“All art worthy of the name is religious.
Whether made of lines or of colors,
if this creation is not religious, it is not art.
It is nothing more than… an anecdote.”

(Henri Matisse)

The light filters ever so softly
through windows of stained glass.
Behold!!! A holy trinity
of translucent color the sun

ever-revolving reveals:
The clear sky, ultramarine…
cactus flowers, lemon yellow…
the living earth, forest green…

With each soft breeze
white marble tiles change hue,
reflections of a fertile oasis
from deep violet to dark blue.

The altar and chalice tastes
of olive bread and red wine.
The tree of life germinates
Figs of Barbary in desert sands.

Enveloped in the Virgin’s arms,
the arms of the Newborn One
are stretched out in welcome:
His Cross-Fate foretold at birth.

No graven images. Forms divine
are sketched in thick charcoal lines.
His face you must imagine
upon that shroud… mystifying…

Outside, a palm tree arches
over the Rosaire Chapel
with walls of white, pure,
and roof top tiles azure.

Towering into infinity,
the Holy Cross is ordained
with lunar crescents
and golden flames…

The Chapel, Matisse believed,
was his “masterpiece…
despite its imperfections.”
His challenge was to achieve

“a totality of design:
the interior, the ceramics,
the murals, the vestments,
the stained glass…”

“All in recovering from cancer,”
so explained the pale-faced docent
in white coif and black habit,
“and in working from a wheelchair.…”

The nun's fervent adoration
flowed even more eloquently
at the moment she recounted
Matisse's Spiritual Conversion:

“The sunrise of his life-thinking
began with the profane;
the sunset of his life-knowledge
ended with the divine…."

Matisse’s change of heart confirmed,
the once-upon-a-time Atheist
avowed with the self-righteousness
of a True Believer:

“All Art worthy of the Name is Religious.
Whether made of Lines or of Colors, if this Creation
Is not Religious, then it is not Art. It is
Nothing more than… an Anecdote.”

Yet what if a work of Art
is not strictly “Religious”?
What else could it be?
Mere Trash? Or even Blasphemy?!

Matisse’s doggerel appeared
in perfect accord with the polemics
that Master of Hounds,
Saint Dominic,

who, with a flaming Torch, leapt
from his mother’s womb
to teach Truth to all Heretics
with the zeal of Domini Canes.

Tested by scientific method,
His astucious writings withstood
the ordeal of fire—as ordered
by judges who then proclaimed

that his parchment of Truth had leapt
from the flames unscathed—
Yes, three times miraculously saved
by a Hand Unseen.

The False works of his adversary
burnt to a crisp, the Master
could subsequently thwart
any Albigensian assault.

It must have been another Miracle
for, at the instant of the Nun’s statement,
the Chapel glowed with the sheen
of golden halos to the amazement

of marble-eyed tourists
who so marvelously journeyed
from the Post-Modern to the Medieval…
And so unexpectedly…

The Saint’s magnificent vestment,
depicted by Matisse in thick
charcoal lines, opened wide
beneath the faceless portrait

to uncover a gruesome history
that was implanted in the very founding
of the Dominican Order …
And, from time to time, hemorrhaging…

How quickly the recruit
to a new-found Cause
severs those grandiose Ideals
from their very mundane roots…

For those immersed
in Immortal Beauty,
how easy it is to forget
the Crimes committed…

the forced conversions
the repression of non-believers:
Cathars, Marranos,
Protestants, Moriscos…

How easy it is to overlook
how the asceticism of Cathar Perfecti
had been adopted by the Pilgrims
of the Dominican clergy…

How Languedoc Crusaders
had so outrageously
celebrated celibacy
in imitation of their Papist enemies

so as to better assimilate
the pro-Cathar society
while slaughtering the latter’s Priesthood
in a forked strategy

designed to more effectively expel
the Infidels of the Crescent Moon —
with Heavenly Salvation promised
for executing “God’s Business.”

