Serpent’s Wisdom

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Should ruins be rebuilt to their former glory? On the scaffolds in front of the chapel I feel like an archeologist trying to unlock the mysteries of ancient masonry.

Sometimes, knowing what to do is easy. Every time a wind picked up and the trees around the chapel swayed in a storm, our stomachs lurched, so it made sense to start by cutting down tall pines that stood too closely to the building. Then, upon the advice of local roofing experts, we tackled the most urgent repairs to the moss covered roof, replacing stone slabs and fixing downpipes. Next came the restoration of the cross. It had literally broken in half and we’d salvaged the missing piece during a clean-up of the grounds. We reunited the two cast iron pieces et voilà: the vine of life and serpent are once again intertwined.

Other times, there’s unexpected complexity. The site of the chapel was also littered with terracotta antefixes, small upright ornaments used at the eaves of the roof and, with the scaffolding in place, I was excited to have these remounted right away. Alas, mason Ulysse who enthusiastically helped Thomas repair the roof was reluctant to do it as it would be ugly. After a doomed discussion about what represents ugliness and beauty, he concluded we should just have new ornaments made from a wooden mold. But what about integrity and authenticity?

I hiss at the snake on the cross, fighting off confusion, disappointment and, admittedly, frustration about not getting my way right now. Ancient wisdom pours out of the creature’s eyes (yes, it’s back in good old form after its resurrection) and tells me not to rush matters. Things are only as good as the spirit in which they are done and I wouldn’t want the chapel’s facade imbued with resentment and irritation, now would I? So, this is on hold until I can decide on a purer course. To be continued…


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