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Pilgrimage To Chartres

Ô reine voici donc après la longue route,
Avant de repartir par ce même chemin,
Le seul asile ouvert au creux de votre main,
Et le jardin secret où l’âme s’ouvre toute.

Voici le lourd pilier et la montante voûte ;
Et l’oubli pour hier, et l’oubli pour demain ;
Et l’inutilité de tout calcul humain ;
Et plus que le péché, la sagesse en déroute.

Voici le lieu du monde où tout devient facile,
Le regret, le départ, même l’événement,
Et l’adieu temporaire et le détournement,
Le seul coin de la terre où tout devient docile,

Et même ce vieux cœur qui faisait le rebelle ;
Et cette vieille tête et ses raisonnements ;
Et ces deux bras raidis dans les casernements ;
Et cette jeune enfant qui faisait trop la belle.

Voici le lieu du monde où tout est reconnu,
Et cette vieille tête et la source des larmes ;
Et ces deux bras raidis dans le métier des armes ;
Le seul coin de la terre où tout soit contenu.

Voici le lieu du monde où tout est revenu
Après tant de départs, après tant d’arrivées.
Voici le lieu du monde où tout est pauvre et nu
Après tant de hasards, après tant de corvées.

Voici le lieu du monde et la seule retraite,
Et l’unique retour et le recueillement,
Et la feuille et le fruit et le defeuillement,
Et les rameaux cueillis pour cette unique fête.

Those are the opening stanzas of Charles Peguy’s work, “Five Prayers in the Cathedral of Chartres.” It’s important to know that Peguy (1873-1914) was a former atheist and socialist who returned to the Catholic faith, but not to the sacraments. He had married a woman who was a strict secularist, and he felt it would be dishonorable to her and his vows to return to the sacraments without her. He felt unable to baptise their children because of his vow. So Peguy walked 70 miles from Paris to Chartres to ask the Virgin to look after his children. This revived the modern pilgrimage on foot from Paris to Chartres. Ralph McInerny gives a bit of background to that story here. Robert Royal has a good essay on Peguy here. Excerpt:

Like many other pre-Vatican II figures, Péguy has been in eclipse the past few decades, even in France. The secular world neglects him for complicated religious and political reasons. But gifted minds in their own right as different as the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the British poet Geoffrey Hill have tried to bring us back into contact with his great spirit. In fact, Péguy’s life gives moving witness that a great spirit and heart outweigh even genius. If he ever gets a fair hearing, Péguy may one day be recognized as a figure on the order of Kierkegaard or Newman, and perhaps something more besides.

Next weekend is the three-day Pentecost pilgrimage from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres, in Peguy’s footsteps, and in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims. Here is a video presentation of its themes. I wish I could be there! God willing, I will be next year. Maybe you will be too.

The entire “Five Prayers” poem cycle is available in French here. I can’t find an English translation. My rough (!) translation below the jump; please, people who speak French well, please correct me:

O queen, here after the long road,
Before returning by the same path,
The only refuge open to the palm of your hand,
And the secret garden where the soul opens itself in full.

Here the heavy pillar and arch soar upward;
And forget about yesterday, and forget about tomorrow;
And the futility of all human calculation;
And wisdom greater than sin is channeled.

Here is the place in the world where everything becomes easy,
Regret, leaving, the same event,
And temporary farewell and diversion,
The only corner of the earth where everything becomes gentle.

And even this old heart that was once a rebel’s;
And this old head and its reasoning;
And these two arms, stiff in the barracks;
And this young child who was the most beautiful.

This is the place in the world where everything is known,
And this old head and wellspring of tears;
And these two limbs stiffened by the profession of bearing arms;
The corner of the earth where everything is content.

Here is the place of the world where everything returns
After so many departures, so many arrivals.
Here is the place where all the world is poor and naked
After so much chance, after so many risks.

This is the place of the world and the only retreat
And the unique return and recollection,
And leaf and fruit and the falling of leaves,
And palms gathered for a feast unlike any other.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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