“I believe that this great peaceful region of France will be a sacred spot for man, and when the critics have killed off the poets this will be the refuge and the cradle of poets to come. France will someday exist no more but the Dordogne will live on just as dreams live on and nourish the souls of men.” (Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi)
My favorite place in the world is just off the Dordogne near the town of Lacave, about ten miles from the great pilgrimage site of Rocamador, but that is another story. Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne is a beautiful quiet town at the edge of the Lot and the Corrèze that features an almost intact medieval center dominated by the Église Saint Pierre. This church has one of the great tympana in France and features a Vierge Romane which some consider a Black Madonna. How a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, with such a Madonna and the magnificent carving of the tympanum, survived the tumult of the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of Religion, and the French Revolution is beyond my understanding.
One day when PJ and I were photographing here, this side chapel in the church was peaceful and quiet, filled with soft colors and dark corners. I was preparing to photograph across the choir when suddenly the sun broke through and flooded the chapel with a bright light from stained glass. Everything was transformed in that instant. It was the kind of a moment that, had I been on my knees praying desperately for help, I would have known that God himself had vouchsafed my relief. As it was, it was a gift, just a short moment, solely for me.
I once had a moment like this on Cape Cod. The morning had a hard gray, overcast sky as I drove by the osprey nest near the entrance to the island where I live. As I passed, the male osprey opened his wings, lifted off the nest, and glided a hundred yards to a dead tree on the wetlands. At the exact moment that he settled facing me on a bare branch with wings spread fully out, the sun broke through the clouds and morning light beams of pure brilliant gold streamed around him. Something surged within me and I felt that this must signify something. A million people might have remarked at the sudden appearance of the sunlight, but only I saw this noble bird burnished in gold.
For so many millennia, this was how the gods talked to us, to mankind. Perhaps they still do. Perhaps we just don’t know how to listen anymore.
And perhaps a thunderous din prevents us from hearing. We have forgotten that truth is not screamed from the podium or the pulpit, but is discovered in quiet corners, like these, lit by candles. The very meaning of truth is debased by those who use it for their own ends. There should be a special corner in Dante’s Hell for them, where they scream eternally for mercy in a world filled with the deaf.