Welcome to the Via Lucis Blog for Romanesque Photography


Via Lucis Photography is about the art and architecture of Romanesque and Gothic churches in Europe. This blog highlights those photographs but also features the written word to characterize and give context to the images.

Photographers Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey have photographed approximately 850 of these churches and captured over 100,000 images. We have created a library of more than 5,000 high resolution images for licensing on the VIA LUCIS website.

In addition, Via Lucis images are available for academic or research purposes through ARTstor.

If you are interested, here is a post that lists some of our personal favorite articles on Via Lucis.

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Please note that all images and text on this Via Lucis blog are copyrighted by the photographers and authors. Thank you for respecting this notice.

Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Dennis Aubrey)


Originally known as the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Vaison, Notre Dame de Nazareth contains some of the oldest Christian structures in France. Built originally on the site of a temple in the Roman town of Vasio, the current structure is mostly Romanesque except for the eastern end. Surprisingly for a Provençal church, there is little architectural decoration. When one thinks of nearby cathedrals like Saint Trophime in Arles and Saint Gilles de Gard that were built in old Roman towns, this seems like an oddity.

West front, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

West front, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The interior continues the theme of architectural spareness – the church features a nave of three bays with an ogive barrel vault. This vault has clerestory windows piercing it, which I am not sure are original.

Nave, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the photograph of the nave elevation, we can see how the wide arcades are carried by powerful pier clusters. The entire structure exudes strength and solidity, an appearance that is magnified by the lack of sculptural adornment. Except for the running cornices along the base of the vault and atop the piers, there is no decoration.

Nave elevation, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave elevation, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Arc rampant

Arc rampant

The tall and narrow side aisles contain a fairly rare structure, the arc rampant, known in English as the r‪ampant round arch‬. The arc rampant is defined as an arch where the springing points are not of the same height. This is different from the more familiar half-barrel vaults.

In the photograph of the south side aisle we can see the arc rampant high up supporting the ogive vault. I am not sure why this was used in Vaison, but it is a unique feature.

South side aisle with arc rampant, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle with arc rampant, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The eastern end consists of the chevet and three apsidal chapels and is Merovingian, very early Christian, possibly from the eighth century. Beyond the round chancel arch is a large and impressive oven vault.

Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The simple altar is centered in the raised sanctuary. PJ’s shot shows it from the east, looking back to the main entrance of the church, with the small platform for the priest.

Altar, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Altar, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

One of the most interesting features is the sunken apse behind the chancel crossing. This is a magnificent structure, filled with Roman and Merovingian carvings and boasts a cathedra, the throne of the bishop, at the far eastern wall. The benches along the wall were placed there for the canons in attendance to the bishop. The sarcophagus in the center was uncovered in 1950 and is believed to contain the remains of Saint Quenin (Latin: Quinidius) who died in 578. Quenin was a hermit who lived in Aix until summoned to his birthplace at Vaison to serve as an archdeacon by Bishop Theodosius and subsequently elected bishop.

Sunken apse with cathedra, Sunken Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sunken apse with cathedra, Sunken Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cathedral has no transepts, but the central crossing is covered with an octagonal cupola. In the corners under the squinches one can see the only architectural sculpture in the church itself – there are small figures representing the four evangelists.

Chancel dome, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chancel dome, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cathedral also shelters an admirable rectangular cloister that dates from the 12th century..

Cloister, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

From the cloister we can see the fine central garden and the sturdy bell tower that dominates the northeastern view.

Cloister and clocher, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cloister and clocher, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cloister capitals were carved on blocks of marble rescued from Roman remains in the medieval city.

Cloister columns, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister columns, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

There is an interesting anomaly associated with this cathedral. Normally one would find the cathedral in the center of the town, usually at the highest point. But in Vaison, the cathedral is in the flat land, outside of the city proper, on the site of the Roman town of Vasio in the valley along the ‪Ouvèze‬ river. There is a good historical reason for this. In the late 12th century there were disputes between the church and the Count of Toulouse who held sway over Provence. The secular ruler ordered the looting of the town and he founded a castle on the hill above the Roman town. By the 13th century, the inhabitants had fled the old town and moved to the ville haute on the other side of the river.

Side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Today, Notre Dame de Nazareth sits peacefully in a park, no longer part of the bustle of the town of Vaison, but basking in the Provençal sun and content to recall the days when she was the center of a thriving early Christian civilization.

