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.

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

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.

From Mithra to a Missionary (Dennis Aubrey)


The Ardèche town of Bourg-Saint-Andéol has a well documented history going back for two millenia. The town itself was a Gaulish settlement called Bergoiata and was a place of great religious significance. In the late second century the Romans built a temple on the site of two sacred springs and dedicated it to Mithra, the Zoroastrian divinity. The Mithraic cult was restricted to men only and even today there is a remnant of that temple, a large relief carved into a stone escarpment just to the west of town.

Drawing of Mithras relief, Bourg Saint-Andéol (Ardèche)

Drawing of Mithras relief, Bourg Saint-Andéol (Ardèche)

About the same time as the image of Mithra was carved into the rock, a missionary was sent to bring Christianity to the Gauls and Romans of the region. Andeolus was sent by Saint Polycarpe, the Bishop of Smyrna, around 177 to the Roman province of Helvia, the region now known as the Vivarais. He settled in the town of Bergoiata and preached there until caught up in the Roman persecutions of Christians. In the year 208, Septimius Severus came to the region to visit the Mithraeum. The emperor heard that Andeolus was preaching to large crowds and had him arrested. The missionary was compelled to renounce his faith, but refused to submit to threats or blandishments, was tortured and then executed by a sword thrust that split his skull.

His body was thrown into the Rhône river but was collected and buried in Bergoiata. In the book Album du Vivarais, ou itinéraire historique et descriptif de cette ancienne by Albert Du Boys the story becomes further developed. He claims that the body of Andeolus, thrown into the Rhone, was later found and buried by a rich Roman woman, Amycia Eucheria Tullia.

In 858, when the Saracens were ravaging the Vivarais, the Bishop of Viviers reburied the body in a Gallo-Roman sarcophagus, placed in the church in Bergoiata. That church, the nearby Saint Polycarpe, became a place of pilgrimage. In the 15th century, the town took the name of its patron and became Bourg-Saint-Andéol.

North transept, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

North transept, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The church named after this saint, the Église Saint Andéol was built in the late 11th and early 12th centuries by Léodegaire, Bishop of Viviers, and is one of the most important in this part of the Rhone Valley. It was constructed on the site of the Carolingian church built-in the 9th century but nothing remains of that structure. About the time of the completion of the church, the sarcophagus with the relics of Andeolus were brought to the Église Saint Andéol. The church that we see today is a superb example of the Romanesque, despite extensive renovations between 1862 and 1868, renovations that mostly followed the original construction.

The nave has four bays and is covered with a banded barrel vault. The extremely wide transverse arches of the bands are carried by thin pilasters attached to the powerful piers. There is a clerestory window on each side of the nave in every bay.

Nave, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The apse is a beautiful semicircular structure with a blind arcade topped by large clerestory windows and covered with an oven vault. In the transverse chancel arch there is a large oculus to light the crossing. There is an echeloned side chapel on either side.

Apse, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The current altar is in the crossing but we can see the side chapel in the distance under the arch on the north side of the choir. That chapel is also covered with an oven vault. We can see the oculus in the transverse arch here as well as the main choir.

Apse, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The chancel crossing is covered with an audacious dome, seven meters across and almost 24 meters high at its apogee. It is carried by scallop-shell squinches and features a blind triple arcade in each face.

Crossing, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The piers separating the side aisles from the nave are massive cruciform structures. We can sense the great height of the church and the boldness of its construction.

Nave piers, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave piers, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The clean lines of the church are emphasized by the lack of sculptural decoration. The towering arches lead us down the line of the nave to the magnificent crossing and the small but elegant apse beyond.

West end of side aisle, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

West end of side aisle, Église Saint Andéol, Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The area of Bourg-Saint-Andéol has been a sacred site for millennia. The two springs at the Mithraeum are famous in themselves as “Vauclusian” in reference to the Fontaine de Vaucluse, source of the Sorgue, near Avignon, which in ancient times was a place of ritual offerings. These springs are known as the Goul de La Tannerie or Petit Goul and the Goul du Pont, or Grand Goul. Since 1953, divers have explored these springs to the depth of 209 meters and have discovered a wealth of caverns and passages without finding an end to them. They remain as mysterious today as they did two thousand years ago. Since the famous Chauvet caves are just 15 miles away and contain Aurignacian era paintings from 32,000 years ago, we can assume that the Église Saint Andéol is just the tip of a spiritual iceberg that goes back to the time when humans first inhabited this plateau above the powerful Rhône.

