Friday, July 10, 2009

Notre Dame: Preachers, puppets, puppies

Pulpit in NDS, organ behind

The pulpit in NDS is an incredibly elaborate tangle of lace-like decorative carving. The curving, swooping lines are remarkably lively, and they create a miniature jungle inhabited by stone saints and prophets.

It was added to the Cathedral in the late 1400s/early 1500s, especially for Geiler de Kayserberg. Geiler was an extremely well-known and hard working preacher in his day, and is honoured in his adopted city in teasingly affectionate ways. It was the time of the Reformation, when much of Europe, sickened by the excesses of Papal indulgences and priestly corruption, turned to Luther and other Protestant faiths.

Protestantism caught on big in Alsace as well – more on that later – and Geiler was as vehement as anyone in condemning Rome. But he was a reformer, not a revolutionary: he only wanted to change the Church, not break it.

His sermons were extremely popular, and his scholarship widely known – he apparently was summoned several times to advise the Holy Roman Emperor on theological matters.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia sniffs that Geiler's sermons were apparently characterized by “yielding to the coarseness of his age” (translation: he acknowledged that people have sex). Despite this Earthiness, the preacher was a serious man, and had a high regard for his personal dignity.

He was therefore disinclined to take any lip from a marionette. It was Geiler who banned Rohraffe the Angry Puppet from speaking during the Mass, as it was offending to the solemnity of the service.

The people of Strasbourg forgave Geiler for the murder their wooden advocate, and they carved this magnificent pulpit in his honour. And while Geiler was against marionettes in the church, he had no such compulsion against dogs. In fact, he was always accompanied in NDS by his own hound, which would sleep at Geiler’s feet while his master preached.

Geiler's puppy napping through the ages

Incidentally, though I’ve never seen this myself, the pulpit was designed as a clock, in its own way. Apparently, at noon on the summer solstice (or maybe dawn, I’m not sure) the sun will shine through a special blue glass in the windows on the south side of the Cathedral. It is placed in such a way so as to bathe the crucifix on the pulpit’s railing in a heavenly glow.

No comments: