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, many of which can be seen on the VIA LUCIS website.

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 VIA LUCIS LLC. Thank you for respecting this notice.

Ohio Rhapsody (Dennis Aubrey)


Sitting in a chair in my new home in Ohio, thinking about Via Lucis, I realized that the project is as much about my beloved France as it is about medieval architecture. To me, these churches and places are infused with history and the collective memories of the millions who have passed through the stone portals.

Now PJ and I have moved to rural Ohio, just about 40 miles south of Columbus and every day we are moved by the beauty of the countryside around us.

Borah Hill and Westpoint, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Borah Hill and Westpoint, photo by Dennis Aubrey

We are continually reminded of France as we drive in the countryside around. Most of Ohio near us is flat farmland, rich with crops as far as the eye can see. From the town of Lithopolis, with a modest elevation of 945 feet, one gets a clear view of the high-rises of Columbus, 20 miles distant. But in our little corner near the Hocking Hills, there are small farms, small roads, and small villages, much like we see in France.

Sacred Heart Road, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sacred Heart Road, photo by Dennis Aubrey

But it doesn’t take long to realize that there is something here that we don’t see in France. The first hints are signs on the back roads. We discovered that we live in the midst of a conservative Amish farming community.

Traffic sign, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Traffic sign, photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ and I were familiar with the Amish to a degree – in 2009 we bought some lovely Amish furniture, and this spring we bought a full set of living room and dining room furniture built by Amish craftsmen.

Amish furniture, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Amish furniture, photo by Dennis Aubrey

The word “craftsmen” is an understatement, however, because this solid oak furniture is of extraordinary workmanship and quality. Even in close, detailed inspection the seam in our dining room table is invisible when closed, so finely matched are the wood grains and so perfect is the fit. And when we opened up the table for the first time to put in the leaf (stored in a special compartment), we were surprised to see that the slides are geared so that the table opens and closes with smooth action.

Dining room table slide detail, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Dining room table slide detail, photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the Bremen area, where we live, these are farmers. We see them working in their fields early in the morning and late into the evening. They grow, harvest, and provide for their families. They sell in farm stands, at the local farmers’ auction, and to local businesses. Everywhere is a bounty of vegetables and fruit, baked and canned goods, and occasional hand crafts. I bought a beautiful hand-turned cherry wood rolling-pin.

Amish harvest, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Amish harvest, photo by Dennis Aubrey

And what can I say about the quality of the produce? The watermelon was a revelation – unctuously sweet and ripe. All of the fruit – peaches, nectarines, Shinseiki pears, blackberries that we picked from their bushes ourselves (“we don’t have any picked but you can take a flat and do a ‘you-pickum'”), strawberries and ginger gold apples! Vegetables like we’ve never seen, even though PJ is an accomplished gardener. Farm corn here is unlike anything that I had ever tasted before.

Amish farm stand, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Amish farm stand, photo by Dennis Aubrey

The prices for these fruits, vegetables and farm eggs are remarkable. In the village of Bremen, I approached an Amish farmer who was in the town meat market to sell his leftover produce after the bi-weekly farmers’ auction. He sold me a flat of 25 perfectly ripe tomatoes for $5.00! The price list on the farm stand will give you an idea of what we pay for this bounty. On Tuesdays and Friday we can go to the auction and bid for lots if we need to.

Prices, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Prices, photo by Dennis Aubrey

In a world of unbridled materialism and brand consumption, the Amish are conspicuous exceptions. Nothing is wasted. The brimmed straw hats worn by the men are converted into brimless caps for the boys when they wear out. One small boy of about nine or ten wore a hat that was composed of at least ten other hat remnants, woven together for him. It was a patchwork of different colors and weaves, but it worked. His clothes were hand-me-downs and the pant cuffs were at his calves instead of his ankles. In the summer, the entire families are barefoot – men, women and children. This is not poverty but thrift.