Location: 44.371109° 4.646811°

Go Home Stonehenge, You’re Drunk: Why Salisbury Cathedral Merits Your Attention Instead (Guest Post by Nathan Mizrachi)


Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Probably one of the most famous monuments from the ancient world, Stonehenge is the subject of countless poorly-thought out bucket lists, cheesy picture calendars, and is partly responsible for spawning this History Channel “ancient aliens” meme.

An unfathomable number of tourists swarm this 4,000 year-old stone circle sandwiched between pasture and a busy expressway.

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

There’s a huge parking lot for tour buses that haul around these gawking apes before they’re driven off to the next of God knows how many “must-see” destinations on their whirlwind tour of England. Presumably they’ll show off their instagram-ized shots of Stonehenge and boast to their friends about how there is so much more to England than London.

Bitch, please.

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Given the immense crowd of visitors milling about, the noisy construction of an additional visitors’ center nearby, and the extortionate cost of nearly 15 pounds for a ticket (I didn’t pay and dodged the security cordon, but that’s a story for another blog post), you won’t catch even a glimmer of the ageless pagan spirit out there amidst the hills of Wiltshire.

The hair on my skin crept up just a tiny bit, but not much more—unfortunately, Stonehenge has been swallowed up by the beast known as tourism, and just like Notre Dame in Paris or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a once-sacred monument has been profaned by idle chatter, the ceaseless clicking of cameras, and innumerable selfies by people who are only there because their guidebooks tell them to go.

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Stonehenge, photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Only 8 miles away from Stonehenge is Salisbury, or Sarum during the Roman days, home to a monument that is much more imposing than Stonehenge yet with a fraction of the visitors. In fact, I’d say the word is towering — by some measurements Salisbury’s cathedral has the tallest Medieval tower in Europe.

Cathedral Tower, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Cathedral Tower, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

I came to Salisbury to see Stonehenge, but first on my list was this spectacular Gothic cathedral constructed here in just 40 years, which is lightning-fast by 13th century standards. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s about the same amount of time it took for the majestic cathedral of Bourges — arguably my favorite in all of Europe — to be built.

A hallmark of these quickie cathedrals is that because they are built rapidly, they feature an extremely unified design.

Crossing, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Crossing, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

There are two main reasons for the uniform look: architectural and aesthetic tastes and/or innovations rarely happened overnight and took many decades to implement; also, it was possible that the original architect may have lived long enough to preside over the entire construction, or most of it, ensuring no alterations of his master plans.

The façade of Salisbury features mostly 19th century neo-Gothic statues of your garden variety Old Testament giants such as David and Moses, random minor saints and anonymous clergymen holding scale-model churches in their hands, and a run-of-the-mill Virgin and child scene over the central portal, flanked by an Annunciation scene straight out of the Art History textbooks.

West facade, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

West façade, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

There are a few holdovers from the original sculptors who decorated the façade, but for the most part the original pieces are lost to history.

Since this is a post for Via Lucis and I know you all want to learn something, a few comments about the façade at Salisbury and how it’s typically English Gothic: First, note the three lancet windows in the central bay of the façade, corresponding with the nave. Unlike French Gothic, English churches usually feature lancet windows instead of rose windows. This was probably an aesthetically-driven choice on the part of the architect, rather than an indictment on the English stone carvers’ ability to carve complex bar tracery in the shape of a circle.

Facade sculpture, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

façade sculpture, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Second, despite the contemporary introduction of gables into French Gothic, Salisbury hardly features them. In this case, the lack of rose windows is probably part of the reason why there is little gabling — apart from the 19th century annunciation scene—at Salisbury. Gables were used in France to feature sculptural scenes that usually were set into portals. However, as the century progressed the French became more and more addicted to placing rose windows in as many places as possible (see Reims cathedral for an example of this), whereas the English never got into it, rendering gables relatively useless.

These days you enter the cathedral via the cloisters, which lead to the immaculate chapter house (sadly, it was closed when I was there) that holds one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 and is acknowledged to be a cornerstone document in the progression to representational democracy by thousands of trivia players who know nothing else about it.

