Pentimento offers a fascinating article about Hermann Cohen's life, from his days as a pianist in the company of Liszt to his dramatic conversion to Christianity. The following is an excerpt:
In May, 1847, Prince Moscowa asked Hermann to substitute as choral director for a service at the church of S. Valère (now demolished). At the close of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, (le Salut), when the priest raised the monstrance in blessing Hermann experienced a deep motion, sweet and powerful. Overwhelmed, he felt like the Prodigal Son, totally unworthy and in need to return home. Liszt had once given him a bible when they were in Geneva. In it the Master had inscribed, "Blessed are the pure of heart." Hermann knew he did not qualify.Share
The same phenomenon occurred the following week and, even when he was off to Germany for a concert at Ems, Hermann burst into a flood of tears as he attended services in a little country church. Hermann had never known any priest except the Abbé Lamennais and was apprehensive about approaching one. A series of positive experiences, however, eventually led him to Father Theodore Ratisbonne, also a Jew, who would become his confidant and confessor.
At his baptism on August 28, 1847, Hermann experienced what he called an "apparition" of Christ, Mary, and the saints in a "brilliant light" and an "ecstasy of love." By November of that year he had already resolved to become a priest. Before he could undertake this whirlwind venture, however, it was necessary to wipe out the considerable gambling debts he had acquired. It took him two years of teaching at the Collège Stanislas and private lessons with young ladies who were not at all happy at his turn from the world. During this time he lived in modest quarters and spent hours in prayer with young men who shared his enthusiasm. Once during this period he chanced to meet George Sand who formerly had lavished such affection on him. She turned away in disgust, "Get lost! You’re nothing but a vile monk."
By 1848, he managed to pay off his debts. One final concert at the Saint Cecilia Hall bade his adieu to the world and helped square his accounts. He had had to practice from morning to night to prepare for it. According to one eyewitness, the concert was and "immense success" and the hall filled with "thunderous applause." Hermann wrote that in earlier days he would have been in the streets with a gun during the Revolution of 1848. Instead he was at his favorite devotion, spending the night in adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. This popular devotion was in great part pioneered by Hermann. Today visitors to the Basilica du Sacré Coeur in Paris will note that the Sacrament is continually exposed. Liszt himself wrote to Hermann’s first biographer, Abbé Sylvain, in 1882, that Hermann’s was a "life of burning and ecstatic perpetual adoration of the Bread of Angels."