La cathédrale engloutie – the Sunken Cathedral – is one of the most evocative of the piano preludes of Claude Debussy, based on an ancient legend of a cathedral submerged off the coast of Brittany, which might rise again and be seen through the waves. The image is powerful – a once majestic structure, standing proud as a symbol of mankind’s praise of a deity, or possibly of man’s dominance of his fellow man, now lies in ruins at the hands of the elements.
Most of the large town of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast was swallowed up by the sea during storms from the thirteenth century onwards. There are myths that, even today, the bells of its sunken churches may be heard tolling when sea currents are fierce. Such thoughts of what was once great, and is now lost, strike deep into our soul.
The fact that such devastation can occur to our ancestors’ most glorious achievements leaves us with the knowledge that our own civilization remains impermanent and vulnerable. Nothing lasts forever.
Text: Richard Hayes