Cloister, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Cloister, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

I won’t get into the meat and potatoes of the Magna Carta, but it was signed by the hapless King John — of Robin Hood lore — who was, in the words of my immortal medieval history professor William Kapelle, “a creep.” Ultimately he pissed off the barons in his court to the point that they forced him to sign a pact that checked a monarch’s powers for the first time in modern history and ensured certain basic rights to subjects, including a prohibition against arresting someone without a valid cause for suspicion. It didn’t matter too much in the short term because John asked the Pope to annul this earthly document, and the Pope, glad to uphold the Divine right of the monarchy, complied.

If you’re still awake, let’s get back to Salisbury.

King John from De Rege Johanne

King John from De Rege Johanne

Upon entering the nave, one notices the linear quality of Salisbury. A hallmark of English Gothic is that unlike its French counterpart, English Gothic emphasizes horizontal length rather than vertical height.

The difference boils down to aesthetic preference more than any sort of lack of architectural know-how; indeed, we know of more than one case where the master architect in an English Cathedral was a Frenchman.

Here’s a great comparison for you to understand what I mean:

Nave elevation, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Nave elevation, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

View from the tribunes, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure)  Photo by PJ McKey

View from the tribunes, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure) Photo by PJ McKey

The top image depicts the nave elevation at Salisbury; the bottom depicts Chartres. Immediately apparent is that Salisbury’s height is much less than that at Chartres, but also that the visual effect of the architecture draws the eye forwards more than upwards. The opposite is true of Chartres. This isn’t hocus pocus; the reason why Salisbury has a lateral effect is because the gallery is separated from the arcade below and the clerestory above with an uninterrupted sequence of horizontal stone bands. At Chartres, we see the same unbroken band hugging each massive column as it soars upwards to the vaults. In both instances, the lines formed by these bands create a movement which our eyes follow; to the choir in Salisbury and the vaults in Chartres.

Nave columns, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Nave columns, Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Salisbury (Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

I would go on, but I think you get the point: Salisbury Cathedral is an incredible holdover from the Middle Ages, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to enter (donations optional), and isn’t flooded with oblivious tourists. So if you do make it out to the neighborhood, by all means pay Stonehenge a visit and whet your appetite, but save Salisbury for the main course.

Note: Nathan Mizrachi is a fellow blogger and lover of medieval art and architecture. To read his “About” page on his blog, Life is a Camino, follow this link.

Postscript: Nathan, my own experience with Stonehenge occurred many years ago, probably around 1961 or 1962. My family went to visit near dawn on the day of the Summer Solstice. Even at such an auspicious time, there weren’t more than a hundred visitors on the chilly morning and there was nobody there to charge admission. Many of the visitors were faux druids, dressed in various togas and shifts. There were the usual assorted bearded priests and barefooted pagan worshippers, but one woman I remember particularly, a wild looking thing with very pale skin and long, undressed red hair flying all over, a white sheet as a shift of some kind, and enormous bare feet. It all seemed very silly to me, even at that tender age of 13.

Our Lady of the Lake (Dennis Aubrey)


blason-thorLegend says that Notre Dame du Lac in the small Vaucluse town of Le Thor was built at the request of the Emperor Charlemagne in the ninth century to commemorate a miracle that occurred in the town. I have found two versions of the miracle. In the first, it appears that there was a local boy and his bull, both very pious. The bull, when brought to a particular pond to drink, would drop to his knees before drinking. Astonished at the piety of the animal, the villagers dragged the pond and discovered a statue of the Virgin in the mud. In the second version, a bull, guided by a star, scratched the ground with his hooves and unearthed the statue. This appears to be the version commemorated in the town blazon, although the first would seem to be more in keeping with the name of the church, Notre Dame du Lac. In either case, the town is ostensibly named after the bull, Le Thor being a variation of taureau, French for bull.

There is, however, a less romantic origin of the name. Thor might be a derivative of Thouzon, a fortified Benedictine monastery on a nearby hill that was created as a safe haven for residents. But whatever the origins, we know that the current church was built in the late 12th century. There is a reference from Bermond, Bishop of Cavaillon who donated to the Abbe of Saint André de Villeneuve-les-Avignon in 1202 the ecclesium novum Sactæ Mariæ, the new church of Sainte Marie, in Le Thor.

