A Church in Mourning (Dennis Aubrey)

Today’s post was intended to be a study of the magnificent façade of the Église Notre-Dame d’Avy in Charente-Maritime, but it will have to wait a day. The news this morning was about the attack on the L’église Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray. Two Isil fanatics have assassinated an 84-year old priest in this 16th century Normandy church.

Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray (Seine-Maritime)
Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray (Seine-Maritime)

Once a small town outside of the Norman capital of Rouen, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is now part of the suburbs. The priest, Jacques Hamel, had served as a priest for 58 years and was assisting at mass at the time of the attack.

Jacques Hamel  (1930-2016)
Jacques Hamel (1930-2016)

The église Saint-Etienne is not one of our Romanesque churches, so beloved of both PJ and myself. It is not even Gothic. But it is part of the France that we love and admire and we are devastated by the attack. Saint Stephen, the patron of the church, was the protomartyr, the first martyr of the Christian church. Now we have another, Jacques Hamel, the cleric who fell victim to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s first attack on a French church. While the attack appears senseless, in reality it is an example of Salafi jihadism’s use of violence to achieve political ends. The choice to execute an 84-year-old French priest while he was celebrating mass is simply, to these fanatics, good publicity, like public beheadings.

I fear for the innocents in this world gone mad; they are not protected by a non-combatant status from the attacks by the “soldiers” of Isil. The victims are judged only by the publicity value that may be gained by their deaths. These attackers are also very mindful of the responses by the aptly named “reactionaries” like Marine Le Pen who polarize the world even further. My heart aches for France suffering her latest onslaught. But she will survive, just as she survived an earlier attempt at Islamic conquest, a hundred years’ war, wars of religion, the mechanization of death in World War I and the holocaust of World War II. Like her thousands of Romanesque churches, she bears the scars and survives. She will do so again.

17 thoughts on “A Church in Mourning (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. What a tragic and yet beautiful post as you attempt to put in words these horrific attacks upon yet another innocent man and beautiful church. Our country is not without its share of battles as we add race and intolerance to the mixture. I look at my 11 year old twin great granddaughters and wonder what kind of a world they will have to face.

  2. I too am tired of reading these headlines, about France in particular. I want to go back there, but am scared. The churches were my safe havens. But now, not even there…

  3. I have loved Romanesque art for 50 years in part because of its “manly,” “masculine” quality–especially compared to Baroque & Rococo but even compared to Sainte Chapelle. It is an architecture of and for warriors.

    As an historian, it is interesting to note that none of the comments suggests adopting the faith of Romanesque folk. We love their architecture, but it would never occur to us to copy the Spanish reconquest. To think seriously, when someone is truly a Christian, he wants everyone to have the opportunity to be baptised, if he wishes so to do. Hence the crusades to protect Chrstians in the Middle East. Yet, today millions are forbidden baptism, and Western Christians just don’t care.

    In the 820s, slightly before this church was built. Saint Agobard of Lyons got into a bitter fight with Emperor Louis the Pious. (Agobard was a Visigoth, like the guys that built this church as well as most of the folk in Catalonia and Languedoc at that time.)

    Agobard purchased–at or even above the current price— from Jewish owners slaves who had begged him to baptise them. Even though Agobard paid them for the slaves, the Jews were furious.

    Today historians condemn Agobard as anti-semitic, worse than Hitler. Yet, as a Christian priest, he could not turn down requests for baptism without committing a mortal sin.

  4. You speak for the hearts of so many of us, Dennis. You post echoes the mournful voice that spoke to us while renting the Meddeb’s Paris apartment. Abdelwahab’s friend from the University of Albany wrote of him that his “moral stance was best expressed by the words of Ibn ‘Arabi:

    “’I believe in the religion of love; whatever direction its caravan may take — for love is my religion and faith’.” Like the Romanesque churches you and PJ photograph, Father Hamel and all who mourn his death and lament the horror of madness bring light into the greater light that survives.

  5. The Pope has said to embrace islam and that to turn the other cheek. Charles Martel was only able to free France from these savages with a great army, let that be the lesson learned here. Le Pen stands with Martel and Charlemagne in knowing how to save France and the rest of the “infidel” world.

  6. Thank you for articulating your shock and grief so well but also for having faith in France. I share this insofar as I still see her as the eldest daughter of the Church of which it was said that even “the gates of hell could not prevail against it”.

  7. Thank you, Dennis, for your thoughtfulness and compassion. It is such a contrast to the heinous insanity of a dying cult and culture of self-hatred appealing to the mentally ill and immature.

  8. I have been looking up some of your old posts put up long before I had the pleasure of discovering your blog and found your moving obituary for Pere Jacques Hamel.

    You may be interested to know that the documents relating to his beatification have recently been sent to the Vatican. The ceremony showing the sealing of the boxes containing them by the Archbishop of Rouen was recently shown on the French Catholic tv channel KTO which is available on the internet.

    Pere Hamel is buried in the sector reserved for Priests in the cemetery of Bonsecours situated on the hill overlooking Rouen.

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