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Death Comes for the Archbishop (original 1927; edition 1990)

by Willa Cather

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3,944991,301 (4.02)2 / 651
Member:horomnizon
Title:Death Comes for the Archbishop
Authors:Willa Cather
Info:Vintage Books (1990), Edition: First Edition., Paperback
Collections:To read
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Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927)

  1. 00
    The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (noveltea)
  2. 01
    The Professor's House by Willa Cather (shaunie)
    shaunie: If you enjoy Cather's wonderful writing this is just as well written and has a much more enthralling story.
  3. 01
    Lamy of Santa Fe by Paul Horgan (inge87)
    inge87: Biography of the real-life Jean Marie Latour — Archbishop Lamy
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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
I love the writing of Willa Cather, and I have been trying to spread out her books so I don’t read them all too quickly. I just have some story collections and The Professor’s House left to read (although I think I have read that before – I just can’t remember it).

I have seen Death Comes for the Archbishop described as Cather’s masterpiece, and given the quite wonderful writing, and the scope of the novel I can understand why. Personally, it isn’t quite my favourite (that would be A Lost Lady) but it is still, quite simply wonderful – and definitely in my top three. Some of Cather’s best known novels deal with the realities of rough pioneer life in Nebraska, and the creative life of great singers. This novel is very different to those.

Willa Cather became interested in the deserts and Indian villages of the American South West years before writing this novel, and found the story of the Catholic church in that region of great interest. She formed a friendship with a Belgian priest on a visit to Santa Cruz and it was from him that she learned a great deal about the traditions of the people in New Mexico and the stories of the nineteenth century French priests who are the quiet heroes of this novel.

In 1848 on a summer evening in Rome, three cardinals and a missionary gather for their evening meal, and together decide the fate of one, simple French parish priest; Jean Marie Latour. Father Latour is go as a missionary to New Mexico, taking the Catholic faith with him, into a vast region of desert, adobe villages and native American peoples.

“One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me not to rest so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”

Accompanying Father Latour on his marathon journey to Santa Fe – a journey on horseback, taking months, – is old friend Father Valliant. The two were in the seminary together in France as young men, and together had set out on their missionary life together. Death Comes For the Archbishop takes place over a period of around forty years, beginning when Father Latour is a young man.

“In New Mexico, he always awoke a young man, not until he arose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one’s body feel light and one’s heart cry ‘To-day, to-day,’ like a child’s.”

The story of Father Latour’s ministry, and the life he makes for himself among the rocky landscape of New Mexico, is told in a series of vignettes spanning several decades. We witness the friendship which exists between Father Latour and Father Valliant, the perilous journeys on horseback or on donkeys as the Frenchmen journey into the furthest reaches of their territory, and meet the people they minister to.

In these stories, we meet a host of memorable characters. An old rogue Pare Martinez, and his friend the miserly Father Lucero. Dona Isabella, who is so vain of her youthful beauty she almost loses everything in a lawsuit rather than admit her real age. Magdalena, a young woman whose violent, husband sets his murderous sights on the two French priests, is rescued by the two men, and restored to a better life. One of Father Latour’s most unlikely friends perhaps, the Navajo Eusabio.

Throughout his ministry in New Mexico, Father Latour dreams of building a cathedral, using the golden yellow stone from the desert, a Romanesque Cathedral in a simple French style, that will celebrate his faith and stand for it after he is gone. The death of the title, is merely one event out of many, in the course of a life well lived. Death comes for the Archbishop as it must come for us all one day, and when it does, he is in a place he loves, surrounded by people who know his worth. The ending I felt was sheer perfection, there is a feeling of everything being in its right time.

Throughout this novel Cather weaves together, the French culture and spirituality of the priests with the traditions, history and vibrant stories of the people of New Mexico.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

This exquisite novel – which I loved more and more the further on I got with it, is a story of faith and the nature of love and friendship. Set against a backdrop of a beautiful, wild, untamed land which existed on the edge of the American civilisation of the nineteenth century, it is surprisingly tender. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Jan 1, 2017 |
A lovely book. Of course, I lived in the Southwest when I read this book from the library.