Farm stand advertising on Sacred Heart Road - photo by Dennis Aubrey

Farm stand advertising on Sacred Heart Road – photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is a purity and openness in these people. The piercing blue eyes of the children are clear and unafraid, utterly without guile or pretense. The older children marshal the younger and everyone has a chore. When PJ and I stopped at our favorite Amish roadside stand, two young girls attended to us. One disappeared into the fields and returned with a cabbage – the most perfect cabbage either of us had ever seen, the size of a bowling ball. The girl held it in her hands like an offering, an angel offering a gift. PJ was moved almost to tears at the sight. How much we want to photograph them, to capture just these fleeting moments, but that would be a violation.

This is a different world, co-existing with our own materialistic culture. We – “the English” – are foreigners here. These people belong to their land, God, families, and laws. We are so moved to see this around us.

Yesterday there was a cow lying next to the road near the farm stand and I made bold to pet her like I had seen the children do. The cow was completely calm and I could almost swear that in her soft brown eyes I saw the same shy modesty that shone in the eyes of the children.

Roadside seat, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Roadside seat, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Somehow, we feel close to rural France that we’ve always loved when we are among these people, we feel the same echoes of the past.

Amish wagon, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Amish wagon, photo by Dennis Aubrey

And not a tourist to be seen …

Trier Cathedral – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


In 326 A.D. Constantine the Great traveled to the West after many years of residency in Constantinople to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his reign as the first Christian Roman emperor. He stayed in Rome and started construction of the great St. Peter’s Basilica. He also traveled across the Alps to Trier (Augusta Treverorum, Trèves in French), his one-time home, to lay foundation stones of a major church, on the site of the palace of his mother Helena. The Cathedral St. Peter of Trier is the oldest cathedral in Germany, and Trier had been one of the seven Elector-Archbishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire. Trier Cathedral, as befits its importance in the Western history, is a unique work of architecture which fuses the early, mature and late Romanesque styles with the early 4th century Roman nucleus. The Constantinian church is said to have been about four times as large as what comes down to this day. Extensive damages to the church in the 5th and 9th centuries left it in ruins, but the Cathedral was rebuilt starting in 1035 in the early Romanesque style, then the cross rib vaults were constructed in the late Romanesque style in the 12th century.

The plan shows that Trier Cathedral is laid out in general as a basilica plan with the nave and side aisles, eastern transept and two apses, with some unusual architectural features. The existing part of the 4th century Roman basilica, about 42-meter square structure shown in black on the plan, forms the core of the Cathedral. The square bay (B) in the center, about 18 meters to the side, was joined by rectangular bays (A) on all four sides. The center square bay had become the Crossing of the Transept which was finished flush with the outer walls to the north and south. The nameless master builder of the 11th century building workshop, quite brilliantly expanded the structure by adding another square bay, and a rectangular bay to the west, setting up the rhythm of A – B – A – B – A for the nave itself. Then a somewhat shorter rectangular bay for the Chancel was built to the east. The eastern and western apses which are as wide as the nave were joined later to the nave thus formed.

Plan - Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate)

Plan – Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate)

The western façade of Trier Cathedral facing Liebfrauenstrasse and a spacious square presents a one-of-a-kind Romanesque Westwork. At the outer corners, two cylindrical stair turrets are placed forward of the cubical blocks for the western towers of different heights above, as the turrets and tower bases are connected diagonally. In front of the towers, on axes with aisles inside, are the tall entrance bays with significant upper story arches and relief. At the center flanked by the entrances is the very wide half-round western apse, completed in 1196. Stair turrets pulled forward, stepping of entrance bays with the somewhat squat towers behind, and the very wide half cylinder apse in the middle all contribute to making the Westwork of Trier Cathedral quite different from other well-known works of the Carolingian and Ottonian architecture which have taller, and flush Westwork.

Western facade, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western facade, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view from the northeast shows the Cathedral ensemble with myriad structures accumulated over the centuries. It also shows what might be described as half of the twelve-sided eastern apse joined to the end wall of the nave, the tall gable of the northern transept, and more vertically proportioned eastern towers. The octagonal Baroque chapel at the eastern end with its own crypt is not shown on the more diagrammatic cathedral plan.

View from northeast, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from northeast, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The longitudinal view toward the eastern choir shows the nave appearing not as long as its length of about 80 meters, probably due to absence of a rhythm set up by regularly spaced piers and columns in a normative Romanesque church space.

