London: Burns & Oates Ltd., 1914. First edition. Octavo (9 inches tall), contemporary three-quarter gilt calf, colored endpapers, marbled boards. A nearly-fine copy. Item #923
"THE FRUITS OF THE LABOURS OF FIVE CENTURIES—ALL IS NOW DUST" First edition of the official English translation of Cardinal Mercier's pastoral letter of Christmas 1914 descrying the "Rape of Belgium" during the First World War—quite scarce in contemporary marbled calf boards. Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, known before the war as a distinguished Thomist scholar, became the Archbishop of Malines in 1906. Sparked by the "Guns of August," the Great War intensified when the German Army invaded Belgium in attempting a surprise invasion of France. Mercier had to leave his see on August 20 to travel to Rome to attend the funeral of the late Pius X and participate in the following conclave to elect Giacomo della Chiesa as Pope Benedict XV on September 3rd. Dated, "Christmas 1914," this letter consists of a brief prologue, two main passages ('Patriotism' and 'Endurance') and a Conclusion. Addressing "My very Dear Brethren," Mercier describes the accounts of the German atrocities in neutral Belgium that have which have reached him in Rome. His description of the sack of Louvain (Leuven) on August 25th was particularly distressing for English Catholics: "In this dear city of Louvain, perpetually in my thoughts, the magnificent church of St. Peter will never recover its former splendour...all this accumulation of intellectual, of historic, and of artistic riches, the fruits of the labours of five centuries—all is now in dust." The destruction is so pervasive, Mercier says, "We can neither number our dead nor compute the measure of our ruins."
The Archbishop of Malines has a special message for the mothers of Belgium who'd lost sons in the fighting: "Christian mothers, be proud of your sons. Of all griefs, of all our human sorrows, yours is perhaps most worthy of veneration." The conclusion calls for an "annual pilgrimage of thanksgiving to one of the privleged sanctuaries of the Blessed Virgin, in order to pay especial honour to the Protectress of our national independence and universal Mediatrix of the Christian commonwealth." Mercier also conveys the support of Pope Benedict XV, relaying a letter imparting the Apostolic Benediction ("Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, in the year MCMXIV, the first of our Pontificate"). Mercier closes by directing that the letter be read "on the first day of the year and on the Sundays following the day on which it shall severally reach you." Illustrated with a title page engraving of St. Rumbold of Mechlen ("Sancte Rvmolde Ser Va Clerum Ac Plebem") and a tailpiece. This English translation was printed by the Chiswick Press and published by Burns Oates. Bound here with an additional black-and-white woodcut and the French text of "Lettre de Son Eminence le Cardinal Mercier sur le patriotism et l'endurance" (L'Echo de Belgique - de Stem uit Belgie).