Location: 44.241695° 5.069133°

Imperfect Means for a Perfect Church (Dennis Aubrey)


When we photograph in France, we often are given access to the various churches and cathedrals from the DRAC, Direction régionale des Affaires culturelles (the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs). This allows us access to churches that might otherwise not be available (although for the most part, this is not an issue).

Exterior, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by PJ McKey

Exterior, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by PJ McKey

When we arrived at the Abbaye de Thoronet, however, we received a bit of a shock. We were allowed to photograph, but we couldn’t use our tripods. Since we normally photograph with small apertures for long exposures this was a problem. We showed our recommendations from the authorities, but after about an hour, we were informed that the Abbey at Thoronet was not a church, but a national monument under the direction of Centre des monuments nationaux. The Centre is a public administration run by the Ministry for Culture and Communication. It conserves, restores, and manages nearly 100 national monuments belonging to the State, staffing their sites and opening them to the public. Photography at one of these sites requires additional permissions and even fees.

View of chevet from east, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by PJ McKey

View of chevet from east, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by PJ McKey

PJ was a little disturbed by the statement that the abbey was a park and not a church. Disgruntled, she said, “Well, let’s just have a picnic since it’s just a park.” But we decided to try to photograph anyway in the large, dark structure. We set the ISO’s up to 1000 and entered the church. The abbey church is, quite simply, perfection. It is the finest example of pure Cistercian architecture that we’ve seen and we were enthralled.

But the photography was a challenge, primarily in a few specific areas. First, trying to capture this perfection with tilt-shift lenses and no tripod was a challenge. It is a difficult feat in dark churches anyway, and it was pretty much a matter of guesswork without a tripod. Second, focus was difficult because we had to handhold fairly long exposures, and third, there was increased noise because of the high iso’s.

This image is a typical example of a shot that proved successful. It was a 1/30 second exposure at ISO 1250 and f/4.0. Normally this would have been 30 seconds at ISO 100 and f/16. You can see that the vertical alignments are not wholly successful.

Nave, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Another version of this view was taken at 1/25 second, ISO 800 and f/4.0. The horizontal framing was extremely challenging for the tilt-shift function. But this was at the end of the shoot and I was more comfortable with the attempts and the verticals are better aligned in this photo.

Nave and side aisles, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave and side aisles, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But as you can see from these images and with technical challenges aside, the abbey church is simply perfection in its architecture. The simple lines reflect the elegance of its design and construction. The apse demonstrates this – the three centered windows with round arches and the oven vault perfectly framed by the ogive chancel arch.

Apse, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The side aisles are raised three steps above the nave and feature a small retaining wall between the two features.

View from side aisle, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by PJ McKey

View from side aisle, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by PJ McKey

The view from the transept looking west emphasizes the simplicity of the architectural lines, from the ogive arches to the round windows. The side aisles are covered with demi-lune vaults, half-barrels that support the central walls carrying the weight of the nave vault.

View from transept, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by PJ McKey

View from transept, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by PJ McKey

The abbey features an extraordinary multi-level cloister, with a garden in the center. Since the church is sited on a hillside, the main passages of the cloister are on several levels and there is an upper walk as well.

Cloister, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var)  Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister, Abbaye de Thoronet, Le Thoronet (Var) Photo by PJ McKey

Overall, we were as successful as we might have hoped in capturing this abbey. On close inspection of the original high-resolution images we can see the flaws – excessive luminance noise, slight focus problems, and tilt-shift aberrations. We are also not able to get tack-sharp images across all planes because we could not do the long exposures that we prefer. Next time we go to this far reach of the Provence, we will return with the proper permissions and – tripods in hand – get the images that we had planned in the first place. I suppose that is not a bad thing – we always have a great excuse to revisit this magnificent church.

Location: 43.460280° 6.264135°

Echoes of Ephraim (Dennis Aubrey)


Some time ago, I wrote a post about King David and his son Absalom called “Death in the Wood of Ephraim.” It has subsequently become one of our favorites, not just for the writing and photography, but from the remarkable comments that followed.

In the writing, I reflected on the origin of song, wondering if it was to be found as an expression of joy or of sorrow. My sister Ann wrote “Both are pure, both stem from the depths of our beings … they simply differ in source. Which came first? The briefest song of innocence, I think. Followed swiftly by lamentation.” My brother John Paul, who is a French horn player in Boston, wrote with another possibility: “Personally, from my experience as a performer, I suspect the origins might lie in our need to express certain emotions (joy, sorrow, lamentation, etc – are they really that different from one another?) in a unified manner. In other words – song allows groups of us to express feelings together – as one.”

Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

I write today because the three of us, along with my brother David, have lost a sibling to a virulent and implacable cancer. Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey was the third of five of the children, and we all mourn him today. His ashes were scattered in his beloved ocean, but it is not our mourning that is the subject today. “Death in the Wood of Ephraim” was an expression of the loss of a child by a parent. David, upon hearing of the death of his rebellious son Absalom, cast himself down and cried out “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).

The night we heard of Steve’s passing, my mother and father, Ann (who had flown in from Brazil), John Paul, PJ and I were together for dinner, just three miles from where he died with his wife Jan and his children Montana and Chance in his presence. Despite our knowing that his end was imminent, we were all shattered by the loss. As we gathered around and held her, my mother could only echo the words of David, “Why couldn’t it have been me? Why didn’t God take me?” How could we tell her what we all felt, that her death would have been just as crushing for us all, and the thought of my father without his beloved wife of 66 years is impossible to contemplate. The loss of a loved one can not be made whole by the loss of another.

Église Notre-Dame de Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Saturnin (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Notre-Dame de Saint-Saturnin, Saint-Saturnin (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When brother David heard the news, he came over to join us and the family was together to mourn Steve’s loss. We all stood in awe of the grief of our parents. The blessing that had been bestowed on us to share their lives as they reach the deep winter of their years is tempered by a loss which they should never have experienced.

Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey May 26, 1955 – July 17, 2014  (Photo by Steve O'Malley)

Stephen Blaisdell Aubrey May 26, 1955 – July 17, 2014 (Photo by Steve O’Malley)

In his most moving elegy on the death of his brother Gerard, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, ” It seems to me that I can almost hear my brother saying: “Can a woman forget the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet I will not forget you.” This is how it must be. You know how I am situated, how dejected in spirit, how your departure has affected me; there is none to give me a helping hand.”

We are not alone, and the helping hands of parents, siblings, Steve’s family, and our friends all reach out to help us in our pain. But there is nothing that can be done to touch that kernel of agony deep inside, inside the place where I personally fear I was not a good enough brother to him. I dream of him almost every night, perhaps hoping to hear his words of forgiveness.

Ann wrote an appreciation of Steve on her blog, which might give you a sense of Steve as a man.

Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


In 1024 Conrad II (ca. 990~1039), the first Holy Roman Emperor of the Salian dynasty commissioned the construction of a cathedral which was intended to be the symbol of the imperial power over the papacy on the foundation of a former basilica. The work began sometime between 1027 and 1030 with the crypt and the chancel over it with two towers to north and south flanking the chancel.

Ground plan, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)

Ground plan, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)

Construction of westwork and the nave with closely spaced columns and a lower wooden roof and two aisles with groin vaults followed, and the first incarnation of the cathedral, Speyer was consecrated in 1061. Conrad II died in 1039, his son Henry III in 1056, and they were buried in the nave in front of the altar. The original apse was half round on the inside, but was finished as a square volume on the outside.

Western facade with the original Salian Westwork restored in the 19th century, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western facade with the original Salian Westwork restored in the 19th century, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Around 1090, Conrad’s grandson, Henry IV, also elected as the Holy Roman Emperor, undertook an ambitious rebuilding of the cathedral. The crypt and the eastern towers were the only original components from the Speyer I, and ceiling of the nave was raised by five meters, foundations reinforced to eight meters below ground. The most significant achievement of the nameless master builder was to reinforce every other columns of the nave by joining substantial, half round pilasters creating six bays defined by transverse arches, and enclosing the nave bays with groin vaults.

Groin vaulting, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Groin vaulting, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Two other significant contributions of the master builder, almost as important as the nave vaulting concept, firstly, was the system of clearstory centered between all columns; and secondly, the dwarf gallery on the exterior along the longitudinal mass of the cathedral and around the half round apse. The dwarf gallery does three things: reduce the visual weight of the imposing height of the masonry; express the impressive heft of the masonry by highlighting the colonnades against shadow; and enhance sense of scale.

East exterior with dwarf gallery, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

East exterior with dwarf gallery, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The expanded cathedral, Speyer II, was completed in 1106, the year of Henry IV’s death. It is 134 meters long and 43 meters wide. Speyer cathedral suffered two major devastations in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. What comes down to us today for Speyer is largely the work of the nineteenth century restoration by Heinrich Hübsch, who restored the original Salian concept of the westwork replacing an earlier classical/baroque western elevation.