Eastern nave, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern nave, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave elevation scheme of the western of the two square bays illustrates this point further. Here, the relatively narrow south aisle reads as lateral expansion of the nave space itself, rather than appearing as continuation of a linear “aisle” running parallel to the nave in the east-west direction. The aisle space here has been made into a sort of shallow narthex for the door from the adjoining Liebfrauenkirche of mid-13th century.

Nave elevation, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A closer view of the crossing toward the eastern chancel shows that the steps to the choir starts at about the midpoint of the crossing, and a very elaborate Baroque altar is placed high up in the six-sided apse with ornate Gothic ribs on the vault ceiling.

Eastern chancel crossing, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern chancel crossing, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view from the raised eastern Choir looking west conveys the unique spatial character of Trier Cathedral faithfully. As said earlier, due to the lateral expansion of the nave space at the square bays and absence of a rhythm, the sense of sweep lengthwise is halted at these two points. From the entrances on either side of the western apse, the sense of movement toward the eastern chancel is subdued. The nave is a calm and deeply contemplative space of worship.

View from eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking straight up to the nave vaulting shows the rectangular bay at the midpoint of the Cathedral with an ornate Baroque organ loft, and the Crossing to the east (down), the “narthex” bay with gallery above to the west (up). Trier Cathedral is 26 meters high at the crown of the nave vaulting, and the width of the nave is about 18 meters.

Nave vaulting, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave vaulting, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the eastern Choir looking north shows on the left a generous Gothic arch with well-lit gallery above, and a well-crafted choir screen. It also shows on the right an opening leading to the northeastern stair tower, and a gallery at a mezzanine level.

Eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the north aisle at the western square bay opposite the “narthex” on the south side, looking east accurately conveys the feel of expansion of the nave space, as the relatively narrow aisle space beyond reads as a separate spatial compartment, rather than a linear continuation of the north aisle.

North side aisle, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

North side aisle, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

One special treasure of Trier Cathedral, although rarely put on public view, is the Holy Tunic of Christ, which legend relates was worn by Christ shortly before he was crucified, and was subsequently brought from Jerusalem by Helena (later St. Helena) when she made pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was entrusted to the new church of her son.

Location: 49.756221 6.643821

For more information on Jong-Soung Kimm, please select this link.

A Via Lucis Lecture


PJ and I are going to give a presentation on Romanesque church architecture for the English Speaking Union in Columbus, Ohio. The event will be on September 11 at the Scioto Country Club.

esu-banner

The English-Speaking Union was formally organized in the United States in 1920 and arose from the conviction of its founder, Sir Evelyn Wrench and a group of like-minded American and British friends, that maintenance of the close personal and national ties forged during World War I was necessary for the preservation of peace. He imagined the ESU as an inclusive organization “founded in no narrow attitude of race pride, in no spirit of hostility to any people.”  The Columbus chapter was founded in 1923.

If any of the Via Lucis community are interested in attending, here is the online reservation link. Proceeds from the event will go to support the High School Shakespeare Competition.

Here is the information on the event:

Location: Scioto Country Club
2196 Riverside Drive
Columbus, OH 43221

Date: September 11, 2016

Time: Noon

If you are in the area, we would love to see you there!

Mainz Cathedral – a Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


Strategically situated as it is at the confluence of the Rhine and Main rivers, Mainz had already been settled in the Roman times, and it formed the northernmost frontier of the empire. Along with Speyer and Worms, Mainz is one of the three Imperial Cathedrals (Kaiser Dom) on the Upper Rhine, constructed under the patronage of several Holy Roman emperors of the Salian (1024~1125) and Hohenstaufen (1138~1266) dynasties as symbols of the imperial power over the papacy. Mainz was one of the seven elector-archbishoprics of the Holy Roman empire, the coronation site for several emperors, and was better known in the English-speaking world by its French name Mayence until the recent history.

