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.

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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.

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.

Via Lucis and Haute Couture (Dennis Aubrey)


"Matta VVV" by Roberto Matta's official web site. Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Matta_VVV.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Matta_VVV.jpg

“Matta VVV” by Roberto Matta’s official web site. Via Wikipedia

Via Lucis images have been licensed by scholarly, art, architectural, and religious publications, and even the cover of a science magazine in France. Last summer we received a licensing application for two of PJ’s shots from VVV Magazine, of which we had never heard. We did a little bit of research and found some interesting results. First, we found that the original VVV Magazine was devoted to the dissemination of Surrealism, quite a surprising result. We thought that this would be interesting, especially since we have previously discussed the close relationship of abstract art and medieval architecture in our conversations with Angelico Surchamp. But this magazine only existed from 1942-1944, so it was pretty obvious that this was not the source of the enquiry.

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When we saw the website for the current iteration of VVV Magazine, it became clear that we were in for a surprise. It is a very high end modern fashion publication and about as far from our work at Via Lucis as is possible. VVV is self-described as “a bi–annual magazine (print and web) that captures equal layouts of both fashion and beauty throughout the decades. Throughout each issue will be scattered amazing single frame images that will provoke your mind and inspire you to create …. It is shot by the world’s top established and upcoming photographers. It is our hope that through our dedication and devotion that we emit the beauty in all elements, to inspire the discouraged, and to stimulate the psyche with our contributions.”

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PJ’s images were featured as full page layouts in the most recent Fall/Winter 2014 edition dedicated to “Conviction”. It appears that the issue features women dressed in clothing inspired by religious vestments and clerical garb such as nun’s habits. The editorial description reads “we break apart the facets of belief and truth, and explore a world conquered by fashion, faith, and fortitude.” I don’t really know what to say when I read things like this. But then, I don’t really know what I would say if I was walking down the street and confronted by someone wearing clothes like this.

Light on pillar, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC  (Photo by PJ McKey)

Light on pillar, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC (Photo by PJ McKey)

How PJ’s images of the Cathédrale Saint Front in Périgueux and the Washington National Cathedral came to be selected for VVV magazine is a complete mystery to both of us. We are pleased, of course, but I would think that our explorations of medieval faith are about as far away from the world of haute couture fashion trends as it is possible to get. How could we be so wrong? Who knew that Via Lucis was so high fashion?

Side aisle, Cathedrale Saint Front, Périgueux (Dordogne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Cathedrale Saint Front, Périgueux (Dordogne) Photo by PJ McKey

If you are interested in seeing a sample of the magazine, follow this link. Click on the “Expand” and you will see six pages. none of which show PJ’s shots. If you want to see the entire 150 or so pages, you need to pay for it through the “Joomag” link.

Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant (Dennis Aubrey)


There appears to have been a church at Châteaumeillant since the early Middle Ages, but the Romanesque church was built as a Benedictine priory in the 11th and 12th centuries. A fire damaged the church in 1152 in the course of struggles between Henry II Plantagenêt of England and Louis VII. The south transept and portions of the nave were reconstructed at this time. This may have resulted in some of the apparent hodgepodge appearance of the interior.

The nave vault was destroyed in 1569, after a fire that was lit by the Huguenot leader Wolfrang, Duke of Deux-Ponts (Zweibrücken) as he ravaged his way across France. Wolfrang paid for his destructions, however. He fell victim to a “quartan ague” a short distance from Limoges. My research finds that the “quartan ague” is “a fever which reoccurred every fourth day; one of the indeterminate febrile ailments of the period, sweating sickness, probably influenza, which could be fatal.”

But the church that we see today is a good representation of the intentions of the original builders. It has a cruciform layout, a bay with five naves and side aisles, with six flanking apsidal chapels in the choir and transepts.

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The nave has five bays and is topped with a banded barrel vault. The slightly ogive arcade arches are formed by large piers with engaged columns, split by narrow slender columns that sit atop pedestal bases. All of the columns are topped with capitals. The side aisles also are covered with a banded barrel vault.

The vaulting springs directly from the arcades without the intervention of a tribune, triforium or clerestory level, so the only lighting comes from the side aisles and apse windows.

Nave arcades, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave arcades, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The apse is lit by three windows and is covered with an oven vault. The six echeloned chapels flanking the apse in the transepts eliminate the need for an ambulatory, so there is no hemicycle structure in Saint-Genès. This is very unusual for a church that sits directly on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

The photograph of the choir and apse is quite interesting for the feel of the space – the dappled blue light, which is the sunlight coming into the space, gives a certain ethereal sensation.

