Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Color: Pilgrim Blue

Detail of a pilgrim hostel door in Figeac

Pilgrimage has been a recurrent theme in my life over the past four years. I've had a faux-pilgrim experience, traveled a few pilgrimage paths, and visited more than one pilgrimage site. Over the next year, I'll be sharing more pilgrim adventures with you. In fact, next weekend I'll be visiting my favorite pilgrimage village, Conques, for a special event. Don't worry...I'm taking my camera along, and I'll be sharing the festivities with you!

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Identify a Saint

This is part of a bas-relief sculpture on one of the stone columns flanking the east wall of the St.Peter and St. Paul church in Toulongergues. It's difficult to photograph for two reasons: one, it wraps around the column. Secondly, the column itself has been damaged. I find it intriguing nonetheless. On the friends of the church website, there is an explanation of how the figure depicted here was identified. Major points: the figure is dressed in a tunic with a large belt, it is a balding man with a moustache and a beard that hangs in points, and it has a large, prominent nose. The art historian then took these identifying characteristics and compared them with the known figures in art of the same general time frame. And the answer to the 'who is this figure' question? St. Paul!

Here is a photo of St. Paul painted in the 1500's for comparison:
(Photo from Creative Commons--public domain in EU)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ancient Cross

Cross, church and Chateau
St. Remy (Aveyron)

When I toured the ancient church in Toulongergues on patrimoine weekend, I purchased a booklet of the history of the church and its Priory. As I was leafing through it at home, I happened to turn it over and on the back cover was a hand-written/hand-drawn story about an ancient cross that was originally at the Toulongergues church. Apparently, it was moved to St. Remy, a larger village a few kilometers from Toulongergues in 1865. Lucie and I set out on a beautiful morning to see if we could find it.

And we did without any problem! Monsieur Binot was the cure at this church in St. Remy in the mid-1800s. As it was the actual parish church for the area,  he had this magnificent cross moved to its cemetery in 1865 where it remains today. The cross is sculpted in stone and stands very tall over the graves of the faithful. It is an unusual octagonal shape raised on a tiered base. It was first mentioned in church records in 1496. At one time the flat surfaces around the base were carved in bas-relief designs. Centuries of being exposed to all extremes of weather have pretty much wiped them away...only a few vestiges of the designs remain.

The arms and the top of the cross are sculpted crowns.
The back side which faces the church contains the figure of the crucified Christ. At his feet on either side are the figures of two men...St. Peter and St. Paul, the patron saints of the church at Toulongergues.
On the opposite side is a lovely Virgin holding the Christ Child. The angel hovering over her head is holding her crown.

I'm sure this cross was spectacular in its original setting in front of the tall, austere pre-Romanesque church in Toulongergues just as it is here....behind the parish church with the village Chateau in the background.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Frescoes in a Primitive Style

Two doves and a chalice
As you may already know, frescoes (and later stained glass windows) in old churches were created to tell the stories of the Bible and teach the lessons of the Church to illiterate parishioners. According to a friend who is highly knowledgeable about religious wall paintings, it was very common for a newly-assigned parish priest to have old frescoes covered over with whitewash and new ones painted that told the stories he felt were important for his flock to know. Luckily, that didn't happen at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Toulongergues. All of these frescoes have been dated to their origins in the 11th century.
Eagle holding a hare in his talons
This fresco of the eagle and the one above of the two doves are found high on the north wall of the choir in half-circle niches. The doves and chalice are easy to interpret...they represent the Eucharist. With a little sleuthing on the internet, I learned that in religious art the eagle can represent Christ and the hare uncleanliness and fear in the face of the Light, making this fresco a cautionary tale for worshipers.
The east wall of the choir has been heavily damaged probably during the years after the Revolution when the church was de-consecrated, sold, and used for storage by a local farmer. Our tour guide told us, however, that this fresco depicts the Apocalypse as recorded in the book of Revelation. The fresco is 'framed' by stone columns with carvings on them.
This is Eve...very lively and very naked! She shares the south wall of the choir with the saint below. I think she's my favorite of all the frescoes. It's hard to think of her as being the evil temptress of Adam, isn't it?
The best preserved and brilliant fresco is this unidentified saint. Since the church's patrons are St. Peter and St. Paul, it's thought that this may be one of them.

I'm pretty hooked on frescoes! But there is an interesting stone sculpture in this church. I'll share it next time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Pre-Romanesque Church

You may remember this photo of the pre-Romanesque church in Toulongergues from a blog post I did last summer. Edith and I visited it after reading in a tourist brochure that it is one of the oldest churches in SW France. We had to be content to wander around its exterior that day last August as the church was locked up tightly. When I looked over the brochure for this year's weekend of patrimoine in my area, I was thrilled to see that this ancient church would be open for a guided tour on Sunday afternoon. I quickly put it on my itinerary.

Toulongergues is a tiny commune located 5 kms from Villeneuve in the Aveyron department. Its pre-Romanesque church, Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, dates from the 10th century. A group of 40 gathered outside the building and at 2:30 pm the tour began. We learned that the cross-shaped area over the entry door was probably open at one time and held the church bell. This front facade may also have held a high window above the door that would have lit the choir area as the sun set in the west.
Here you can see the outline of the 'cemetery' door on the south side of the building. After a funeral, the coffin exited the church through this door. The area where we are standing and the east side of the church was the cemetery. Skeletons found here have been dated to the Merovingian era (500-800 C.E.) indicating that there may have been a structure here that pre-dates the 10th century church.