When a visitor enters the cathedral through the narthex, then sets foot in the nave, the immediate sensation he or she feels is the scale and grandeur of the space. “Speyer is not subtle, but anyone who understands masonry will love the tremendous cliff-like masses of its walls and the heavy over-arching testudo of its vaulting,” writes Kenneth John Conant.

View of nave toward choir, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View of nave toward choir, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave consists of six groin-vaulted bays defined by transverse arches supported by major pilasters attached to columns, and it is joined to the east by the crossing with octagonal tower above, relatively shallow cross rib-vaulted transepts, and the semi-circular apse. The major column in the middle shows the substantial, half-round pilaster with capital from which the 5-meter extension of column sprang.

Nave elevation, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The altar is placed in the last bay of the nave to the west of the crossing. The red sandstone quarried from Speyer forest upstream on the Rhine with which the cathedral is built, unifies the three Kaiserdom on the Rhine: Speyer, Mainz and Worms.

Chancel, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Chancel, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

On the interior, the builders used grey sandstone in combination with the red sandstone in defining the transverse arches, as well as the imposing masonry to surround the bronze gate entry to the nave from the narthex.

Bronze gate to nave, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Bronze gate to nave, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Speyer cathedral together with Santiago de Compostela and Durham, all constructed within a few decades of each other, stand out as the crowning achievements of the medieval building art. Cluny III, had it not been so tragically destroyed, would undoubtedly take a place of honor within this group of monuments.

Location: 49.317199°8. 8.442247°

For more information about our guest writer, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.

American Friends of Chartres Video


As regular readers of Via Lucis know, PJ and I are closely affiliated with American Friends of Chartres (AFC), the American non-profit organization that raises money to help with the restoration of the monumental cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres. In the recent past, AFC has raised funds to restore the five Evanglist lancet windows in the south transept of the Cathedral.

The "Evangelist" lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The “Evangelist” lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Now AFC is embarking a new, unprecedented project – the restoration of the Bakers’ Bay windows and bringing the ensemble to the United States. For the first time, some of Chartres’ 13th century masterpieces of stained glass will be displayed in the United States. AFC is asking for our help in making this possible and has created a crowd-funding appeal on Razoo. Here is the video that accompanies that appeal.

Via Lucis has made both a cash contribution and donated our photographs to AFC for use on their website and video. We encourage all of our readers to aid in this restoration and subsequent exhibition. Please go to the Razoo site and and make a donation, however generous or modest. You will be thanked for your tax-deductible contribution on the AFC website, and your name will be inscribed in the Golden Book which is always kept open in the Cathedral. In addition, your gift may be made IN HONOR of a special person or event, or IN MEMORY of a departed loved one, for no extra cost. And finally, as a member of the AFC community, you will receive a special invitation to the exhibition of the windows in the US.

For more information on this project, we encourage you to click on this link to visit the AFC website.

Grâce à Biollet (Dennis Aubrey)


A few years ago PJ and I were photographing the Église Saint Pierre in the small Auvergnat town of Biollet that featured some of the most odd and engaging capitals that we had ever seen. At first we thought that these were primitive and amateurish, but as we reflected we suspected that we might be missing something. Our research led us to a paper ”Figures d’entre deux mondes” written by Albert and Monique Pinto, which resulted not only on our post The Mysterious Capitals of Biollet but to a guest article by Albert Pinto.

So on our last trip when were planning our visit to the Clermont-Ferrand area near the Pinto home, we were disappointed to learn that they no longer lived in the area but had moved to Provence. This year we planned to meet them for dinner when we visited Aix-en-Provence and on one fine Tuesday we did so. In addition to the dinner, Albert had made arrangements for us to photograph the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur in Aix. We met for dinner at the Brasserie Leopold at our hotel, the Saint Christopher right in town.

Gothic nave,  Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Gothic nave, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We were immediately charmed and delighted by both Monique and Albert. We connected on the level of our mutual love of Romanesque churches. Their experience was exhaustive – there was never a church that we named that they were not familiar with, a pretty extraordinary thing considering that we have visited and photographed over 800 of these structures ourselves.

We discovered something else in our conversation that evening – a shared passion for wines and food! As we ate our meal, we talked about the different wines and the foods from the different regions of France. When the Auvergne came up, PJ and I rhapsodized about one of our favorite dishes, la truffade, the wonderful concoction of potatoes, lardons, and cheese. Monique, a native of the region immediately offered to make us a truffade for lunch the next day when we had finished our photography of the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. So our day was planned in its entirety!

