Interview of Hélène Ramin by France Catholique on the occasion of the release of the book "At the mill school"
You preface Robert Pirault's book. Who is he ?
Hélène Ramin : Robert Pirault lived a few years in Vézelay as a Franciscan from 1962 to 1968 when the Basilica was the subject of a restoration campaign, in particular of the upper room of an arm of the cloister which has become the Lapidary Museum. Like an ant, he was passionate about the smallest debris he watched in the middle of the rubble of the construction site. He saved some fragments of manuscripts and other objects from the 12th and 13th century and set to work to try to reconstruct the monastic life of this prosperous abbey, at the time of great pilgrimages.
During these years, Robert Pirault had many opportunities to guide in the Basilica. During the cold season and the silence of winter, he was one of those privileged visitors to La Madeleine who, by dint of looking and studying the texts, have opened up precious paths for the interpretation of the sculptures.
Convinced of the topicality of these words of stone thanks to their symbolic content, he was keen to transmit his own works and in particular his approach to the famous Moulin Mystique, perhaps the most beautiful capital of the whole.
In a word, Robert Pirault is an eternal questioner of the meaning we give to our present. Today, he lives in the Corbières region.
Isn't Vézelay too often seen as a work of art to the detriment of an act of praise?
Hélène Ramin : Does not the beauty of a work of art provoke the opening of the heart, precisely where praise begins?
Yes, the Basilica of Vézelay strikes with its great beauty and arouses by this very beauty an admiration, awe, inner resonances.
It was then that a unique encounter took place where we were able to perceive the purpose desired by the monks and builders of the time: to make the stones sing in praise of the Creator.
What makes Vézelay unique?
Hélène Ramin : First, when we quote Vézelay, we name a whole, a hill, a village, an abbey. The uniqueness of the site is undoubtedly due to the harmony of the whole, a quality all the more remarkable as it appeared during a history of violent conflict between temporal and spiritual powers while the abbey was being built. at the top.
Indeed the coherence between natural and built heritage is palpable: a hill that looks like heavenly Jerusalem when, in the early morning in autumn or spring weather, a necklace of mist lets emerge its stack of houses surmounted by the large abbey while that at the same moment appear through the large windows of the choir, the first beams of the east.
Coherence of the dialogue between plants and minerals that we experience in particular on the ramparts whose ramparts encircle the city, reminding it of its past as a stronghold. So many correspondences that bring it closer to the City or “everything together is one” according to the song of the psalmist.
A “whole” which contains the best and the worst in a single life, a single community with its contradictory elements.
How not to make the link with the great Mary Magdalene to whom the Basilica is dedicated, a name, a holiness which is enough to evoke humanity cracked and transfigured by the light of the Risen One, as expressed by the remarkable luminous phenomena radiating the body of the building in the periods of Easter and the solstices.
Is this marquee unique in France?
Hélène Ramin : Yes, at least for what remains of sculpted capitals from this period. On the other hand, the theme of the mill, the grindstone, the grinding of the grain or the grape press, naturally developed at the time in the context of work essential to survival.
The theme of crushing is obviously powerfully evocative of the passion of Christ and of any saving dereliction. Crushing is also the breaking up of the bark of words to taste and make taste the fruit, the essence of the Word.
For example, as developed by Robert Pirault, we find it imagined by Abbot Suger for a stained glass window in St Denis with the apostle Paul turning the millstone.
In Vézelay, the action is a little different: it is the wheel and the cross-shaped mill which, occupying the central place in the composition, seem to accomplish by themselves this revealing work of the flour.
The character to the right of the mill, being probably the great prophet Moses, pours the grain of the Law into the mill hopper while putting his foot on a sort of pedal, an action he seems to perform effortlessly as if he were participating. to the movement of the wheel.
The image is powerful because it is a sign that a transformation is taking place with the consent of men and that, ultimately, it is less a laborious work of transformation than of a revelation to be received as we have it. show the protruding eyes of Paul who are astonished at this providential manna generously pouring into the bag whose collar he holds with both hands so as not to lose anything.
What is its meaning and how to get into "the school of the mill"?
Hélène Ramin : This image sculpted almost 900 years ago is still relevant today because it contains symbols that help to live: the grinding of grain to reveal something new, the state of grace of two men united in their common task, the style of the drapes with which they are dressed, insignia of their respective missions, the play of pleats, manifestation of the common inspiration that wears them, the vegetation which frames them as if it naturally participated in the fruitfulness of their work ...
The symbol plays like the hinges of a door opening towards ever more interiority and therefore new understandings. We never stop interpreting. Besides, as all great wisdom teaches, who can contain the universe and stop the course of time? This is how the ancients wanted to offer those thirsty for meaning, the means to immerse themselves in this ocean of life that is God, to paraphrase the historian Gilson.
The strength of Robert Pirault's book is entirely contained in this humble immersion carried by the treasures contained in the biblical and patristic writings of the time. It takes its reader to a depth that explodes the topicality of the teaching sculpted before our eyes.
Instead of sticking to the only theological exegesis, for example, that of the first covenant being fulfilled by the newness of Christ, or even the passage from the old to the new covenant, he quite simply suggests to his reader 'peel with him the apparent content to reach as much as possible the core of things and events, a gradual unveiling that gives the taste to leave all conformism to be invited to "be reborn from above.
Going to the Moulin school is to let yourself be won over by the need for a job with inestimable salary because it begins in our flesh.