As soon as Julie gets back from her errand, Matthew and I are going to visit La Sainte-Chapelle, the medieval church built by St. Louis, King of France, to house the relics he bought from the Byzantine emperor, including the Crown of Thorns, seen above in its reliquary.
During the Revolution, La Sainte-Chapelle was badly damaged, and its relics dispersed. Some were recovered, or at least preserved, and now rest today in the treasury at nearby Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. On the first Friday of each month, the Crown of Thorns is taken out for the veneration of the faithful.
The first Friday in November will be our last full day in Paris, and I’m inclined to take the family to this. Do I believe that this is really the Crown of Thorns of Jesus Christ? No I do not. Nor will I encourage my children to believe this. (Nor does the Archdiocese of Paris claim that it is authentic; all they say is that the relic cannot be authenticated). But it’s important, I think, for me and my children to see this relic for a couple of reasons. First, it will help them understand the medieval mindset. Second, it’s meaningful to venerate it as if it really were the Crown of Thorns, in part to help them to understand the medieval mind, but also because to my way of thinking, the object itself has been hallowed by the fact that countless Christian believers over the centuries have venerated it as such, and thus expressed their love for Christ. Indeed, one of those believers, the King of France, raised one of the world’s most beautiful buildings as a reliquary for this object. That’s not nothing — and it’s not superstitious, either.
I am reminded of these lines from Larkin’s poem “Church Going”:
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.