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.

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.

“Why don’t he write?” (Dennis Aubrey)


We are here at the Source of the Le Loiret, in the town of Olivet, just south of Orleans. We have made our way aross the backroads of France slowly and painfully as I’ve regained consciousness. Today was my first where I was recognizably human, with my mind working on other than the dim, prehensile level on which it had been serving. I was convinced by the the distress and visions of the Auvergne that my life existed on a one-to-one relationship with the universe. This created conditions of interrelationships of health and eating that drinking that convulsed me. It was impossible to sort out that would work and would not work, had worked and had promise. It was a constantly shifting process and I spun emptily in the confusion of lost senses.

Finally, PJ determined what had to be done and sent us to Olivet, the massive single hole in the earth that served as a source for one of the major rivers of France. When I was growing up in France, the source at Olivet was always one of the touchstones for my father, who was a military engineer stationed at Olivet. Throughout our lives his stories of the the massive waters were a living thing.

As we moved through the flat plains of central France, I lost the sense of this world of with all of its transient modernity. The lives of generations washed away like the miles the we drove. The land became part of a deeper and more profound France. We returned to la source, the deep pulsing waters that poured from the bowels of the earth. It was a place of health and healing, frequented by Celts and Gauls. Romans probably worshipped here and they, like the others, were newcomers. Today it is home to a hospital which has come to my rescue. Now, at 4:30 in the morning, the countryside is undisturbed by a Novatel sign at the hotel or a parking lot filled with the vehicles of commercial travelers, the river continues to heal, roiling up from the abîme.

I could have been lying in a moon-washed Celtic field in the middle of night, listening to the waters as they streamed endlessly from the earth and rushed to fill the river beyond. I am hoping that the healing waters can return me home with PJ, and pray that can somehow wash the slim, suffering body of a brother in Massachusetts.

Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms (Dennis Aubrey)


Our time in the Ardèche has been a delight. The countryside is wondrous, with a number of distinct microclimates, the famous Gorges d’Ardèche at Pont-de-Vallon, hills full of scotch broom, lupin, and lavender. The fruit is in season and white asparagus is available for cooking. The sun has shined each day and even the mistral has cooperated.

The Romanesque churches are very interesting on the whole, with a couple of spectacular finds. One of the most interesting is our “home” church, the Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens in nearby Ruoms. The church of Saint Peter in Chains was created in the 12th century as a small Benedictine abbey church belonging to Cluny, but never had more than four monks in residence at any one time.

Nave, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is a legend that says that the limestone used to build the church is the same stone that is used in the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Nave elevation, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave elevation, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This beautiful country has been occupied since the Mousterian era. Local habitations were found at the Baume Granas, and the site is near the spectacular Chauvet cave at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc.

Choir, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Choir, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The immediate region is also filled with dolmens and burial sites from the early Bronze Age, making its inhabitants contemporary to the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Crossing,  Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Crossing, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

The old abbey in Ruoms now serves as a parish church and is clearly beloved by the residents of the town. It is filled with ex-votos and memorials, both signs of an active and devoted congregation.

Nave arcade, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave arcade, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens de Ruoms, Ruoms (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 44.453622° 4.341014°

A First Look at the Ardèche (Dennis Aubrey)


We write today from a beautiful but somewhat remote part of France, among the independent and practical spirits of the Bas-Vivarais region of the Ardèche. Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé said of these people, “Ils ne sont pas grands théoriciens d’abstractions.” “They are not great theorists of abstractions.”

Map of the Ardèche

Map of the Ardèche

It may be true, what Vogüé said, and he would have known, having lived among the Ardèchiens for his entire life, but we find the area absolutely fascinating, full of natural wonders, fine fruits and wines, and kindly people. We also found a friend.

PJ and I made plans to meet up with Nathan Mizrachi, known to readers of Via Lucis as the author of his Life is a Camino site. Nathan is in the midst of a year-long journey in Europe where he walked the Compostela pilgrimage route and has drunk deeply from the European well. He is spending the week with us photographing the churches that are the original reason for our vist to this region.

Nathan on the Camino

Nathan on the Camino

The churches are small, fairly well preserved, and filled with small touches of genius. I won’t comment any more, but let the buildings speak for themselves.

Abbatiale Sainte-Marie de Cruas, Cruas (Ardèche)  Photo by PJ McKey

Abbatiale Sainte-Marie de Cruas, Cruas (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

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

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


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

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

Chevet with lombard bands, Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chevet with lombard bands, Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Thines, Thines (Ardèche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chapelle Saint Benoit, Chassiers (Ardèche)  Photo by PJ McKey

Chapelle Saint Benoit, Chassiers (Ardèche) Photo by PJ McKey

To demonstrate that Nathan hasn’t been just loafing around, here is a shot of his from Cruas.

Crypt, Abbatiale Sainte-Marie de Cruas, Cruas (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

Crypt, Abbatiale Sainte-Marie de Cruas, Cruas (Ardèche) Photo by Nathan Mizrachi

In a few days, Nathan resumes his peregrinations through Europe via Carcassonne while PJ and I continue to the Provence, familiar territory but filled with some of the finest Romanesque churches in France. We’ll post on that next week when we get a chance.

Two churches in the Yonne (Dennis Aubrey)


We said in our last post that we would show the photograph of the Église Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur in Asquins with the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay in the distance.  Here we see the shot from the north, the direction from which the pilgrims would approach the town of Asquins and proceed to Vézelay.

Église Saint Jacques-le-Majeur, Asquins (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint Jacques-le-Majeur, Asquins (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

What a sight it must have been for the pilgrims to approach Vézelay from the north and to make their way around and up the hill to Sainte Madeleine. On a bright spring day in 2014, we could almost hear the echoes of pilgrim-song across the centuries.

Location: 47.482656° 3.754369°