The most extravagant and most monstrously prodigious Hindu pagodas are not to be mentioned in the same century as the Cathedral of Seville. It is a mountain scooped out, a valley turned topsy-turvy; Notre Dame at Paris might walk about erect in the middle nave, which is of a frightful height; pillars, as large round as towers, and which appear so slender that they make you shudder, rise out of the ground or descend from the vaulted roof, like the stalactites in a giant’s grotto. The four lateral naves, altho less high, would each cover a church, steeple included. The retablo, or high altar, with its stairs, its architectural super-positions, and its rows of statues rising in stories one above the other, is in itself an immense edifice, and almost touches the roof. The Paschal taper is as tall as the mast of a ship, and weighs two thousand and fifty pounds. The bronze candle-stick which contains it is a kind of column like that in the Place Vendome; it is copied from the candlestick of the temple at Jerusalem, as represented in the bas-reliefs on the Arch of Titus, and everything else is proportionally grand. Twenty thousand pounds of wax and as many pounds of oil are burned in the cathedral annually, while the wine used in the service of the Sacrament amounts to the frightful quantity of eighteen thousand seven hundred and fifty French liters.
It is true that five hundred masses are said everyday at the eighty altars! The catafalque used during the Holy Week, and which is called the monument, is nearly a hundred feet high ! The gigantic organs resemble the basaltic colonnades of Fingal’s Cave, and yet the tempests and thunder which escape from their pipes, which are as large in the bore as battering cannon, are like melodious murmurs, or the chirping of birds and seraphim under these colossal ogives. There are eighty-three stained glass windows, copied from the cartoons of Michael Angelo, Raphael, Durer, Peregrino, Tibaldi, and Lucas Cambiaso; the oldest and most beautiful are those executed by Arnold de Flandre, a celebrated painter on glass. The most modern ones, which date from 1819, prove how greatly art has degenerated since the glorious sixteenth century, that climacteric epoch of the world, when the human plant brought forth its most beautiful flowers and its most savory fruit.
The choir, which is Gothic, is decorated with turrets, spires, niche-work, figures, and foliage, forming one immense and delicately minute piece of workmanship that actually confounds the mind, and can not now-a-days be understood. You are actually struck dumb in the presence of such stupendous efforts of art, and you interrogate yourself with anxiety, as to whether vitality is with-drawing itself more and more, every century, from the world. This prodigy of talent, patience, and genius, has, at least, preserved the name of its author, on whom we are able to bestow our tribute of admiration. On one of the panels to the left of the altar the following inscription is traced : “Nufro Sanchez, sculptor, whom may God protect, made this choir in 1475.”
This kind of gallows is also to be seen on the summit of the church at Beauvais, but when will the day come, when the weight of a stone slowly drawn up through the air by the workmen returned to their work, shall cause its pulley, that has for ages been rusting away, once more to creak beneath its load?
Never, perhaps; for the ascensional movement of Catholicism has stopt, and the sap which caused this efflorescence of cathedrals to shoot up from the ground, no longer rises from the trunk into the branches. Faith, which doubts nothing, wrote the first strophes of all these great poems of stone and granite; Reason, which doubts everything, has not dared to finish them. The architects of the Middle Ages were a race of religious Titans, as it were, who heaped Pelion on Ossa, not to dethrone the Deity they adored, but to admire more closely the mild countenance of the Virgin-Mother smiling on the Infant Jesus.
In our days, when everything is sacrificed to some gross and stupid idea or other of comfort, people no longer understand these sublime yearnings of the soul toward the Infinite, which were rendered by steeples, spires, bell-turrets, and ogives, stretching their arms of stone heavenward, and joining them, above the heads of the kneeling crowd, like gigantic hands clasped in an attitude of supplication.