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Grots And Groves
by [?]

But side by side with the Christian grot there was throughout the North another form of temple, dedicated to very different gods, namely, the trees from whose mighty stems hung the heads of the victims of Odin or of Thor–the horse, the goat, and, in time of calamity or pestilence, of men. Trees and not grots were the temples of our forefathers.

Scholars know well–but they must excuse my quoting it for the sake of those who are not scholars–the famous passage of Tacitus which tells how our forefathers “held it beneath the dignity of the gods to coop them within walls, or liken them to any human countenance; but consecrated groves and woods, and called by the name of gods that mystery which they held by faith alone;” and the equally famous passage of Claudian, about “the vast silence of the Black Forest, and groves awful with ancient superstition; and oaks, barbarian deities;” and Lucan’s “groves inviolate from all antiquity, and altars stained with human blood.”

To worship in such spots was an abomination to the early Christian. It was as much a test of heathendom as the eating of horse-flesh, sacred to Odin, and therefore unclean to Christian men. The Lombard laws and others forbid expressly the lingering remnants of grove worship. St. Boniface and other early missionaries hewed down in defiance the sacred oaks, and paid sometimes for their valour with their lives.

It is no wonder, then, if long centuries elapsed ere the likeness of vegetable forms began to reappear in the Christian churches of the North. And yet both grot and grove were equally the natural temples which the religious instinct of all deep-hearted peoples, conscious of sin, and conscious, too, of yearnings after a perfection not to be found on earth, chooses from the earliest stage of awakening civilisation. In them, alone, before he had strength and skill to build nobly for himself, could man find darkness, the mother of mystery and awe, in which he is reminded perforce of his own ignorance and weakness; in which he learns first to remember unseen powers, sometimes to his comfort and elevation, sometimes only to his terror and debasement; darkness; and with it silence and solitude, in which he can collect himself, and shut out the noise and glare, the meanness and the coarseness of the world; and be alone awhile with his own thoughts, his own fancy, his own conscience, his own soul.

But for awhile, as I have said, that darkness, solitude, and silence were to be sought in the grot, not in the grove.

Then Christianity conquered the Empire. It adapted, not merely its architecture, but its very buildings, to its worship. The Roman Basilica became the Christian church; a noble form of building enough, though one in which was neither darkness, solitude, nor silence, but crowded congregations, clapping–or otherwise–the popular preacher; or fighting about the election of a bishop or a pope, till the holy place ran with Christian blood. The deep-hearted Northern turned away, in weariness and disgust, from those vast halls, fitted only for the feverish superstition of a profligate and worn-out civilisation; and took himself, amid his own rocks and forests, moors and shores, to a simpler and sterner architecture, which should express a creed, sterner, and at heart far simpler, though dogmatically the same.

And this is, to my mind, the difference, and the noble difference, between the so-called Norman architecture, which came hither about the time of the Conquest; and that of Romanised Italy.

But the Normans were a conquering race; and one which conquered, be it always remembered, in England at least, in the name and by the authority of Rome. Their ecclesiastics, like the ecclesiastics on the Continent, were the representatives of Roman civilisation, of Rome’s right, intellectual and spiritual, to rule the world.

Therefore their architecture, like their creed, was Roman. They took the massive towering Roman forms, which expressed domination; and piled them one on the other, to express the domination of Christian Rome over the souls, as they had represented the domination of heathen Rome over the bodies of men. And so side by side with the towers of the Norman keep rose the towers of the Norman cathedral– the two signs of a double servitude.