Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Rare books 25: Murder in the Cathedral

Dom Albert L’Huillier of Solesmes, his two-volume history of Saint Thomas à Becket, 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury. (Paris, 1891-92) Notes: This is one of the first things to come out of the seventeen boxes of rare books recently received as part of the donation of the Carmelite nuns of Varroville. According to Trove there is no copy of L’Huillier’s work in an Australian library. Until now. It’s possible that a set is held in a private Benedictine library and that it has been scanned somewhere, but we are looking at something very rare. The story of the life and assassination of Becket would have had special meaning to the author, given the troubled relationship of Solesmes Abbey with the powers of the French state. Closed at the Revolution, it escaped consequent destruction but by good fortune. We only need to ponder Henry VIII’s demand, four centuries earlier, that all public reference in England to Becket be erased in 1538 to appreciate why the present author might over-identify with Becket. In Trumpian mode Henry even destroyed Becket’s bones, which is considerably more alarming than an old statue. Solesmes Abbey was restored in the 19th century, despite occasional efforts to dissolve it by different governments, and is famed for its influential revival of Benedictinism and practical promotion of Gregorian Chant. The record at the Bibliothèque nationale de France contained some perfectly marvellous information, not least a confirmation of the author’s Christian name, which has still not been authorised on the Library of Congress.     

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