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Grots And Groves
by [?]

Nay, so far will the fancy lead, that I have seemed to see, in the stained glass between the tracery of the windows, such gorgeous sheets of colour as sometimes flash on the eye, when, far aloft, between high stems and boughs, you catch sight of some great tree ablaze with flowers, either its own or those of a parasite; yellow or crimson, white or purple; and over them again the cloudless blue.

Now, I know well that all these dreams are dreams; that the men who built our northern cathedrals never saw these forest forms; and that the likeness of their work to those of tropic nature is at most only a corroboration of Mr. Ruskin’s dictum, that “the Gothic did not arise out of, but developed itself into, a resemblance to vegetation . . . It was no chance suggestion of the form of an arch from the bending of a bough, but the gradual and continual discovery of a beauty in natural forms which could be more and more transferred into those of stone, which influenced at once the hearts of the people and the form of the edifice.” So true is this, that by a pure and noble copying of the vegetable beauty which they had seen in their own clime, the medieval craftsmen went so far–as I have shown you–as to anticipate forms of vegetable beauty peculiar to tropic climes, which they had not seen; a fresh proof, if proof were needed, that beauty is something absolute and independent of man; and not, as some think, only relative, and what happens to be pleasant to the eye of this man or that.

But thinking over this matter, and reading over, too, that which Mr. Ruskin has written thereon in his “Stones of Venice,” vol. ii. cap. vi., on the nature of Gothic, I came to certain further conclusions– or at least surmises–which I put before you to-night, in hopes that if they have no other effect on you, they will at least stir some of you up to read Mr. Ruskin’s works.

Now Mr. Ruskin says: “That the original conception of Gothic architecture has been derived from vegetation, from the symmetry of avenues and the interlacing of branches, is a strange and vain supposition. It is a theory which never could have existed for a moment in the mind of any person acquainted with early Gothic; but, however idle as a theory, it is most valuable as a testimony to the character of the perfected style.”

Doubtless so. But you must remember always that the subject of my lecture is Grots and Groves; that I am speaking not of Gothic architecture in general, but of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture; and more, almost exclusively of the ecclesiastical architecture of the Teutonic or northern nations; because in them, as I think, the resemblance between the temple and the forest reached the fullest exactness.

Now the original idea of a Christian church was that of a grot–a cave. That is a historic fact. The Christianity which was passed on to us began to worship, hidden and persecuted, in the catacombs of Rome, it may be often around the martyrs’ tombs, by the dim light of candle or of torch. The candles on the Roman altars, whatever they have been made to symbolise since then, are the hereditary memorials of that fact. Throughout the North, in these isles as much as in any land, the idea of the grot was, in like wise, the idea of a church. The saint or hermit built himself a cell; dark, massive, intended to exclude light as well as weather; or took refuge in a cave. There he prayed and worshipped, and gathered others to pray and worship round him, during his life. There he, often enough, became an object of worship in his turn, after his death. In after ages his cave was ornamented, like that of the hermit of Montmajour by Arles; or his cell-chapel enlarged, as those of the Scotch and Irish saints have been, again and again; till at last a stately minster rose above it. Still, the idea that the church was to be a grot haunted the minds of builders.