Exterior, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Exterior, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The church dedicated to Notre Dame du Lac is distinguished as much by what is missing as by what exists – she lacks side aisles, side chapels and transepts. The church consists of a large nave with three bays covered with Gothic rib vaults, a square crossing under the octagonal cupola, and a small apse covered with a ribbed oven vault. The interior height of the church is notable, sixteen meters.

Nave, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The elevation shows that each bay is supported by massive piers with pilasters climbing up to carry the transverse arches. There is a clerestory window high up on the wall in each side of the bay. Notice that there are cornices for decoration and no capitals in the nave. In this elevation we can also see the arches that support the cupola and the scallop-shaped squinches supporting the dome.

Nave elevation, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave elevation, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

One interesting feature of the church is the tribune over the first bay in the west. This was conceived of for the original church, but was constructed of wood. That original wooden structure was replaced by this stone tribune in the 1950’s.

Tribune, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Tribune, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The apse is simple but quite elegant. It features a seven-arched hemicycle with alternating windowed and blind arcades. The oven vault is ribbed, which we have not seen too often in Romanesque churches.

Apse, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The spare interior does feature some wonderful sculptural touches. The finest are the capitals on the arcade pillars in the apse, most of which feature foliated subjects. There are also some wonderful decorations on the corbels supporting the apse cornice. The first is a wonderful smiling angel.

Angel cornice decoration, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Angel cornice decoration, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The second is this charming figure squatting and supporting the weight of the heavy stone load above him. These are seen often in the Romanesque churches, but this is one of the more amusing of them.

Cornice detail, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cornice detail, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

One of the glories of the church is the superb south portal. There is a combination of the decorated columns with their fine capitals, the three carved archivolts, the double door of the entrance with a tympanum, and the 17th century fresco above the doorway arch. This fresco is in very poor condition and did not photograph well. The portal area itself is covered with a ribbed vault.

South portal, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

South portal, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The portal features wonderful carvings, far more in keeping with the Romanesque style than the spare interior. We can see how the elements have caused deterioration of the wonderful sculpture, but that is typical of churches throughout Europe.

Exterior capital, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Exterior capital, Église Notre Dame du Lac, Le Thor (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These churches are the property of the French people, not the Catholic Church, and their representatives are charged with keeping this religious and architectural patrimony intact. In 1834, the writer Prosper Mérimée was appointed the first inspector-general of historical monuments, a fortuitous choice. A man of learning and sophistication, he had a deep appreciation for the beauty and historical significance of the monuments in this care.

In 1837, following the request of Mérimée, the departmental prefects were asked to list the monuments of their department that they consider for priority restoration. In 1840, this led the Historic Monuments Commission to establish a list of a thousand monuments “for which relief was sought”. The importance of Notre Dame du Lac is demonstrated because it was classified in this first list of 1840.

Location: 43.929897° 4.994711°

A Traveling Companion in the Ardèche (Dennis Aubrey)


A year ago in June we saw a reblog of one of our posts by a new blogger named Nathan Mizrachi. It read: “Reblogged this on Life is a Camino and commented: I stumbled across this while ogling the beautiful photographs on this brilliant website, Via Lucis. The comparison between the athleticism of a footballer like Zidane and Romanesque/Gothic architecture is so true: power, grace, beauty. No coincidence I love them both.”

This started a series of blog conversations like we have had with so many of you in the past. These conversations have become one of the highlights of our blogging experience – and we have visited with several correspondents and have plans to visit more. Through these conversations we have had so many guest posts that enriched the site immeasurably. In the case of Nathan, we discovered that he was going to embark on the most monumental of adventures – a year-long walk on the Camino de Santiago and in Europe. After we made our plans for our spring trip to France, we decided to ask Nathan if he would be interested in pursuing his love of Romanesque and Gothic churches by visiting with us for a week in the Ardèche. He accepted – although I’m sure with some trepidation.

