​Drawing Inspiration From The Great Cathedrals

I loved all of the French cathedrals, although I lived in Amiens and visited that one most frequently.  DISCLOSURE: I’m Jewish, not Catholic.

Yet when I scored admirably on my examination to continue past the first year of medical school, I emptied my change purse into the box of money for candles and nearly lit enough to set the chapel at the end of the nave ablaze. They all felt magic when I heard my own feet walking on the stone floors generating endless echoes.  When I looked up and saw the sunlight strong enough to sneak inside past the buttresses.

But as I look back through the mists of time, I smile most when I remember the Cathedral of Beauvais.  In the midst of mystical places built according to mystical and powerful geo-electric axes, Beauvais is the most deliciously human, deliciously imperfect of the cathedrals. It does have the highest vault of the cathedrals.  I suppose someone wanted to be the closest to God. They blew it.  The cathedral became impossible to finish.  It is simply closed off at the back of the cross between the nave and the transept with a solid wall, added a bit later.  Its imperfection seduced me. It had some charming additions, as if to compensate.

There was a beautiful mechanical clock made in Strasbourg, about 45 years old when I saw it, and in perfect order.  I was well known to the tour guide who explained the clock. I would dash there whenever I could get out of the operating room in time to see the clock strike noon. It would start with an anemic metal rooster flapping his metal wings — a symbol of France.

It would show Christ enacting the final judgment.  There were metal figures in burning windows.  Christ on his throne would send the condemned into the flames by sweeping them away with his left hand.  He would wave his right hand in blessing so the good folks could ascend.

The other doctors laughed at my devotion to the beat up relic of a mechanical clock.  But I thought the guide to the clock was the real fun and I pulled touristic anecdotes out of him.  The “Perfect working clock,” for example, was nowhere near any known calendar in terms of what year it thought we were in. “And those Jews put on 5000 years or so extra on the year”, he told me not knowing I was one.

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