Touching Place

LES JACOBINS, TOULOUSE


The Capitole is a bustling place in high summer, humming with life, for Toulouse is the centre of the aerospace industry, and like all smart French cities it has a new Metro system. You could sit in the shade here, sipping a long, cool drink; instead, take a short walk down the rue Leon Gambetta and turn right. In front of you, built in brick like much of la ville rose, is Les Jacobins, the Dominican church in the city where Dominic de Guzman founded his first house in 1215.

Admire its octagonal belfry, modelled upon St Sernin, and pass inside the double-naved building. Wonder in awe at the unknown genius who conceived the design of the palmier des Jacobins on top of the single 28-metre column, which supports the whole of the vaulting of the chevet (1298).

But you have come here to kneel before the central altar, built over the casket containing the mortal remains of the greatest Dominican, St Thomas Aquinas (1229-74), author of the Summa Theologica and composer of the office for the feast of Corpus Christi. Unlike some modern philosophers, Aquinas was a humble and holy man of God. While he was celebrating Mass on 6 December 1273, he had a mystical experience which made him give up his writing, telling his secretary, All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.' It is said that Our Lord asked him: 'Thomas, thou hast written well of me; what reward wilt thou have?' to which Thomas replied: 'Nothing but thyself, Lord.' Share St Thomas' vision with him: 

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see. 
May what we thirst for soon our portion be. 
To gaze on thee unveiled, and see thy face. 
The vision of thy glory and thy grace.

Simon Cotton

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