Baroque runs riot in the chapel of the Penitent Blacks (Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs) in Avignon, as seen in my photos. Dating from the 18th century, the chapel was built by the co-fraternity of the Black Penitents of Mercy who tended to the material and spiritual welfare of prisoners in the city. Recently renovated by Avignon city council, the chapel is now the home of a contemporary co-fraternity of the Black Penitents. This was formed in 1983 to "pray for the souls of Purgatory and to be guardians of the traditional Catholic liturgy". Posters and flyers from the Fraternité Saint Pie X are prominently displayed in the chapel, promoting among other events a retreat to study "The spirituality of Monsignor Lefebvre".
The Fraternité Saint Pie X (Society of Saint Pius X) was founded in 1970 by the right-wing cleric Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council and among its aims is the retention of the traditional Catholic Mass. The Society gained notoriety for sheltering French war criminal Paul Touvier for sixteen years and when Touvier was finally arrested by police in 1989 he was staying in a seminary run by Lefebvre's followers. A priest from the Society of Saint Pius X sat beside Touvier throughout the 1994 trial at which he was found guilty of crimes against humanity.
Paul Touvier had served under infamous Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and the crimes for which he was convicted included involvement in the massacre of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape in 1944 and in the murder of the human rights activist Victor Basch and his wife. In the 1890s Basch had led the defence of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish French army captain falsely accused of treason. When Touvier died in 1996 a traditional Tridentine Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul was offered in St Nicolas du Chardonnet, the Society of St. Pius X's chapel in Paris.
After taking the header and footer photos in Avignon a few weeks ago I walked the short distance to the Lycée Theodore Aubanel where the plaque seen below is displayed.
Traditionalist Catholicism flourishes in the Avignon region today and is supported by the staunchly conservative archbishop of the Vaucluse Jean-Pierre Cattenoz who featured in the recent 'Piss Christ' controversy. Close to Avignon is the Benedictine monastery of Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux, and earlier posts have recounted how the monks at Le Barroux were aligned with Monsignor Lefebvre until 1988 and have also described the links between Paul Touvier and Lefebvre in more detail. In 2010 Decca released a best selling CD of Gregorian chant performed by the nuns of l'Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, the sister house of Le Barroux.
The religious community at Le Barroux remains staunchly traditionalist, but still has much to offer those who can see the wood for the trees. Chance discoveries from their excellent shop have already featured here, and my recent trip uncovered another gem. André Raison (1640s-1719) is almost forgotten today: but he was one of the leading organists in the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV and Bach must have studied Raison's Premier Livre d'orgue (1688) as he incorporated one of its themes into his Passacaglia in C Minor. In a recently released 2 CD set André Raison's Masses for Organ in the third and eighth modes played by Jean-Patrice Brosse are interleaved with plainsong sung by Ensemble Vox Cantoris. Excellent sound from the Psalmus label, which featured in a recent post with a disc of pre-Gregorian chant.
On my iPod during my French travels was a CD of arrangements of Jewish themes played by pianist Sonia Wieder-Atherton with cellist and arranger Daria Hovora. This little known release on the independent Naïve label also includes Maurice Ravel's Chanson hébraïque and five of Ernst Bloch's compositions on Jewish themes. As Arthur Miller wrote in The Crucible "Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small".
* Jewish music under the sheltering sky is here.
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