Apse, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Because of the echeloned chapels, the transept is given increased importance. The visual effect of all the chapels is to create a forest of columns with light coming in from all directions.

Transept, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Transept, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The sculpture of Saint-Genès is quite remarkable. The interior capitals are made of pink sandstone and present a fairly unified ensemble featuring leaves and palms, animals, masks, and human figures.

Nave capitals, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave capitals, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

The wonderful capital in the next shot portrays Daniel in the Lions’ Den. At first, because of the bearded and curly-haired figure, we thought it might be Sampson fighting the lions, but it became clear that it was Daniel. This is, in my mind, the finest sculpture of the ensemble.

Daniel in the Lions' Den, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by PJ McKey

Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

The next shots show a single compelling capital from three different angles. At each corner is a semi-human figure and between any two of them in the face of the capital are birds and animals. The first of these views features a squatting man who appears to be pulling out his own tongue! There is a bird on either side of this enigmatic figure.

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

The next view shows the corner figure on the right of the previous shot. A tormented figure supports the vault while a sharp-toothed creature devours his head (PJ refers to these as “head-snackers”). The hands of the creature seem to be pressing down on the shoulders of the man. To his left, a bird eats a fish.

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

The last view shows a man with a ball in his mouth squatting to hold up the weight of the vaulting above him. His job is made more difficult by a ravening beast chewing on his hand. It is possible that this animal is a lion and the mane flows to the left.

I have tried to determine the meaning of the capital but haven’t succeeded. Because each corner figure appears to be squatting to support the weight of the vault that springs from the capital, there seemed to be a theme of humankind beset by the burdens of life suffering various torments and punishments, while the beasts and birds of the earth who have not been cursed with sin do not undergo these trials. It might also depict sinners suffering eternal punishment in hell. But I don’t really understand the iconography and have not been able to find an explanation in my researches. If anyone can help on this, I would love to hear from you.

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave capital, Église Saint-Genès de Châteaumeillant, Châteaumeillant (Cher) Photo by PJ McKey

There is an interesting history behind the saint whose name graces the church. The original Saint Genesius was martyred, probably in the year 258, during the eighth persecution under Emperor Valerian. According to tradition, he refused to write a condemnation of Saint Marcel and Saint Anastasius, who were Roman citizens sent by Saint Stephen to preach in Gaul. Genesius was martyred on this site by a judge named Heraclius.

But for years, this Genesius was confused with Saint Genesius of Rome, who was an actor. This Genesius performed in a series of plays that mocked Christianity but he had a conversion experience and was baptised on stage. He refused to renounce his new faith and was executed by Diocletian in 303. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this confusion was rectified. Saint Genesius of Rome, by the way, is the patron saint of both actors and politicians. Interesting.

Location: 46.562081 2.202346

The Destruction of History (Dennis Aubrey)


So many times we have written about the destruction of the great Romanesque and Gothic churches that we photograph. The litanies are endless and the wars tiresome in their repetition. The Hundred Years War, the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution, World War I and World War II have all taken a huge toll on these magnificent buildings. But to witness the destruction taking place before our eyes brings a completely new dimension to my personal agony. In our article on the Taliban’s demolition of the Buddhas of Bamyan and the systematic destruction of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Reims in World War I, we touched on this.

The news the last few days is about ISIS attacking artifacts, some of them identified as antiquities from the seventh century B.C., with sledgehammers and drills, saying they were symbols of idolatry.

Assyrian statues of winged bulls

Assyrian statues of winged bulls

Now we have word that ISIS has defaced and destroyed artifacts in Mosul, including Assyrian statues of winged bulls from the Mesopotamian cities of Ninevah and Nimrud. Video released by the newest barbarians to assault the cultural history of humanity shows a man using a power drill to deface the works.

As so often throughout history, the excuse was religion. “The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him.” How many times in our work at Via Lucis have we read variations of these words from Catholics, Huguenots, Calvinists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, and military leaders?

ISIS destroying Assyrian statues of winged bulls

ISIS destroying Assyrian statues of winged bulls

I had thought that perhaps I was inured to these heartless destructions with all of the churches that we have documented that have been brutally pillaged and defaced, all in the name of whatever excuses fit the vandals. But the truth is that I am just as sickened with a sense of loss today as I have ever been.

Defaced statues, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Defaced statues, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

If you have the stomach for it, you can read more here.

