The Bridge of San Luis Rey

by

Thornton Wilder

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Churches and Abbeys Symbol Icon

As a Spanish outpost in the eighteenth century, Lima is an extremely faith-based society. Religious institutions and officials of those institutions abound, from the Archbishop to the Abbess. On one hand, these institutions often emerge as founts of hypocrisy, permitting and even fostering social injustice. An immensely corpulent and extravagantly attired man, the Archbishop enriches himself at the expense of the faithful. He firmly believes that “the injustice and unhappiness in the world is a constant,” and that “the poor, never having known happiness, are insensible to misfortune”; these principles allow him to sit by in indifference while corrupt priests imitate him and energetically scam their parishioners.

On the other hand, as the steward of the city’s hospitals and orphanages, the Abbess is a religious official who is actively engaged in fighting various social ills. In contrast to the Archbishop, she spends her free time dreaming of future societies in which “injustice and unhappiness” have been vanquished, and she exhausts herself trying to ameliorate the condition of the poor and helpless. The devotion and respect she’s accorded by her charges—namely, Pepita, Manuel, and Esteban—demonstrate the sincerity and efficiency of her efforts. It’s important that the same institution—the Roman Catholic Church—that empowers the Archbishop to abuse his power also spurs the Abbess to great altruism. Spurning dogma of all sorts, Wilder refuses to condemn religious institutions. Instead, he illustrates their ability to bring out the best and worst of different characters, and to function to the city’s benefit and detriment.

Churches and Abbeys Quotes in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The The Bridge of San Luis Rey quotes below all refer to the symbol of Churches and Abbeys. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of The Bridge of San Luis Rey published in 1927.
Part 2: The Marquesa de Montemayor Quotes

She was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization. She hurled herself against the obstinacy of her time in her desire to attach a little dignity to women.

Related Characters: The Abbess
Related Symbols: Churches and Abbeys
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

She was listening to the new tide of resignation that was rising within her. Perhaps she would learn in time to permit both her daughter and her gods to govern their own affairs.

Related Symbols: Churches and Abbeys
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Uncle Pio Quotes

The Archbishop knew that most of the priests of Peru were scoundrels. It required all his delicate Epicurean education to prevent his doing something about it; he had to repeat over to himself his favorite notions: that the injustice and unhappiness of the world is a constant; that the theory of progress is a delusion; that the poor, never having known happiness, are insensible to misfortune. Like all the rich he could not bring himself to believe that the poor (look at their houses, look at their clothes) could really suffer.

Related Characters: Archbishop of Lima
Related Symbols: Churches and Abbeys
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Perhaps an Intention Quotes

“All, all of us have failed. One wishes to be punished. One is willing to assume all kinds of penance, but do you know, my daughter, that in love—I scarcely dare say it—but in love our very mistakes don’t seem to be able to last long?”

Related Symbols: Churches and Abbeys
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Related Characters: The Abbess
Related Symbols: Churches and Abbeys
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Bridge of San Luis Rey PDF

Churches and Abbeys Symbol Timeline in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The timeline below shows where the symbol Churches and Abbeys appears in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: The Marquesa de Montemayor
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
The Abbess exercises her idealism by running her abbey in addition to hospitals and orphanages throughout the city, but she also has to use... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...None of the nuns around her seem capable or committed enough to take over the abbey. However, Pepita is very bright and kind, so the Abbess decides to groom the girl... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...beautiful and rustic hills. Leaving Pepita at the hotel, Doña María goes immediately to the church and begins to pray. A new sense of tranquility comes over her, and she reflects... (full context)
Love and Obsession Theme Icon
As Doña María is leaving the church, a message boy runs up to her bearing a letter from her Doña Clara. The... (full context)
Part 3: Esteban
Love and Obsession Theme Icon
One morning, two foundlings appear at the door of the Abbess’s convent. The nuns take them in and name them Manuel and Esteban. Although their parents are... (full context)
Love and Obsession Theme Icon
...cakes and telling them biblical stories. When they are too old to remain in the convent, they do errands and tasks for all the churches in the city. However, the boys... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
...odd jobs, but he rarely keeps a job for long. Once he lingers outside the convent, but when the Abbess hurries out and tries to convince him to come inside, he... (full context)
Part 4: Uncle Pio
Art and Memory Theme Icon
...a lady. Craving respectability, she hires a “duenna” and several servants to accompany her to church. She donates to charities, learns to read and write, and challenges anyone who refers to... (full context)
Art and Memory Theme Icon
Near the church of Santa María de Cluxambuqua is a fashionable neighborhood where Don Andrés has built an... (full context)
Part 5: Perhaps an Intention
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
Brother Juniper also draws inspiration from a fellow cleric who one day stopped in Lima’s cathedral to read an epitaph over a woman’s gravestone. The epitaph paints a glowing picture of... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...to discern that meaning for so many others. He is willing to die for the church, but he wishes people could understand that his intentions were good. In the morning his... (full context)
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
...Archbishop sits sweating on his throne, while Don Andrés feels ill and self-conscious in the church, knowing that everyone is watching as he mourns his only son; he wonders if Camila... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...looking at the bodies of Jaime and Uncle Pio, and the meaningless rituals of the church. As she nears the church of San Luis Rey, she goes inside and sits down... (full context)
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
...appear before such a venerable woman. Still, she goes to Lima and lurks about the convent, eventually summoning enough confidence to introduce herself to the Abbess. She asks the older woman... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
The Abbess takes Camila into the convent’s garden, speaking soothingly of her previous acting career. Camila protests, saying that she is a... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
The Abbess asks permission to show Doña Clara her work and leads her around the abbey, showing her the orphans and the ill. As she looks over these people, the Abbess... (full context)