Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Parish church. Like the village, the parish church and the priest’s lodging are coarse and poor. He needs to pay a boy to fetch water for him since he has no well, and his food consists mainly of bread and inferior wine. The church, with its broken windowpanes, is where the priest says mass and encounters the broken lives of his parishioners. The church school, where he catechizes the parish’s children, becomes another place of alienation since his young charges are either bored or cruel. Despite his sufferings in dealing with all his parishioners, he sees his parish as part of the everlasting presence of Christ in the world. Like all human communities, Ambricourt is caught in the great spiritual river sweeping all souls into the deep ocean of eternity.
Château. Estate of a count and countess where the central struggle of the novel occurs. Walled and gated, the château stands on a heavily wooded hill, where the priest sees it as turning its back on the village and all its people. Although the château represents a life of privilege and prosperity, the priest discovers there lives of great spiritual poverty. The count is involved in an adulterous relationship with his daughter’s governess, and his daughter is so unhappy over her father’s affair that she threatens suicide or murder. The countess, whose life has been broken by the death of her son, has withdrawn into a cold hatred of humanity and God. Through a long, agonistic conversation, the young priest is able to break through the wall of isolation that the countess has constructed around her. She becomes reconciled to God, and during the night, after the priest leaves, the countess dies. The priest walks back to his church along Paradise Lane, a muddy pathway between hedges.
*Lille (leel). City in northern France where the parish priest’s odyssey ends. Lille is a major industrial area, but it, like Ambricourt, is infected with a malaise and indifference to the spiritual life. The priest travels to Lille to consult a doctor about his severe stomach pains, which have been accompanied by the vomiting of blood. Though the city, with its ordered streets and elaborate buildings, offices, and residences, stands in stark contrast to Ambricourt’s poverty, the priest finds the city similarly alienating. He feels confused while wandering its streets, just as he has confused the name of the doctor he was supposed to see. The physician he does see, a drug addict, bluntly diagnoses the priest’s problem as stomach cancer.
The final place in the priest’s life is the decrepit lodgings of a former priest, a friend from his seminary years, who is now a commercial traveler living with a mistress. The priest reaches his friend’s apartment by climbing a dark staircase, and the former priest provides him with a camping bed set up not in a room but in a narrow passageway that smells of drug samples. The place is one of ugliness and loneliness, but the priest seems to lose himself in this foulness and misery, the only shelter in his misfortune. As he dies, his friend hears the young priest’s final exclamation of his faith.