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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4760

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... Everywhere crosses, little shrines, way-side chapels, statues of saints. You will see crucifixes and statuettes even in the forks or hollows of trees shadowing the high-roads. As you ascend these towards the interior you will see, every mile or half-mile, some chapel, or a cross erected upon a pedestal of masonry, or some little niche contrived in a wall, closed by a wire grating, through which the image of a Christ or a Madonna is visible. Lamps are kept burning all night before these figures. But the village of Morne Rouge-some two thousand feet above the sea, and about an hour's drive from St. Pierre-is chiefly remarkable for such displays: it is a place of pilgrimage as well as a health resort. Above the village, upon the steep slope of a higher morne, one may note a singular succession of little edifices ascending to the summit,-fourteen little tabernacles, each containing a relievo representing some incident of Christ's Passion. This is called Le Calvaire: it requires more than a feeble piety to perform the religious exercise of climbing the height, and saying a prayer before each little shrine on the way. From the porch of the crowning structure the village of Morne Rouge appears so far below that it makes one almost dizzy to look at it; but even for the profane one ascent is well worth making, for the sake of the beautiful view. On all the neighboring heights around are votive chapels or great crucifixes.

St. Pierre is less peopled with images than Morne Rouge; but it has several colossal ones, which may be seen from any part of the harbor. On the heights above the middle quarter, or Centre, a gigantic Christ overlooks the bay; and from the Morne d'Orange, which bounds the city on the south, a great white Virgin-Notre Dame de la Garde, patron of mariners-watches above the ships at anchor in the mouillage.

... Thrice daily, from the towers of the white cathedral, a superb chime of bells rolls its carillon through the town. On great holidays the bells are wonderfully rung;-the ringers are African, and something of African feeling is observable in their impressive but in cantatory manner of ringing. The bourdon must have cost a fortune. When it is made to speak, the effect is startling: all the city vibrates to a weird sound difficult to describe,-an abysmal, quivering moan, producing unfamiliar harmonies as the voices of t

he smaller bells are seized and interblended by it....One will not easily forget the ringing of a bel-midi.

... Behind the cathedral, above the peaked city roofs, and at the foot of the wood-clad Morne d'Orange, is the Cimetière du Mouillage.... It is full of beauty,-this strange tropical cemetery. Most of the low tombs are covered with small square black and white tiles, set exactly after the fashion of the squares on a chess-board; at the foot of each grave stands a black cross, bearing on its centre a little white plaque, on which the name is graven in delicate and tasteful lettering. So pretty these little tombs are, that you might almost believe yourself in a toy cemetery. Here and there, again, are miniature marble chapels built over the dead,-containing white Madonnas and Christs and little angels,-while flowering creepers climb and twine about the pillars. Death seems so luminous here that one thinks of it unconciously as a soft rising from this soft green earth,-like a vapor invisible,-to melt into the prodigious day. Everything is bright and neat and beautiful; the air is sleepy with jasmine scent and odor of white lilies; and the palm-emblem of immortality-lifts its head a hundred feet into the blue light. There are rows of these majestic and symbolic trees;-two enormous ones guard the entrance;-the others rise from among the tombs,-white-stemmed, out-spreading their huge parasols of verdure higher than the cathedral towers.

Behind all this, the dumb green life of the morne seems striving to descend, to invade the rest of the dead. It thrusts green hands over the wall,-pushes strong roots underneath;-it attacks every joint of the stone-work, patiently, imperceptibly, yet almost irresistibly.

... Some day there may be a great change in the little city of St. Pierre;-there may be less money and less zeal and less remembrance of the lost. Then from the morne, over the bulwark, the green host will move down unopposed;-creepers will prepare the way, dislocating the pretty tombs, pulling away the checkered tiling;-then will corne the giants, rooting deeper,-feeling for the dust of hearts, groping among the bones;-and all that love has hidden away shall be restored to Nature,-absorbed into the rich juices of her verdure,-revitalized in her bursts of color,-resurrected in her upliftings of emerald and gold to the great sun....

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