Thursday, August 31, 2017

Litanies à la Vierge noire.

Earlier this month, I made a pilgrimage to the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Rocamadour two hours northeast of Toulouse. Reputedly visited in 778 by Charlemagne's nephew Roland of Brittany shortly before he was killed in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (an event immortalized in the medieval French epic poem Le Chanson de Roland), the village of Rocamadour is home to an ancient Marian shrine that has welcomed untold numbers of pilgrims over the centuries, including several French kings as well as Saints Dominic, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Anthony of Padua. I have been meaning to write something here about my visit to Rocamadour and still hope to do so. In the meantime, though, I would like to share something about a notable twentieth-century visitor to Rocamadour, the French composer Francis Poulenc.

Poulenc visited Rocamadour at the age of thirty-seven, two decades after he had abandoned his Catholic faith as an adolescent. When he arrived at the shrine on August 22, 1936, Poulenc was badly shaken by the recent death of his friend and fellow composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud in an auto accident. As Poulenc later recounted, "Thinking about the frailty of the human condition, I was once again attracted to the spiritual life. Rocamadour served to lead me back to the faith of my youth." Enchanted by the antiquity of the shrine as well as by its rustic beauty, Poulenc underwent an apparently spontaneous conversion. "Alone, facing the sinless Virgin," he would later say, "I suddenly received the indisputable sign, the stab of grace right in the heart."

As an act of thanksgiving for his conversion and as the artistic fruit of a profound spiritual experience, Poulenc produced the Litanies à la Vierge noire, a work that can be heard in the above video. Poulenc would place several later works under the patronage of Our Lady of Rocamadour, notably including the opera Dialogues des carmélites, but Litanies à la Vierge noire nevertheless stands as the indispensable monument to the experience that brought Poulenc back to the Catholic faith.

I hope to produce another post on Rocamadour in the next few days. Until then, peace and good wishes to those who read these lines. AMDG.


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