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The Cathedral
by [?]

“I am going to build a cathedral one of these days,” said I to my wife, as I sat looking at the slant line of light made by the afternoon sun on our picture of the Cathedral of Milan.

“That picture is one of the most poetic things you have among your house ornaments,” said Rudolph. “Its original is the world’s chief beauty,–a tribute to religion such as Art never gave before and never can again,–as much before the Pantheon as the Alps, with their virgin snows and glittering pinnacles, are above all temples made with hands. Say what you will, those Middle Ages that you call Dark had a glory of faith that never will be seen in our days of cotton-mills and Manchester prints. Where will you marshal such an army of saints as stands in yonder white-marble forest, visibly transfigured and glorified in that celestial Italian air? Saintship belonged to the medieval Church; the heroism of religion has died with it.”

“That’s just like one of your assertions, Rudolph,” said I. “You might as well say that Nature has never made any flowers since Linnaeus shut up his herbarium. We have no statues and pictures of modern saints; but saints themselves, thank God, have never been wanting. ‘As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be'”–

“But what about your cathedral?” said my wife.

“Oh yes!–my cathedral,–yes. When my stocks in cloud-land rise, I’ll build a cathedral larger than Milan’s; and the men, but more particularly the women, thereon, shall be those who have done even more than Saint Paul tells of in the saints of old, who ‘subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.’ I am not now thinking of Florence Nightingale, nor of the host of women who have been walking worthily in her footsteps, but of nameless saints of more retired and private state,–domestic saints, who have tended children not their own through whooping-cough and measles, and borne the unruly whims of fretful invalids,–stocking-darning, shirt-making saints,–saints who wore no visible garment of haircloth, bound themselves with no belts of spikes and nails, yet in their inmost souls were marked and seared with the red cross of a lifelong self-sacrifice,–saints for whom the mystical terms self-annihilation and self-crucifixion had a real and tangible meaning, all the stronger because their daily death was marked by no outward sign. No mystical rites consecrated them; no organ-music burst forth in solemn rapture to welcome them; no habit of their order proclaimed to themselves and the world that they were the elect of Christ, the brides of another life: but small, eating cares, daily prosaic duties, the petty friction of all the littleness and all the inglorious annoyances of every day, were as dust that hid the beauty and grandeur of their calling even from themselves; they walked unknown even to their households, unknown even to their own souls; but when the Lord comes to build his New Jerusalem, we shall find many a white stone with a new name thereon, and the record of deeds and words which only He that seeth in secret knows. Many a humble soul will be amazed to find that the seed it sowed in such weakness, in the dust of daily life, has blossomed into immortal flowers under the eye of the Lord.

“When I build my cathedral, that woman,” I said, pointing to a small painting by the fire, “shall be among the first of my saints. You see her there, in an every-day dress-cap with a mortal thread-lace border, and with a very ordinary worked collar, fastened by a visible and terrestrial breastpin. There is no nimbus around her head, no sign of the cross upon her breast; her hands are clasped on no crucifix or rosary. Her clear, keen, hazel eye looks as if it could sparkle with mirthfulness, as in fact it could; there are in it both the subtile flash of wit and the subdued light of humor; and though the whole face smiles, it has yet a certain decisive firmness that speaks the soul immutable in good. That woman shall be the first saint in my cathedral, and her name shall be recorded as Saint Esther. What makes saintliness in my view, as distinguished from ordinary goodness, is a certain quality of magnanimity and greatness of soul that brings life within the circle of the heroic. To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of every-day life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization,–and this virtue was hers. New England Puritanism must be credited with the making of many such women. Severe as was her discipline, and harsh as seems now her rule, we have yet to see whether women will be born of modern systems of tolerance and indulgence equal to those grand ones of the olden times whose places now know them no more. The inconceivable austerity and solemnity with which Puritanism invested this mortal life, the awful grandeur of the themes which it made household words, the sublimity of the issues which it hung upon the commonest acts of our earthly existence, created characters of more than Roman strength and greatness; and the good men and women of Puritan training excelled the saints of the Middle Ages, as a soul fully developed intellectually, educated to closest thought, and exercised in reasoning, is superior to a soul great merely through impulse and sentiment.