Lunch at Bourg Saint Andeol (Ardèche)

Lunch at Bourg Saint Andeol (Ardèche)

When we picked him up at rail station at Valence, we had no real idea of what he would be like in person. Certainly his blog persona was attractive – intelligent, educated, fiercely passionate about medieval art and architecture and certainly adventurous. We saw him immediately in the disembarking crowd and we began our sojourn in the beautiful Ardèche. We stopped for basic groceries at a number of stores and then settled to our gite near the town of Berrias-et-Casteljau. The next six days were spent visiting and photographing churches, picnicking and spending the evenings cooking and drinking the fine wines from Hermitage that PJ and I had picked up the day before we met Nathan.

Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche)  Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

During our travels with Nathan, we were not surprised to find him curious and interested in just about everything. He was indefatigable in the churches and he would make a habit of disappearing for a walk in whatever town we visited. If we needed anything, he always knew where we could go to find a boulangerie, charcuterie, or anything else.

Street arch, Ruoms (Ardèche)  Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Street arch, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

There was time for adventure as well. We took a long drive to visit the natural arch at Vallon Pont d’Arc. I think that seeing the folks far below swimming and kayaking resonated with both PJ and Nathan, because a few days later they both went kayaking on the local Chassezac river. The tale of their perilous adventures on the rapids is one that they need to tell in person, if only to see Nathan blush!

PJ and Nathan at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc  (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

PJ and Nathan at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

Nathan spent a great deal of time photographing with his small camera, but we also encouraged him to try his hand with our equipment, especially the tilt-shift lenses. He has talent, as you will see in the last picture of this post, the altar at Chassiers.

Countryside near Ailhon,  Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Countryside near Ailhon, Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

What astonished the two of us most about Nathan, though, was his mode of travel – couch surfing, hitchhiking, walking, and using the internet to find incredibly cheap flights and train fares. The world has changed since we were young and Nathan was absolutely comfortable navigating this wired world. And he has the time and energy to regularly post on Life is a Camino.

Street view in Ailhon (Ardèche)   Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Street view in Ailhon (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

On our last evening together, we decided that instead of cooking we would go out to a local restaurant. We found a nice little place and settled in on the patio. Nathan, who is a good cook and very interested in food in general, surprised us by ordering steak tartare. His meal arrived, about a pound of raw ground meat with an egg on top, surrounded by small saucers with spices. When the dish was set before him, Nathan looked at it sceptically and said, “I thought it was going to be more like carpaccio.” We told him he could order something else, but he smiled gamely and said he would eat this. He then proceeded to mix the meat with the egg and all the spices into one giant melange and finished it all off. I was truly impressed, even though it probably was not his favorite meal in Europe. Afterwards, we all sat comfortably, sated, until Nathan saw the gentlemen at the table across from us served their dessert, a giant chocolate sundae called a liégeois. He ordered it and polished it off to the last dollop of whipped cream. Ah, youth!

Chapelle Saint Benoit, Chassiers (Ardèche)  Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Chapelle Saint Benoit, Chassiers (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

At the end of the six days, we left Nathan off at an intersection in Orange from which he was going to hitchhike to Carcassonne. PJ and I were both wistful at the parting; we would miss this kind, interesting, adventurous, and well-educated young man who shares our love of the Romanesque.

However … he still owes us a guest post on Via Lucis.

9/11 Anniversary Reflection


Dennis Aubrey:

A post from Gordon Stewart reflecting on Robert Oppenheimer. The clip of Oppenheimer is amazing.

Originally posted on VIEWS from the EDGE:

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” [Bhagavad Gita XI.32]

We live under the reign of death – under the threat of death, the fact of death, the fear of death, the practice of death, the way of death. We are reminded of it on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, the day after President Obama’s speech about ISIS.

One might suppose J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the United States’ World War II program to develop the first nuclear weapons, thought he and his colleagues were taking humanity higher up the ladder of human progress. Whatever he may have thought at the beginning, he sensed a fall into the arms of the destroyer of worlds while watching the first nuclear explosion in 1945.

Twenty years later, during a visit to Japan, Oppenheimer reflected on his immediate reaction watching the Trinity explosion at Alamogordo that unleashed…

View original 460 more words

A Short Video from Via Lucis


A couple of years ago, PJ and I made a few short videos from our photographs. This one features music from “Requiem for my Friend” by Zbigniew Preisner, including the astonishing “Lachrimosa.”

Note, this is best when viewed full screen.