Archbishop Willigis laid the foundation stone for the earlier Ottonian-design Mainz Cathedral in 975. Willigis had been in the service of Otto the great at the same historical moment as when Bernward of Hildesheim was also in Otto’s court. Willigis was appointed as the Archbishop of Mainz by Otto II in that year. After more than three decades of building campaign, the Cathedral was consecrated in 1009. On the consecration day, however, a fire destroyed the bulk of the Cathedral. Although Willigis began the process of rebuilding, he passed away two years later, and two successive archbishops were not effective in re-building. It was left to Archbishop Bardo to oversee construction of the main body of the Mainz Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1036. It lasted less than half a century, as another major fire destroyed the Cathedral in 1081, and most of what comes down to this day as the Mainz Cathedral of St. Martin was built in the Lombardic style under the patronage of Henry IV (1050~1106, Holy Roman emperor 1084~1105), who also initiated building of Speyer II, and it was consecrated in 1137.

Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Unusual for a major cathedral of the Middle Ages, Mainz Cathedral is sited in the heart of the market square of the city, its red sandstone massing dominating the cityscape. The view of the Cathedral from the northwest toward the southeast shows the sculptural ensemble of the octagonal eastern crossing tower, two stair turrets which survive from the original Ottonian construction, as well as the lime stone Gothard Chapel built at the turn of the 13th century.

The view of the Cathedral from the east on a Sunday illustrates how it is integrated into the bustling commercial activities of the city.

East façade, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

East facade, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

That atmosphere contrasts with the engraving of the eastern façade from the justly famous Dehio-Bezold folio. Visitors’ eyes are drawn to the master builder’s deft use of “dwarf gallery” around the eastern apse, a design feature which helps to reduce the apparent weight of the semi-cylindrical masonry volume, and imparts a sense of scale to the true size of the mass.

East elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

East elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

As shown on the plan, Mainz Cathedral is laid out on the basilica plan with both the western and eastern apses; the nave of five squarish bays covered with Gothic cross vaults; aisles with two slightly rectangular bays corresponding to one nave bay, covered with groin vaults; two larger stair turrets at the east end and a pair of smaller stair turrets at the west; prominent western transept and two crossing towers. At Mainz, the western choir dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, was given prominence over the eastern one as conceived by Willigis, that appears to have been inspired by the great St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Although the appearance of the now lost Ottonian western choir is not known, its present architecture is from the late Romanesque period.

Plan, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

Plan, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

The nave elevation scheme shows that while square piers are laid out at even spacing, on every other pier there is a semi-cylindrical pilaster which reaches the sill level of clerestory windows with a simple impost. The piers with these pilasters in turn support, or figuratively speaking, “collect” the nave arches as well as the ribs for the cross vaults, defining each bay. The clerestory windows are paired within this bay, rather than being evenly spaced across the length of the nave. The nave walls of Mainz Cathedral are articulated by shallow round-arched indentations that rise above the nave arcades, and extend to just below the clerestory windows. One notes that pairing of clerestory windows create displacements, so that clerestory windows are not centered on the nave arcades. The height of the nave is 28 meters, a notch lower than 33 meters for the nave of Speyer Cathedral.

Nave elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view toward the eastern chancel, dedicated to St. Stephen, adequately conveys the spatial character of the Mainz Cathedral interior, with its stately progression of alternating piers down the nave.

Eastern chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the eastern apse shows the oven vault over the semi-circular space built in the Lombardic design replacing the former flat Ottonian gabled façade. The chancel bay with the octagonal tower above, almost anticipates the presence of an eastern transept, but it is enclosed by substantial masonry walls separating it from the aisles and the stair turrets beyond.

Apse, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Apse, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking straight up to the nave vaulting indicates the prominence given to the slightly larger bay preceding the chancel before the crossing tower. The Gothic rib vaults for the nave date from around the turn of the 13th century.

Nave vault, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave vault, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view toward the more spacious, as well as visually more important western chancel illustrates the solemn ambience of Mainz Cathedral befitting the stature of an Imperial Cathedral.

Western chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The western chancel and the western transept had been rebuilt around the year 1200, presumably on the foundation of the original building under Willigis in the late Romanesque style, but already showing the impulse for the Gothic vaulting technique.

Western chancel and transept,  Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz  (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western chancel and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

On the transept wings, there are galleries over somewhat wider span. The view looking up to the western crossing tower and transept wings contrasts the later construction of the tower with the Lombard moldings to the Romanesque space of Mainz Cathedral.

