Death Comes For the Archbishop

Death Comes For the Archbishop is one of my favorite novels.  It was written in 1927 by Willa Cather, and it tells the story of a young priest, Father Jean Marie Latour, who is made bishop of the 'New Mexico Territory' in the 1850s.  We hear about Latour's encounters with the rebellious local clergy, his travels on horseback through harsh terrain and storms and so forth, his dealings with the Indian population, and much else.  The story is captivating, the descriptions of nature are beautiful, and the witness of the missionary priest is inspiring.

Allow me to provide a little sample.  The story appears to end just as it is beginning.  The bishop is lost in the desert and has run out of water.  We read:

The traveler dismounted, drew from his pocket a much-worn book, and baring his head, knelt at the foot of the cruciform tree.

Under his buckskin riding-coat he wore a black vest and the cravat and collar of a churchman. A young priest, at his devotions; and a priest in a thousand, one knew at a glance. His bowed head was not that of an ordinary man,--it was built for the seat of a fine intelligence. His brow as open, generous, reflective, his features handsome and somewhat severe. There was a singular elegance about the hands below the fringed cuffs of the buckskin jacket. Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth--brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy towards himself, towards his beasts, toward the juniper tree before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

The book, while a joy to read, has a melancholic tenor.  It affirms the statement that the priesthood, and Catholicism in general, is hauntingly beautiful


back to top