This photo taken from the Priory next to the church shows a filled in opening on the church's north facade. At one time, the Priory was connected to the church via a bridge here and staircase down into the building. Making it handy for the priest to get from home to work without getting his shoes dirty.
The interior of the church is very rough. It's been cleaned up, but not restored. Here you can see the entry with some steep stone stairs down into the nave. The excavated area held a stone sarcophagus of an unknown person. The stairway from the Priory would have been on the landing.
The church building pre-dates vaulted ceilings. This church had a timbered roof without vaults in the interior.
Interestingly, roofs in this area are a mix of roof styles from the Lot and the Averyon depatments. Here you see traditional Lotois tiles on the highest part of the roof with Aveyronais stone lauzes along the lower edge.
The actual flat floor space of the interior was surprisingly small. Our group of 40 did not all fit on it with some people standing on the steps around its edges to hear our guide speak. But as she explained, there was not a village here when this church was built. It served serfs and nobles who lived on widely scattered holdings in the area. It probably was used mainly for marriages, baptisms and funerals and was not regularly attended for Mass.

The most intriguing part of this wonderful ancient church, however, were its 11th century frescoes. You'll see those in my next blog post.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Afternoon of Patrimoine

After our morning touring the Chateau de Cabrerets, we decided to drive to Marcilhac-sur-Cele to continue our patrimoine adventure. Stuffed from a superb midday meal at Restaurant des Touristes in Marcilhac, we waddled over to the ruins of the Abbaye St. Pierre. Our destination was this church tucked into the ruins next to the Salle de Capitulaire. We'd been in the church just a couple of weeks before for an evening concert, but it was packed with people then. We wanted to see what it really looked like. I was impressed with how big it actually is. It's quite lovely and has some beautiful frescoes and religious statuary.

I thought this statue of the Virgin and Child was especially nice.
As we left, a couple was having their wedding photos done amidst the ruins of Abbaye. It was a sweet end to a day filled with ancient history and new beginnings.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Not What I Expected!

What do you do when you live in a centuries-old chateau, want to keep it authentic, but really don't want to cook as folks did in the Middle Ages? First, you search out all the empty rooms and spaces, even those underneath....

Access might be a bit tricky, but if it's the right space, you can make it work, eh?
I'd say this works! Appliances and work counters line the walls with very modern track lighting running the length of the room making it very bright. The wall on the right is lined with beautiful inset wooden cabinets as well as the refrigerator.
I think the whole village could eat in here. There's even a cozy red banquette in the corner for more intimate meals.
I'd kill for this stove!
As lovely as the kitchen is, there is nothing pretentious about it...voila! the empties.
Just beyond the kitchen, though, a bit of medieval history has been preserved. The owner's wife showed us this...the opening to the dungeon. Prisoners were held here. And kitchen garbage was tossed in the opening as well. A chilling reminder that life in the Middle Ages had an unpleasant side..
A welcoming basket of bread.

Addendum: it came to my attention via an anonymous comment that not everyone will realize that this post is related to the one preceding it. For those of you who didn't realize....this is the kitchen of the Chateau de Cabrerets that we visited during patrimoine weekend. Click here for that post. Sorry if I confused you!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chateau de Cabrerets

The Chateau de Cabrerets is first mentioned in 1259 as part of the holdings of the Barasc family eduer. Through the marriage of Helene de Barasc, its ownership transferred to the powerful Cardaillac family which held many of the villages and lands along the both Cele and the Lot river valleys. In time the village of Cabrerets and its Chateau were awarded to an important Cardaillac fief, Raymond de Gontaud. It became a Protestant stronghold during the Wars of Religion and its owner at that time, Jean Gontaud, was part of the force of Henri of Navarre that took Cahors from the Catholic bishops in 1580. During the Revolution years the Chateau was pillaged and devastated by locals. The Chateau's current owner, Philippe Sahut d'Izarn, a descendant of the illustrious Gontaud family, began restoring the Chateau in 1994 and is committed to maintaining it as an historic site. That's the can read it on the internet. But what is it like to actually live in the Chateau as its owner and his wife do? Follow me...
First, you need a really big gate to keep out uninvited guests. Jean's been invited, though, so it's okay for her to enter the inner courtyard.
It's helpful to find a really old stone statue of the Virgin holding the Baby to sit in a niche in one of the courtyard walls. She can bless all who enter, Protestant and Catholic alike.
A beautiful entry door in a turret is necessary to impress your guests...
You might also want an interior saint in the tiny entrance foyer to bless those invited and deter those who might have gained entrance for evil purposes.
A billiard room is handy for entertainment on those long winter nights, and it makes a good place to display hunting trophies...

An open-air interior courtyard makes a nice place to admire the architecture...
enjoy the views of your village and the Cele River....
and give guided tours on patrimoine weekend...that's my friend, Greg on the far left.
Sometimes it's hard to give up your favorite chair or
leave the gallery library in the living room to greet guests, but
you know each tour group will want to see the tapestry covered walls of the dining room,
the medieval weapons hanging over the sculpted stone fireplace,
and discover the warmest place to sit in the winter.
Why would anyone wear metal sabots??

My guess is you're interested in seeing how the owners cook in this Chateau. That's a story for the next blog post!