Virgin surrounded by a group of pious women.
On the keystone of one of the vaults, “The Last Supper” is sculptured in solid stone; on another, “The Ordination of the Shepherd.” Within the church there are several chapels. The first in the southern aisle contains a magnificent fresco by M. Duval, representing Christ crowning the Virgin. Not far from it there is a fine fresco by Guichard, representing the descent from the cross. The windows upon this side are magnificently decorated with figures of saints and stained glass.
In the center of one transept there is a marble basin for holy water, surmounted by a finely sculptured group of three children supporting a cross. The design is by the donor—the wife of Alphonso de Lamartine, the poet. I noticed in one compartment some admirable traceries in solid oak, and before the high altar an elaborate gilt-bronze lamp—the gift of the wife of Louis Phillippe; but the most brilliant portion of the ulterior is the fresco painting.
As we walked slowly from chapel to chapel, and transept to transept, I could see men and women—principally the latter—with great apparent devotion kneeling before the altar, or at the confessional. It was not Sunday, yet many people were constantly passing in and out. I might perhaps infer from this fact, that the French possess much religious feeling—but I cannot believe it. Art and literature swallow up religion.
The war-spirit soon eats out vital religion—and revolution and blood sap the morals of any people. The reader will remember that even our revolution rapidly dissipated the good morals of the nation. Never was there a time in the history of New England when vice of every sort made such progress as in the time of the revolution. This is not strange, for war necessarily blunts the religious sensibilities, and opens the door of almost every vice.