- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Sunken Cathedral
There is a Breton legend that a cathedral sank to the bottom of the ocean when the ancient city of Ys was engulfed by the sea. The cataclysm was God's punishment on the wicked city for its terrible sins.
The legend has it that once every century, the Ys Cathedral rises from the sea. Witnesses hear the sounds of unearthly music, and the sonorous chanting of the priests, before the cathedral slowly disappears into the ocean again.
Claude Debussy was so taken with this legend that he wrote a piano prelude entitled "The Sunken Cathedral."
One night off Brittany the lookout pointed,
"See, Captain! Where the waves are white with froth!
The ocean thrashes like Leviathan,
And lights below the water! See them move!"
No sooner had he said it, than a sound
Like thunder burst from out the sea,
The ship beneath us trembled with a chord
Vibrating from the floor of the abyss:
Benedictus es, Dòmine!
"Cathedral spires -- another spire, another!
A forest rising from the sea to heaven!
It is the ancient holy place of Ys
That sank beneath the anger of our God,
That capitol whose sin caused it to drown,
That perished in one awful inundation.
"Saint Christopher and Brigid intercede,
That we survive this strange and holy sign!
The torment of these phosphorescent waves,
This unearthly shivering of bells!
Or else like sinners long ago we die,
Plunging headfirst into this our doom,
Lest this cathedral ever be our home,
These fretwork towers glittering like stars,
These doorways pouring water from the depths!
Ah, Jesu, grant us just one friendly breeze
To speed us from the boiling of this sea,
This place too near Your gates, O King of Heaven,
This home of spirits, not for human eyes!
Forgive us now our sins, Lord of the earth,
We whose hands and mouths are filthy pots,
Return us to our homes, and let us learn
The lesson of this vision, and be clean!"
"Now sailors, cross yourselves in fear of God,
Lest even this be too much like a dream,
This miracle that never comes again
To any man a second time in life.
Remember it, when doubts assail your souls,
This fading chant that freezes like the snow,
The strangeness of these whispers on the air,
The terror of the rising of the dead!"
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc,
et semper, et in saecula saeculorum!
Many thanks to Timothy Barsotti for permission to share his beautiful video and performance in this hub.