Sunday, July 5, 2009

Calvin in Paris, day two

Brittany took the Desotos ahead at their pace down to the Seine The rest of us followed the few blocks until we stood below the grand 12th century magnificence of Notre Dame Cathedral. We found a quiet corner near the monument to Charlemagne and considered the juxtaposition of incomparable gothic architecture, art in stone to boggle the mind, and the myriad of medieval abuses that are Roman Catholicism: transubstantiation, indulgences, pilgrimage to the crown of thorns, the stones on which were written the Decalogue, and the furious intolerance of the Inquisition. Calvin would no doubt have witnessed burnings at the square in front of Notre Dame, as well as at Place Maubert and others. I read some of the last words of martyrs, the curses of the executioners. Determined to stamp out the Reformation, here in July of 1542 and again in 1544 piles of Calvin’s Institutes were burned. It was fascinating to hear of 22-year-old Harry Desoto (now 87, at right) in 1945 driving a tank down the square where we stood in front of Notre Dame (I looked at Heath Salzman, now 22-years-old).

Then we embarked down the Seine on the Batobus, steaming along with monuments of antiquity passing by on all sides. We disembarked before the palatial splendor of the Louvre and walked down to Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, the royal chapel near where 14-year-old Calvin (Johnny Scharer is 14) lived with his uncle Richard while he studied at College de la Marche for the first months of his time in Paris. We watched listened to a mass in progress (watch on my youtube site) and we appreciated more of the need for Calvin to take on the entire Medieval world as he did. As we talked in front of the royal chapel, the bell tower suddenly began ringing out 12:00, just so did in chime the morning of August 23, 1572, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, 3,000 Christians lost their lives in Paris that morning and many more throughout the country. Estimates are that Catherine d’Midici was responsible for 20,000 deaths. The first of which was the saintly Admiral Coligny, to whom there is a well-crafted monument across the Rue Rivoli at the Reformed Church. Another block away up Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau is the Rue de Pelican and a corner hose called the wing of the Pelican, which may be all that remains of Etienne de la Forge’s House of the Pelican, a wealthy converted draper who took in enthusiastic young men agitating for Reform. Calvin frequented Etienne’s home and may have begun his Institutes here (I don’t think, however, that Calvin ate at the sushi bar across the street).

Lunch at a Parisian café with Darbys and Prices. Yum, yum. Later we had another Seine picnic with Brittany and Heath, then evening Batobus voyage down to the Champs Elysees. Cool river barges which made my wife recollect her years growing up on a boat. RER back to Notre Dame just in time for some evening light photography of the grand edifice and more filming of the kids who play with fire. A wonderful last night in Paris.

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