“Painted Romanesque” now available as an ebook


Our short book on the painted churches in France is now available as an ebook for iPad and iPhone and as a PDF that can be read on any platform, at the Blurb store.

The book will also be available shortly on the Apple Store site.

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We are working on versions for other platforms, including the Kindle, but this is our first foray into electronic publishing. Please feel free to follow the link and preview the book, which won’t be completely a surprise to readers of Via Lucis.

Exeunt, pursued by a bear (Dennis Aubrey)


The storm begins; poor wretch,
That for thy mother’s fault art thus exposed
To loss and what may follow! Weep I cannot,
But my heart bleeds; and most accursed am I
To be by oath enjoin’d to this.

Antigonus, Act III Scene 3 of The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare

Ordered by Leontes, King of Sicilia, to dispose of his own daughter, the elderly lord Antigonus abandons the King’s newborn infant on the wild and savage coast of Bohemia. He feels a sense of dread for the act, and the scene is concluded with the famous stage direction, “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.”

Scene from "The Winter's Tale" by John Massey Wright

Scene from “The Winter’s Tale” by John Massey Wright

Antigonus is attacked by a bear. While it is often referred to as a comic incongruity, I think of it as a fury unleashed by the brutality of Antigonus’ act. In my imagination, the bear appears like a spector during the course of his speech and as Antigonus realizes the import of his abandonment of Perdita, the beast is unleashed as Nemesis, a goddess of retribution. Antigonus understands this as his last lines are “This is the chase: I am gone for ever.”

Shakespeare is telling us that our evil acts create the monsters that pursue us. In a sense, we create the Nemesis that seeks us out. This was a theme well-explored by medieval sculptors and perhaps Shakespeare was using their visions, placing them on the stage in his modern context.

Demons and dragon, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Demons and dragon, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In today’s modern context, the daughters we abandon on the wild shores of Bohemia are the poor that we rob, imprison, and disenfranchise in the name of commerce. They are the earth that we deface in the name of progress. They are the children that we addict to drugs, alcohol, and rampant consumerism. Our abandoned daughters are those we let starve – or force to starve – so that we can enjoy our plenty.

Demon capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Demon capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

I am not ashamed to say that I sometimes wish for Nemesis today. The violence and greed that dominate the world fills me with loathing. To see the principles of religion turned into instruments of oppression and death is like watching a beloved family pet foam at the mouth and turn rabid. Perhaps a sense of dread would have some influence on the behaviors of the most vile among us. Perhaps. But that dread would need to be enormous, I am sure.

Trumeau, Église Abbatiale Sainte-Marie, Souillac (Lot)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Trumeau, Église Abbatiale Sainte-Marie, Souillac (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

I can only hope that Nemesis takes on a form monstrous and implacable. It must be as great and unforgiving as the nature of the acts that it seeks to redress. In my mind I try to re-enter the imagination of those medieval sculptors, seeing and feeling as they did. I try to see the monsters from their churches as real and feel their fury. I imagine them rending the flesh of the transgressors. For the greedy, I imagine them forcing a silver coin into each gaping wound. For the murderers, I imagine them tearing the bodies but leaving the victims to die with excruciating slowness. But in doing so, in these inhuman imaginings, I can only see a human face. No animal would think like this.

Detail, trumeau, Église Abbatiale Sainte-Marie, Souillac (Lot)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Detail, trumeau, Église Abbatiale Sainte-Marie, Souillac (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nemesis is a double-edged sword. Timothy McVey saw himself as Nemesis when he detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing his hundreds. Certainly anti-abortionists who bomb clinics and kill doctors see themselves as Nemesis. I am positive that ISIS sees itself as Nemesis, punishing the wicked of the world. They kidnap 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages and will probably execute them as brutally as they killed the Egyptian Copts. But they are murderers all. And one thing is clear – we humans are pathetically incapable of righting our own wrongs. And just as incapable at preventing those wrongs in the first place.

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes (Dennis Aubrey)


The church of Saint Jouin de Marnes is known as the Vézelay Poitevin, a tribute to its importance and beauty. It was named after a 4th century hermit named Jovinus from Mouterre-Silly near Loudun. Desiring a retired, contemplative life, he settled on a site of a Roman camp near the road from Poitiers to Angers, ten miles southwest of Mouterre-Silly. The site was called Ension and was in the swamps of the river Dives which flows two miles to the east. In 342 he founded an oratory church which attracted a modest religious community. By the time he died in 370, Jovinus had achieved a great reputation for sanctity and miracles. Over the years, his small community grew in importance, but eventually there was another decline.