Western crossing and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western crossing and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A footnote to Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg was born here, and the Museum of Printing honoring him attracts visitors to the city. Mainz today is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, and the assembling point of German wines from the Rhine and Main vineyards.

For more information on Jong-Soung Kimm, please select this link.

Location: 49.998889 8.273889

The Saint and the Simpleton (Dennis Aubrey)


There are so many wonderful stories and legends associated with the churches we photograph in France, but none is more pleasing than that of Saint Menulphe and his friend, the Simpleton of Mailly-sur-Rose, a town in the Allier.

Statue of Saint Menoux, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Statue of Saint Menoux, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Menulphe was the son of an Irish king and very devout. He traveled to England, Brittany and France and was recognized for his sanctity. When the Pope heard of this and asked him to come to Rome, Menulphe walked the route in poverty, a mendicant with no possessions. On his return, he stopped in Mailly-sur-Rose, exhausted with his journey. During that time, Menulphe took pity on an innocent named Blaise who was the scapegoat for local children. One day he intervened as the young urchins threw stones at Blaise. He chided the boys and took the young man under his protection. Blaise was described as a simpleton, one who could barely speak, and never left Menulphe’s side. He couldn’t pronounce his protector’s name and “Menulfe” became “Menoux”.

When Menoux died, Blaise thought that the holy man was asleep. He spent his days and nights at the grave, conversing with his friend. One day visitors to the cemetery saw that the coffin had been dug up and that there was a hole in the side. They discovered Blaise laying on his stomach, with his head in the hole, talking to someone. The local people were scandalized but the curé said, “Poor Blaise, he is a better and more faithful friend than we are. Perhaps he is the least crazy of all.”

The Curé placed Menoux’s remains in a sandstone sarcophagus and had an opening cut into one side. Blaise spent the rest of his life conversing with his friend, and miraculously, the troubles of his mind faded to the point that he was able to serve mass. At the time of his death, Blaise had the reputation of being a simple, faithful man, as sensible as anyone.

La Débredinoire, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

La Débredinoire, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

Thereafter, in memory of the miraculous healing of Blaise, parents led the bredins, the simple-minded, before the tomb of Menoux and placed their heads carefully into the sarcophagus – the débredinoire – hoping for the same healing that Blaise experienced. Eventually the site received such a number of pilgrims that the Benedictines built an abbey on the site under the direction of the Abbess Adalgasie and placed the sarcophagus with Menoux’s relics in the choir. They also changed the name of the village from Mailly-sur-Rose to Saint Menoux. The fairs held by the abbesses attracted vendors and buyers which led to the expansion of the village.

The church gives an idea of the importance of this abbey and the monastics who resided there. It was built in the classic Cluny style in the early part of the twelfth century. The nave has three tall, narrow bays with ogive arches covered with groin vaults.

Nave facing west, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave facing west, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The side aisles are, as usual, visually stunning. We see the long, uninterrupted flow to the ambulatory in the distance.

South side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

South side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The north side aisle, however, has a unique feature. Just to the west of the transept arch is a rather clumsily executed structure that contains a stairway leading to a defensive tower on the exterior. Poking up through the roof, that tower looks almost like a minaret.

North side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

North side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The raised apse is perhaps the finest element of the church. The choir has two elegant high bays topped with clerestory windows while the chancel features a seven bay hemicycle with an arcade of windows leading to the oven vault.

Apse, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The débredinoire of Saint Menoux is found centered behind the altar in the chancel. These reliquaries have been placed between the pillars of the central hemicycle arch and the tomb can be seen just behind.

Reliquaries, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

Reliquaries, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The oldest part of the church, built in the eleventh century, is the narthex on the west end of the church. This antechamber has beautiful arcades supporting a short barrel vault. Some of the pillars are topped with capitals, but it is clear that the restoration was not complete. Fragments of some of the original statuary are rather casually displayed in the arcades.

Narthex, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Narthex, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Today, the abbey is gone – only the church remains after the destruction of the French Revolution. The town of Saint Menoux is quiet and peaceful for its 1,009 residents. The church is not well tended; there are rat droppings and cobwebs throughout. Dust cakes the benches and the chairs, but pilgrims still frequent the Église Saint Menoux in order to use the débredinoire for relief from feeble-mindedness or headaches.

