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117 from Scotland we flew to France to visit my sister Titi on the Mediterranean Coast. I had promised my daughters their hearts’ fill of scuba diving and French pastries with cousins Joe and Lee Hudson before making another pilgrimage, this time to Église Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d’Assy in Haute-Savoie. Angelo del Giudice, our Italian chauffeur and baggage master, prepared to begin our journey north much too soon for Joe Hudson. I can still hear him pleading with his mother before our ­ leave-­ taking: “Please don’t let them go, Mother; do something!” Angelo was eager to take on our route and equal to the hairpin curves with infrequent guardrails through the mountains. His mutterings brought little comfort. As though to explain the treacherous drive, he declared, “The French don’t value human life.” Angelo’s jaundiced view of the entire race was evident the night of our first alfresco dinner in a restaurant at the base of Sacré Coeur, the hilltop church with a dome that shone above us like a huge pearl. He had retired, ChaptER 13 Assy 118 New Harmony, indiana we thought, to a nearby Italian bistro. However, as we ­ were finishing our meal, we noticed a man’s figure behind a ­well-­clipped hedge: “Presente, signora . Do you think I would abandon you to the mercy of French men?” He had never left us. We crossed France without major incident beyond Janie and Carol’s reluctance to leave the pleasant inns where we stopped en route. We finally reached our hotel on Lake Annecy and rested for three days before our ascent to Assy, an alpine town halfway to Mont Blanc. We had called ahead to Abbé Jean Devémy, ­curator-­priest of the famous church, who was In an image from Life magazine’s June 19, 1950 issue, floodlights illuminate Léger’s mosaic. France, circa 1950: “Assy Church, in the French Alps.” Photograph by Dmitri Kesser/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Assy 119 waiting for us under the portico, Fernand Léger’s brilliant mosaic of the Madonna at his back. Lipchitz had spoken to me once of the difficulties encountered with the war­time pope, Pius XII. The ­un-­ecumenical pontiff was loath to bless a statue created and signed by a Jew and gifted to a Catholic church. His objections ­ were overcome by a fearless champion of ecumenism and modern art, Abbé Marie-Alain Couturier, arguably the person most responsible for bringing authentic contemporary art into Catholic churches.1 Assy was the cradle of that reunion. Believing that the Cosmic Christ was not constrained in His dominion, Père Couturier extended his prayers and homilies for unity to all of humanity, including those of the Jewish faith.2 He and a fellow Dominican, Père Pie Régamey, ­ were together the editors of L’Art Sacré. Père Jean Devémy led us to the baptistère where Notre Dame de Liesse had only just preceded our arrival. The church was crowded with pilgrims , including many patients with tuberculosis, who ­ were overcome upon seeing Our Lady of Joy. They ­were reacting as if she ­were more than a sculpture, such was the emotion evoked through the work of art, confined to the intimate space.3 The inscription upon her mantle was a potent testament: jacob lipchitz juif fidèle à la foi de ses ancêtres a fait cette règne pour la bonne entente des hommes sur la terre afin que l’esprit regne jacob lipchitz, jew, faithful to the faith of his ancestors, has made this virgin for the goodwill of all mankind that the spirit might prevail. The first casting of the Lipchitz statue stood in an appropriate place for aRomanCatholicchurch,butGeorgeMacLeodandIenvisionedunroofed spaces for the second and third castings of the Lady of several names and three destinations. I did not reveal to our gracious host, however, my idea 120 New Harmony, indiana of a church open to the sky and accessible to angels, birds, all sorts of weather, and all conditions of humanity. Nor did I mention MacLeod’s plan to place his Madonna in the open court of Iona’s Abbey Church. Janie, Carol, Emma, and I gathered before the church portal to say goodbye and to thank Père Devémy for his gift to us, a beautiful print of the painting Pierre Bonnard had given Assy, St. François de Sales Visite des Malades. This Impressionist master...


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MARC Record
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