Death Comes for the Archbishop
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By Willa Cather
In the year 1850, two horseman ride through the New Mexico desert. Jean Marie Latour and Joseph Vaillant have been charged with establishing the first Catholic diocese in that uncharted land of red-rock mountains and waterless wilderness. Almost three centuries after the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in the country, the people are adrift from their religious moorings, their missions in ruins, their children uninstructed. Assisted by his dauntless and valorous vicar, Bishop Latour claims the land and the souls who live there “for the glory of God”: sowing the seeds of the Catholic faith in the shallow, the rocky, and the fertile soil of his immense and forbidding jurisdiction.
“I shall die of having lived.” (Archbishop Jean Marie Latour)
Bereft of artificiality and imbued with an unstressed spiritual assurance, Death Comes for the Archbishop attains the lofty heights and grand stature of legend. Thanks to Cather’s deeply imaginative skill, it does so without sacrificing the solid humanity of its characters or the stark severity of their time and place. The result, in the evocative words of Lee Wilson Dodd, is “a severe, purely designed chalice of hand-beaten silver, filled to the brim with the white essential wine of love—love of man to man, love of God to man, love of man to God.”
Willa Cather (1873–1947) was an American writer and woman of letters whose fiction grew out of the land under her feet. Her novels include O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and My Mortal Enemy (1926). Her “Catholic” novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), has been acclaimed as “illustrative of the wonder and beauty of Catholic mysteries.”
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