Christmas music …

Christmas day we went to a small “Reformed Church” in the Clichy area of Paris to hear the Choir of the Monastery of the Trinity Saint-Alexander Nevsky, the ancient monastery of the Tsars in Saint Petersburg. It was a simple church, little ornamentation, a large pine cross in the center of the nave. The choir walked in, very large looking men dressed in black robes. They lined up in front of the cross and began. It was music easily recognized as Russian, deep resonating bases, music my Russian bones recognized and then my Jewish blood recognized something else. I realized I was hearing and seeing the collective unconscious of  “Mother (Orthodox) Russia.”

I heard the singing, beautiful voices praising God, praising their love of Jesus; beautiful sounds filling the church, perhaps reaching up to heaven. And then after the singing, I “heard” the priest take the pulpit and begin a tirade against the Christ killers. Their hateful words filled the church and sent the Cossacks storming into the sthetls ravaging, raping, butchering the Christ Killers.

I took a picture and as you can see, it came out blurry.

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That’s the way I felt. Where was the blurry line between what one sang about God and how one acted towards their fellow man?

 

Several days later – last night in fact - we went to Eglise de La Madeleine, a church designed in the classical temple model to the glory of Napoleon’s army.

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The building, as you can see, is massive, huge columns, “bombastic” is the way Renée phrased it. The interior is wide, opened, cold. Behind the altar is a large marble statue of Mary (I think it’s Mary Magdeleine not Mother Mary) with angels on either side of her.

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Beyond her on the wall is a narrow semi-circular painting of Jesus surrounded by his disciples. Above that, four times as large, dominating the rear wall is a painting of the ermine-robed Emperor on his throne with the Pope kneeling at his side 

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This is Napoleon’s church – strong, masculine!

The concert was Mozart’s Requiem and from what should have been the first resounding cords, something was off. The sound was as if in a tin drum, the music, the singing should have soared, should have filled the church, should have filled me with a powerful joy that Mozart had written into his music. I had come to be transported. Instead was trampled down. And then I got it.

Two weeks before we had heard Fauré’s Requiem in this space and it was beautiful. It was rich and elegant. It was sensual and it was feminine. That would not be trampled in this masculine, bombastic residence of Napoleon’s will.

But Mozart’s powerful music would not be tolerated. It was like two rams butting heads and this was Napoleon’s church. His energy was here and he would not tolerate another strong male presence and held the music down.

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