MYSTERY OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
A hero of Church in France is a chaplain of the Paris fire brigade 50-year-old Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier. When on 15 April 2019 the cathedral Notre Dame was on fire, the brave priest took the Blessed Sacrament out of fire. Later he opened an alive chain of people thanks to whom it was possible to get the most valuable relics out of the treasury of the cathedral and save them, mainly the Crown of Thorns. Four days later, on Good Friday, it was to be exhibited to public. The fire destroyed the plans.
I must admit that it is thanks to this relic I felt my presence in the Notre Dame cathedral eight years ago like at home. Before that, whenever I visited the church it seemed to me that I was in a crowded passage full of tourists who were laughing loudly, shouting, chewing gums, talking on the phone, posing for photos – they were behaving in such a way as if they were everywhere but not in the church. In that noisy throng, I was not aware of being in the holy place, meeting with sacrum. Every year 14 million people visited the cathedral. Even for many Europeans the figures, statues or symbols were also unknown and incomprehensible like the images of gods in Egyptian pyramids. Although they were from families inhabiting Europe for generations, they had already been culturally uprooted from Christian religion. I met secondary school students myself who, looking at the image of Jesus, could not say whom the image presented.
But on Friday afternoon the inside of the cathedral looked completely different eight years ago. Instead of a mass of tourists – a community of pilgrims. Instead of bored faces of people wandering with their tired eyes on the walls – concentrated faces of people engrossed in prayer. Instead of careless easy-going – the atmosphere of seriousness and concentration. Instead of hands in pockets – hands put together for prayer. That day everything changed through the touch of ………the Crown of Thorns.
It was one of those Fridays when the relic of Passion was to be adored by believers. A special religious service was very long but nobody felt the passing time. In the atmosphere of prayer one might feel that images, stained glasses and sculptures looked completely different. As if new life got into them. I recalled a story about conversion of Paul Claudel in that place. At Christmas 1886 he entered the Notre Dame cathedral when there were Vespers. After years the French poet used to say: ‘A choir of boys were chanting what is called Magnificat, as I got to know later. I was standing in a crowd, by the second pillar, at the entrance to the presbytery, on the right from the sacristy. And it was the moment when there happened something which is reigning my whole life. At one moment my heart moved and I started believing. I started believing with such power, with such high exaltation, with strong belief, with such certainty that later no books, no analysis, no cases of uneasy life were able to disturb my faith. Suddenly I had a feeling of innocence, a feeling of perpetual God’s blessing, unspeakable revelation’.
When the religious service ended, everyone could pay worship to the relics of Christ. There was a queue of believers to a priest holding a reliquary with the Crown of Thorns. One could hear from loudspeakers a message of the health ministry with an important warning addressed to pilgrims. Because on the basis of an act about separation Church from the state from 1905, all sacral places on the territory of France are the state property, the health department felt obliged to remind believers of hygiene rules. The warning against kissing the relics sounded ominous as it may cause transferring infectious diseases in a droplet way. If somebody did not respect it – the person was taking responsibility for themselves. Boycott of the ministerial warning was total. Janusz Rosikoń who was standing by the altar and taking pictures, told me that all pilgrims coming up to the priest, with no exception, were kissing the reliquary. He was observing their reactions and was impressed by their faces expressing various emotions: from silent shock with a lump in the throat to crying impossible to stop.
The Crown of Thorns was worshipped in Paris from the moment of arriving at the city. King St. Ludwik IX purchased it from a Latin Caesar of Byzantium Baldwin II for an enormous amount of money of 135 thousand livres in gold. The day of 18 August 1239, on which the relic was in Paris, was proclaimed the holy day. The gold reliquary was carried by king Ludwik and his brother Robert. Both of them, with no shoes on, were wearing only linen robes, walking along streets of Paris, and inhabitants of the capital, filling up decorated streets with Christmas decorations, were falling onto knees when seeing it and making the sign of the cross. According to the French historiography ‘There has never been a more solemn and joyful day in the kingdom’.
Ludwik IX ordered to build the cathedral which became a treasury for this unusual relic. It was how the pearl of gothic architecture was created – Sainte Chapelle where the Crown was kept by the next 450 years. During the French revolution the church was plundered, but the material souvenir after Christ’s Passion was saved. Since 1804 it has been in Notre Dame. On 15 April 2019 it was saved again. Surely it is supposed to play an important role according to God’s plans.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 18/2019 (5 V 2019)