Its windows were never so sparkling

Its windows were never so sparkling as on days when the sun scarcely shone, so that if it was dull outside you could be sure it would be fine inside the church. One of them was filled from top to bottom by a solitary figure, like the king on a playing-card, who lived up there beneath his canopy of stone, between earth and heaven, and in whose slanting blue gleam, on weekdays sometimes, at noon, when there was no service (at one of those rare moments when the airy, empty church, more human somehow and more luxurious, with the sun showing off all its rich furnishings, had an almost habitable air, like the entrance hall—all sculptured stone and painted glass—of some hotel in the mediaeval style), you might see Mme Sazerat kneel for an instant, laying down on the seat next to hers a neatly corded parcel of little cakes which she had just bought at the baker’s and was taking home for lunch. In another, a mountain of pink snow, at whose foot a battle was being fought, seemed to have frozen against the very glass itself, which it swelled and distorted with its cloudy sleet, like a window to which snowflakes have drifted and clung, illumined by the light of dawn—the same, doubtless, that tinged the reredos of the altar with hues so fresh that they seemed rather to be thrown on it momentarily by a light shining from outside and shortly to be extinguished than painted and permanently fastened on the stone. And all of them were so old that you could see, here and there, their silvery antiquity sparkling with the dust of centuries and showing in its threadbare brilliance the texture of their lovely tapestry of glass. There was one among them which was a tall panel composed of a hundred little rectangular panes, of blue principally, like an enormous pack of cards of the kind planned to beguile King Charles VI; but, either because a ray of sunlight had gleamed through it or because my own shifting glance had sent shooting across the window, whose colours died away and were rekindled by turns, a rare and flickering fire—the next instant it had taken on the shimmering brilliance of a peacock’s tail, then quivered and rippled in a flaming and fantastic shower that streamed from the groin of the dark and stony vault down the moist walls, as though it were along the bed of some grotto glowing with sinuous stalactites that I was following my parents, who preceded me with their prayer-books clasped in their hands. A moment later the little lozenge panes had taken on the deep transparency, the unbreakable hardness of sapphires clustered on some enormous breastplate behind which, however, could be distinguished, dearer than all such treasures, a fleeting smile from the sun, which could be seen and felt as well here, in the soft, blue stream with which it bathed the jewelled windows, as on the pavement of the Square or the straw of the market-place; and even on our first Sundays, when we had come down before Easter, it would console me for the blackness and bareness of the earth outside by quickening into blossom, as in some springtime in old history among the heirs of Saint Louis, this dazzling, gilded carpet of forget-me-nots in glass.

Chapel Altar of Église St.-Jacques, Illiers-Combray || Source - Jeff Drouin, 7 July 2004