Apse chapel, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by PJ McKey

Apse chapel, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

The next morning we made our way to the cathedral, a stunning structure right in the center of the old town of Aix-en-Provence, difficult to reach among the winding and narrow streets. But we arrived early to find Albert waiting for us. He knew the church intimately and showed us the different parts of the church that have been built up over the centuries. The oldest part of the church is the fifth century baptistère, one of the rare early Christian remnants of Romanized Gaul.

Baptistere, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Baptistère, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There are several Romanesque elements including one of the two naves of the structure (the other is the Gothic structure seen in the first photograph above).

Romanesque nave, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by PJ McKey

Romanesque nave, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

This large and elegant structure features so many interesting elements that it was difficult to select among them for this post. One of my personal favorites is this view of the crossing in the Romanesque nave.

Crossing detail, Romanesque nave, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by PJ McKey

Crossing detail, Romanesque nave, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

While we were photographing, we became aware of preparations for a funeral in the church. Normally this means that we would be forced to wait outside until the ceremonies were complete, but Albert talked to the curé who made arrangements for us to spend that time in one of the most interesting features of the church, the Romanesque cloister, today a square but originally rectangular. It was truncated in the 17th century for a visit from Louis XIV, but this is one case where a later modification may have worked in the favor of the cloister, since it is almost perfect in form.

Cloister, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

In addition to the perfections of its proportions, the cloister is filled with sculptural features of the finest quality, including the capitals and the superb array of of paired columns. This cloister certainly deserves a post of its own, which I hope to prepare in the near future.

Cloister detail, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cloister detail, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

After photographing the cathedral, we adjourned to the Pinto home across town for our truffade lunch. While Monique was putting the finishing touches on our lunch, Albert brought out a book, “1000 églises romanes de France” by André Verrassel. Their copy was marked up with notes of their exhaustive visits to these churches and was a great record of their travels. PJ and I have already ordered our copy to add to our library. We only hope that we can fill ours as they did their own.

Cloister, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)  Photo by PJ McKey

Cloister, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

As we left their apartment to continue our journey to nearby Graveson, Monique said, “Grâce à Biollet”. Albert repeated the phrase and we could only agree. Grâce à Biollet we had discovered this couple who represent all that we find wonderful in our world of France, food, wine and the Romanesque.

Location: 43.531977° 5.447552°

Note: This is the first post during a month in which I have been recovering from the illness described earlier on these pages. We will now start to post on some of the churches that we managed to photograph on our curtailed trip in May and June.

“Why don’t he write?” Part 2 (Dennis Aubrey)


The last post on these pages – “Why don’t he write?” – was written in a brief semi-rational interlude after 9 unabated days of illness and misery. The title refers, of course, to the line spoken by the wonderful Robert Pastorelli, who plays Timmons, the muleskinner in the movie Dances with Wolves. Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) and Timmons camp on the plain for the night and find a human skeleton in the grasses.

So what actually happened to us? In the Provence I contracted a virulent e-coli infection that completely debilitated me. At times of great sickness, the human body apportions resources according to need. The conscious workings of the brain are of the lowest priority and my brain was effectively shut off. I was left in a state of shadows and visions with only the most tenuous hold on reality.

After six days of abject misery in Issoire, PJ decided that we had to formulate a plan to get me home. She worked it out in stages – first we would drive a couple of hours north to Montluçon. The three days in Montluçon were a blur, but PJ’s next choice was to get us to Olivet, only two hours from Paris. As we drove across the French countryside, I suddenly said with great hope, “I know exactly where we are going.” Olivet is the source of the Loiret and has always been part of our family lore because my father was fascinated by the astonishing volumes of water that emerged from the earth. I became convinced that if I could get to the source, all would be well.

The three days in Olivet (and great medical treatment by the French) turned me around completely. Still weak and exhausted, I was at least a participant in the real world again.

Tonight we are in a hotel at the Paris airport and tomorrow afternoon we fly the first leg of our journey home, to Iceland. We’ll rest a day in Keflavik and then on Monday we’ll return home. A couple of reflections – the trip was not a total waste and we have some wonderful photographs to share and the French medical system is marvelous; smart and efficient. I’d also like to thank all of you for your good wishes and prayers; it meant a great deal (and Trish wins the prize for recognizing the Timmons quote).

On a final note, in the last line of the previous post, I tried to send some effect of the healing waters to my brother Steve, who is struggling for life in Cape Cod.