A few years ago, while visiting
or, rather, rummaging about Notre-Dame, the author
of this book found, in an obscure nook of one of the
towers, the following word, engraved by hand upon
These Greek capitals, black with
age, and quite deeply graven in the stone, with I
know not what signs peculiar to Gothic caligraphy
imprinted upon their forms and upon their attitudes,
as though with the purpose of revealing that it had
been a hand of the Middle Ages which had inscribed
them there, and especially the fatal and melancholy
meaning contained in them, struck the author deeply.
He questioned himself; he sought
to divine who could have been that soul in torment
which had not been willing to quit this world
without leaving this stigma of crime or unhappiness
upon the brow of the ancient church.
Afterwards, the wall was
whitewashed or scraped down, I know not which, and
the inscription disappeared. For it is thus that
people have been in the habit of proceeding with the
marvellous churches of the Middle Ages for the last
two hundred years. Mutilations come to them from
every quarter, from within as well as from without.
The priest whitewashes them, the archdeacon scrapes
them down; then the populace arrives and demolishes
Thus, with the exception of the
fragile memory which the author of this book here
consecrates to it, there remains to-day nothing
whatever of the mysterious word engraved within the
gloomy tower of Notre-Dame,—nothing of the destiny
which it so sadly summed up. The man who wrote that
word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the
generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in
its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the
church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon
disappear from the face of the earth.
It is upon this word that this
book is founded.