I saw on Amazon that this is Willa Cather's best known book. I always thought My Antonia was better known. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
Definitely one of those "right book, right time" kind of reads. Cather brings to life a time and place that I feel is irrevocably lost to us. It is a deeply spiritual read, and not just because the focus of the story is on two French missionaries that have come to bring the word to the Southwestern United States. Cather presents the plains of New Mexico and Arizona as stunning vistas peopled by nations Navajo and Hopi nations, influencing how the missionaries approach their seemingly impossible task to tame renegade priests and bring both the new Americans and the older aboriginal nations to embrace the Catholic faith. Cather has a wonderful way with prose and presentation: The story is soft, muted, and reflective in tone while still conveying the strong vibrance of life and communicating that each individual has their own way of embracing religion and a calling. Favorite quote from the book: "He did not know just when it had become so necessary to him, but he had come back to die in exile for the sake of it. Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and the gold, into the morning, into the morning!" An absolutely beautiful read. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | Nov 16, 2016 |
I love the easy prose of Willa Cather. This book is set in America's Southwestern Desert in the 1850s. ( )
  FoxTribeMama | Sep 21, 2016 |
One to savour
By sally tarbox on 18 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written account of two French missionaries sent out to 1850s New Mexico. Based on actual priests, we follow Bishop Latour and his friend Father Vaillant as they enter a hostile environment - drought, lax and corrupt Catholic clergy, mysterious Indian religions, and the vast distances that make up their 'great diocese'.
Ever travelling and only meeting up on occasions, the two nonetheless rely on one another: one of the most touching parts is when Father Vaillant is setting off to the distant Colorado goldfields and his bishop tells him he should take both their mules.
' "They have a great affection for each other; why separate them indefinitely? One could not explain to them. They have worked long together."
Father Vaillant made no reply. He stood looking intently at the pages of his letter. The Bishop saw a drop of water splash down upon the violet script and spread.'

Cather's narrative is brought to life by poetic descriptions of the desert landscape, and moments of the priests' recollections of their former lives in the Auvergne. It's not a novel as such but is one to savour. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Each event in this book is concrete, yet symbolic, and opens into living myth. The reader is invited to contemplate the question: What is a life well lived? This question is asked in a story so fine it brings the old words “wisdom” and “beauty” to life again.
 

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Willa Catherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.
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But in reality the Bishop was not there at all [on his sickbed, in his wandering imagination]; he was standing in a tip-tilted green field among his native mountains, and he was trying to give consolation to a young man who was being torn in two before his eyes by the desire to go and the necessity to stay. He was trying to forge a new Will in that devout and exhausted priest; and the time was short, for the diligence for Paris was already rumbling down the mountain gorge.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
One summer evening in the year of 1848 three Cardinals and a missionary, dining in a villa near Rome, decide the fate of a simple parish priest, the Frenchman Jean Marie Latour. He is to go to New Mexico to win for Catholicism the South-West of America, a country where the Faith has slumbered for centuries. There, together with his old friend Father Vaillant, Latour makes his home. To the carnelian hills and ochre-yellow deserts of this almost pagan land he brings the refined traditions of French culture and Christian belief. Slowly, gently he reforms and revivifies, after forty years of love and service achieving a final reconciliation between his faith and the sensual peasant people of New Mexico: a harmony embodied in the realisation of his most cherished dream - a Romanesque cathedral, carved from the Mexican rock, gold as sunlight.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679728899, Paperback)

Willa Cather's best known novel; a narrative that recounts a life lived simply in the silence of the southwestern desert.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:41 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The story of a French priest who goes to New Mexico and with another priest win the southwest for the Catholic Church. After forty years, he dies--the archbishop of Santa Fe.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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