Yes, how easy it is to suppress
from the Collective Consciousness
the fact that Dominic’s Order
had sanctioned the Reconquista

of Andalusia centuries later
when the snorting steeds
of the Grand Inquisitor,
Tomás de Torquemada,

were mounted in blind obedience
and lock-step allegiance
to the royal commands
of Isabella and Ferdinand.

Once condemned
by ceremonial auto-de-fé:
heretics, blasphemers,
sodomites, sorcerers,

polygamists, apostates
and gilded usurers—
were ordered whipped…
tortured… burned at the stake…

With the surrender of Granada,
the two peoples were compelled
to convert upon the threat of execution
or else exiled in a new Diaspora.

Fervently they prayed…
to the 7 Names of YWHW…
to the 99 Names of ALLAH…
All the Gods Clashing

In Immortal Beauty
Immersed Immortally
the Past is repressed…
that is, until a Voice

of yet another Crusade arises many epochs later— a Voice of Pure Vengeance that in its Void rages

from out of the Soul’s Abyss— a fiery Voice
that urges the whole Universe
to bear witness

to all heinous atrocities
perpetrated by the enemies
of its Holy Cause—
a Voice that swears

with passionate fervor
that its True Believers
will now revenge themselves
for all Crimes of Ages Past…

Unrepentant agnostic,
I can now make
my Anti-Confession
through the lattice gates
of the Rosaire Chapel’s
Moroccan confessional
with its undulating pale pink hearth
and heart beat palpitations:
If Truth be Beauty
and if Beauty be All
one truly needs to know
on this truly out-of-kilter earth,
then how is it possible
that the sublime rhythms
of Matisse's simplicity
of conception—
in which the Beauty of Art
must be conceived of as Religion
without any exception —
could set aflame
such profound confusion
and dissent???

“Those crescents attached to the cross upon the steeple…”
The nun had affirmed before these witnesses in sheer awe
of translucent sunlight transforming into pure color:
“Speak to the great history of the entire Mediterranean….”

Taking a deep breath, she recited her well-rehearsed story:
“The opposing standards of Christians and Moslems,
Matisse believed, must ultimately reach out for reconciliation—
after having clashed so violently throughout that vast region.”

Day by day so many Visitors swarm en masse through this town
once defended by its ramparts arching along the Watchtower
from the Port de Vence and the Tower of Espero
to the depths of the dungeon, along the narrow streets,
where scents of olive oil and garlic, rosemary and lavender,
spice the silver murmuring of the fountain of Holy Waters…

Saint-Paul de Vence, resplendent, spirals to the heavens,
cloudless, azure, to the Bell Tower where ‘hours invite us to dream’…
And in their wandering state of mind, these Sojourners
appear so far away from those Holy Wars once fought
in the name of Self-Righteous Power and True Religion…
So far away from the torture chambers of the town’s

medieval past… so far from those Voices of Fire and Brim-Stone.
Yes, Matisse’s Insight that Christians and Moslems must ultimately
reach out for reconciliation could be viewed as Heresy: An Insight
so profound that it would not be repeated to those devout Pilgrims—
that is, after that infamous morning when those Four Bestial Riders
of an Apocalypse Apocryphal staged their Vengeful Flights…

And that was years before one American couple
travelled far to reconfirm their vows in that sublime Chapel
before returning to Nice to their hotel balcony in splendor
to sip a toast of champagne to their loving life forever.

Flutes clinking, shoreline waves cascading, the blinding
flash of firecrackers exploding… the couple stands relishing
Matisse’s “fake, absurd, amazing, delicious” interiors when
the crowd outside swarms in panic, not knowing which way to run...

Police bullets ricochet off a 19-ton truck steamrolling helter-
skelter over men women children in a bloody red-carpet ride
over Camin deis Anglés : The Voice—resurging in the confrontation
between Green Holy Warriors and The Cross—swears never
to honor State of Emergency Bastille Day celebrations.
The marble-eyes of all witnesses in Terror forever vitrified.