The Jewels of St Peter of Montmartre

The Church of St Peter of Montmartre (L’Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre) dates back to the ninth century. Its most longstanding building, a Benedictine Abbey built under the order of Louis VI between 1133 and 1147, was destroyed in the French revolution and rebuilt in the 19th century.

St Peter of MontmarteThe delight of its glass is the dappled light that shine onto the walls of the apse. A stone bench flattens the light from the window opposite and creates the impression of a figure of jewelled light seated against the wall, an apparition that blithely appears and fades with the position and intensity of the sun.

When I look at this image, I see the ghost of Michelle, who I created 20 years ago one afternoon while writing a one-movement symphony for a graduation portfolio. It is one five vignettes on an idea taken from a poem by Whitman, Sometimes with one I love.

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The glassĀ 

Michelle watched the drop of wine fall back into the glass. Glass had mesmerised her from the time she started entering churches. Now as it made a ripple in the red pool she began to gently cry.

Michael put the tear on his finger. He knew that when she saw the stains from the outside she could see no way for light to enter. From the inside she could see no way of escape.

The same idea about living came to him when he shaved in the bathroom.

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Through a glass darkly: the stained glass of Reims Cathedral

Christmas is timed around a solstice festival for polytheistic heathens. In Australia it has almost passed on as a religious festival to become a secular holiday dressed up in gift-wrap reds for Christmas Day and cricket whites for the Boxing Day Test.

It makes the idea of facing church a bit like looking through a glass darkly; but the dark absorbent glass set into church windows offers some rare jewels inside, as the posts this week will try to illuminate. The first are in Reims.

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A day trip from Paris

Reims Cathedral-1

Reims is a day-trip from Paris and many people who visit it on these terms know it mostly for its Champagne Houses: Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot, Pommery and others; and there are many more in nearby Epernay.

Reims offers much more. It has witnessed the exchange or settlement of power, or a symbolic reconciliation between political antagonists, for over a thousand years.

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