Charm and Simplicity in a Country Church (Dennis Aubrey)


In preparing for our last trip, we were aware of a cluster of churches in the Ardèche region, just to the east of the west of the Rhone and south of Valence. It was also the place where we decided to meet Nathan Mizrachi. We rented a small two-bedroom house in a vineyard and used it as our base of operations to explore the region. We were taken with the beautiful scenery of the Ardèche and the fantastic fruit, especially cherries, that we found there.

Vineyard view from our Ardèche gite, Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Vineyard view from our Ardèche gite, Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

The Romanesque churches that we visited were all fairly close to each other, but even so we were struck by the differences of the terrain in so small a region. We were in valleys, high flat plateaus, and even steep gorges like that found at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. PJ and Nathan even went kayaking, but that is a story for another time.

PJ and Nathan at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc  (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

PJ and Nathan at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

The churches we found were charming and attractive, none more so than the Église Saint Pierre de Larnas, situated in a meadow outside of the village of Larnas. The church was built by the Benedictine monks of Cruas, who were in charge of administering the entire plateau just to the west of the Rhône.

Exterior, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Exterior, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The region, known historically as the Vivarais, was a major center of Protestantism during the Reformation. During the following Wars of Religion (1562–1598), the Vivarais was considered a strategically important location between Protestant Geneva and Lyon and Catholic Languedoc to the south. The area suffered eight pitched battles between 1562 and 1595 and much damage was done both to the population and to the churches.

Saint Pierre shows the effects of those disputed years – the eastern portion of the church is original but only the lower section of the nave is Romanesque – the upper reaches of the walls are clearly later reconstructions. In addition, there appears to have been a third bay to the nave. The western façade that we see today is abrupt and we can see the supporting arch that would have separated the sections of the barrel vault. We can also see buttressing on the exterior that would indicate that there was another bay. As a result, the nave is very little longer than the transepts.

Western facade, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Western facade, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The form of the church is cruciform with three apses – the central choir and two echeloned chapels. There are no side aisles and two-bay nave space is covered with a banded barrel vault, which is clearly a later addition although it utilizes the pilasters to spring the banding arches. Much like the exterior, the church is sober and simple with almost no decoration

Nave, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The glory of Saint Pierre is the eastern end – the transepts, crossing, and apse are splendid examples of Romanesque. This was clearly not a pilgrimage church because there are no side aisles or ambulatory, but would have served perfectly as a parish church. As we might expect in a church like this, the apse is covered with an oven vault.

Apse, Église Saint Pierre, Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse, Église Saint Pierre, Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The exterior of the eastern end of the church shows the classic Romanesque chevet with the central apse and the two echeloned side chapels. In addition, we can see the lovely octagonal clocher over the chancel crossing. There is a little lantern on top of the tower, but that is a modern addition.

Chevet, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chevet, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cupola is a surprisingly elegant octagonal structure given the simplicity of the rest of the church. The dome is supported by pendentives. This is a finely worked structure with a window in the east and a smaller window high up in the clocher itself. The three-bayed blind arcades on each side between the pendentives is a wonderful touch.

Crossing dome, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing dome, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the view of the chancel crossing from the nave, we can see the blind arcades in the dome between the pendentives and the Romanesque window in the chancel arch. We can also see the chapel in the south transept. This photograph also shows the rather careless and inaccurate work in the upper walls of the nave, work that in no way harmonizes with the lower sections.

Crossing from nave, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Crossing from nave, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

There are several fascinating fragments associated with the church. On the north wall of the nave, just before the transept, is the incised signature “Stephanus”. Robert Saint-Jean, a history professor at the University of Montpellier and the excavator of Sainte Marie de Cruas stated, “You have at Larnas something rare: the entire signature of the architect Stefanus.” He also signed the nearby church of Bourg-Saint-Andeol.

In addition, there are fragments of the earlier church, in this case a fine entrelac, a Carolingian interlacing knot.

Carolingian entrelac, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Carolingian entrelac, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

And finally, we have a lovely shot of the transepts and nave from the north chapel. It is graced by three photographers, Nathan and PJ on the left and Dennis on the right taking his shot of the cupola. At least one of us was working!

Three photographers at work, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche)  Accidental photo by PJ McKey

Three photographers at work, Église Saint Pierre de Larnas (Ardèche) Accidental photo by PJ McKey

Location: 44.449371° 4.599966°