Lest we think that credulous in the Middle Ages were alone in these workings, look at this passage in “The Invisible Architecture” by George Prat (2000).

“For more than forty years I made fun of the débredinoire which I considered an example of public credulity … My surprise was great to see that the débredinoire works and is not a gimmick. The débredinoire is placed at the geometric center of the apse …. and is located at the junction point of the telluric current and four streams of water. … When one realizes that this is a machine from another age and can be activated by an ‘acupuncture point’ located nearby, we are amazed at the electrical energy released … The débredinoire is actually an instrument of care-giving; when used correctly, the equivalent a high intensity shock is given to the user. This is certainly very effective in the case of some nervous breakdowns.” People will always find a reason to believe if the need is great enough.

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Our daughter Sarah suffers from debilitating migraines and PJ placed her own head in the sarcophagus in hopes of helping. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try! But you must be careful not to touch the tomb while inserting your head. You run the risk of absorbing the feeble-mindedness and headaches of all who preceded you!

If you are interested in seeing some other churches in this region, follow this link.

Location: 46.585211° 3.156842°

A Church in Mourning (Dennis Aubrey)


Today’s post was intended to be a study of the magnificent façade of the Église Notre-Dame d’Avy in Charente-Maritime, but it will have to wait a day. The news this morning was about the attack on the L’église Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray. Two Isil fanatics have assassinated an 84-year old priest in this 16th century Normandy church.

Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray (Seine-Maritime)

Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray (Seine-Maritime)

Once a small town outside of the Norman capital of Rouen, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is now part of the suburbs. The priest, Jacques Hamel, had served as a priest for 58 years and was assisting at mass at the time of the attack.

Jacques Hamel  (1930-2016)

Jacques Hamel (1930-2016)

The église Saint-Etienne is not one of our Romanesque churches, so beloved of both PJ and myself. It is not even Gothic. But it is part of the France that we love and admire and we are devastated by the attack. Saint Stephen, the patron of the church, was the protomartyr, the first martyr of the Christian church. Now we have another, Jacques Hamel, the cleric who fell victim to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s first attack on a French church. While the attack appears senseless, in reality it is an example of Salafi jihadism’s use of violence to achieve political ends. The choice to execute an 84-year-old French priest while he was celebrating mass is simply, to these fanatics, good publicity, like public beheadings.

I fear for the innocents in this world gone mad; they are not protected by a non-combatant status from the attacks by the “soldiers” of Isil. The victims are judged only by the publicity value that may be gained by their deaths. These attackers are also very mindful of the responses by the aptly named “reactionaries” like Marine Le Pen who polarize the world even further. My heart aches for France suffering her latest onslaught. But she will survive, just as she survived an earlier attempt at Islamic conquest, a hundred years’ war, wars of religion, the mechanization of death in World War I and the holocaust of World War II. Like her thousands of Romanesque churches, she bears the scars and survives. She will do so again.

Saint Peter in Aix – Amuse Bouche #34 (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have been fortunate enough to photograph the magnificent churches in the Provence for many years now, but only recently were able to document the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur in the center of the old city of Aix-en-Provence. Through the good offices of our friends Albert and Monique Pinto, we received permission to spend most of a day unhindered in this grand melange of a cathedral. One section is pure Romanesque, however; the cloister. On one corner pillar is a magnificent rendering of Saint Peter. While looking about for a post to re-start our Via Lucis posts after our long and somewhat difficult move from Cape Code to our new home in Ohio, I found this sculpture and was immediately struck by its beauty. I had completely forgotten that Saint Peter anchored that lovely cloister and was delighted to rediscover him.

Saint Peter, corner cloister pier, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Peter, corner cloister pier, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The sculptural details really make this work special. The incorporation of the rays of the halo into a decorated fanfold is superb, and the knot at the waist is a great touch. The borders of the tunic and cloak are also beautifully rendered by the sculptor. We forget how brilliant the Romanesque sculptures were at creating these decorative touches.

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

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

We missed our conversations with all of you here at Via Lucis and are so glad to be back at work on this project. We look forward to presenting more of these magnificent churches and revisiting them in person as soon as we can.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.