Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book 1: Chapter 4

Summary

Latour remembers his first morning in Santa Fe after his trip to Durango. He awakened to the ringing of the Angelus, making him first dream of Rome, then of the East. He is told by Vaillant that the bell is of Spanish origin and dates from 1356. The bell had been placed previously in the church basement. Weighing more than 800 pounds, there was no place to hang the bell until Vaillant had a scaffold built for it. Legend says the bell was pledged to St. Joseph in the Moorish wars and that it contains gold, silver, and some baser metals from the valuables owned by Catholics in a Spanish city besieged by Moors. Latour thinks the Moorish element accounts for the feeling of the East he has heard in the bell's tones. Vaillant is impatient with Latour's theory, because it implies that infidels had a hand in the casting of the bell. Latour reminds Vaillant that the Angelus is an adaptation of a Muslim custom. Vaillant believes that piece of scholarly information belittling, and he changes the subject to the Shrine of Guadalupe.

Father Herrera is introduced to Latour. The seventy-year-old priest has recently returned from the Shrine of Guadalupe. Cather relates the story of the Shrine. In 1531, a poor Mexican monk, Juan Diego, travels to Mexico City from his monastery to attend Mass. On his way, he meets the Virgin. She asks him to find the bishop and tell him to build her a church on that spot. She will wait for Juan to return. When Juan tells the bishop, he is met in disbelief. Discouraged, Juan goes to his sick uncle to care for him. After a few days, Juan returns to the monastery for medicine but travels an alternate route from where the Virgin said she would wait. But the Virgin appears again and asks why Juan has avoided her. He tells her that the bishop did not believe him and that his uncle is very ill. She says that his uncle will be well, and that he should go again with her request to the bishop. Juan requests a sign, and she tells him to go up on a rock to gather roses. Although it is December, Juan finds beautiful roses in full bloom. The Virgin arranges them in his mantle and tells him to open the mantle before the bishop. When he does, the roses fall out, and the bishop and his vicar fall on their knees; in the mantle is a painting of the Blessed Virgin in blue and rose and gold. The church was built on the spot the Virgin proscribed.

The native priest who has made the pilgrimage to the shrine praises it as rich, delicate, and colorful. When the priest leaves, Vaillant talks about what a blessing such a miracle is for the poor. Such a miracle can be held and loved. Father Latour responds that love produces miracles, that our affection makes it possible for people to see and hear things that are always present, but that without love, these things cannot be recognized.

Analysis

Cather once again returns to the theme of tradition. The bell dates from 1356, and the tradition of the Angelus derives from the time of the Crusades. The legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe dates from 1531. Both traditions extend from the Old World to the New World, where Latour and Vaillant are charged with continuing the traditions of the Catholic Church.

Vaillant refers to Divine love as a vision corrective for humans. Much like the appearance of the cruciform juniper in Chapter 1, he believes that miracles can be seen and heard from a refined perspective that recognizes the miracles that surround humanity at all times.

Glossary

Angelus the bell rung to announce the time for prayer.

Moors members of a Muslim people of mixed Arab and Berber descent living in northwestern Africa who invaded and occupied Spain in the eight century a.d.

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