In 843, however, the monks of Saint-Martin-de-Vertou in Brittany were forced to abandon their monastery by depredations of the Vikings. With the help of Louis the Pious, they arrived in Ension, carrying the relics of their founding saint. They brought the abbey back to life and adopted the Rule of Saint Benedict. In 878, a Carolingian church was dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist. By the 10th century when the town was renamed Saint Jouin in tribute to the founder, the abbey was one of the most powerful in the Poitou and possessed 127 daughter churches.

The ambitious Romanesque church that we see today was built under the direction of the monk Raoul between 1095-1130.

Chevet, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

Chevet, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

The history of the church is a familiar one – it survived the Hundred Years War because the abbey was fortified, but that did not help during the Wars of Religion. In October 1569, a troop of Huguenot cavalry on the way to the Battle of Moncontour (less than two miles distant) completely pillaged the abbey. The treasury of the church and the body of Saint Jouin both disappeared. The theft was so thorough that there was nothing left for Coligny to pillage as he retreated from his defeat at Moncontour by the Duke of Anjou.

Saint Jouin was better treated by the French Revolution than many of her sisters. The abbey was sold off as private property, but the church was kept intact and reinstated as a house of worship in 1795.

The church was in need of work and in 1889, Joseph Henri Deverin was selected by the Monuments Historique to restore the façade. Among his tasks was to dig out the western front which was partially buried, restore the sculpture and to remove the execrable porch which had been erected over the central portal.

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes before and after restoration

Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes before and after restoration

The surviving church of Saint Jouin is enormous. The nave has ten bays and is 137 feet long. In the thirteenth century the nave received an Angevin Gothic vault which rises to a height of almost 50 feet. The vault springs directly from the nave arcades which are themselves 28 feet high. Because there are no clerestory windows, the light into the nave comes only from the large windows of the western façade and the smaller apse windows although some light does come in from the side aisles.

Nave, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The side aisles are very attractive – tall, narrow and covered with banded barrel vaults. The short, two-level columns on the right are an interesting feature.

South side aisle, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

South side aisle, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

In the 17th century, there was a famous school of painting centered on the abbey. It is believed that this painting in the north side aisle is a product of that period.

North side aisle, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North side aisle, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The vast apse is typical of a Romanesque pilgrimage church, featuring a tall hemicycle to the ambulatory, a blind arcade, and a clerestory level. Notice the Angevin rib vaulting here.

Apse, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The exterior of the church is remarkable. The beautifully proportioned western façade is pure Romanesque and features three portals. The original portions of the façade apparently were profusely ornamented but sometime in the 12th century new sculptural program was begun that featured more of an accent with human figures.

At the top, centered in the pediment, is the depiction of the Last Judgment. We see the figure of Christ in front of the cross flanked by two angels. Directly below him is the Virgin flanked by rows of pilgrims. These 30 figures of people from all backgrounds are wearing clothes from the 12th century, which gives us an indication of the date of the sculpture. The rest of the figures on the façade vary from saints to peasants and the labors of the months.

Western façade, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Western facade, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Two interesting figures, however, adorn the top of the double capitals below the pediment. On the left is Constantine on his horse and on the right hand side of the arch is Sampson and the lion.

Facade detail, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Facade detail, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The central portal has five sculpted archivolts. Each archivolt springs from a narrow column topped with a capital. On either side of this portal is a larger engaged column with a finely sculpted capital.

Central portal, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

Central portal, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

The capital on the northernmost column is a remarkable rendition of animals, including what appears to be a lion spewing foliage. The banded decoration above the figures is quite graceful, but I suspect that it was added by Deverin during his restoration.

Central portal capital detail, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

Central portal capital detail, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

This is one of the churches that we photographed before acquiring the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM that we use for shooting distant capitals and carvings. We hope to return this year during our visit in the area to photograph Saint Jouin-de-Marnes again and get more of the sculptural detail.

Ambulatory, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory, Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, Jouin-de-Marnes (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

The Église Abbatiale Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes reminds us once again of the riches of the Poitou region of France. This was one of the centers of Romanesque church-building and I don’t think that there is any region that features as many spectacular churches as this. I am reminded of the nearby churches of Saint Hilaire in Melle, Saint Pierre in Aulnay, Église Saint-Nicolas in Civray, Parthenay-le-Vieux, and of course Notre Dame la Grande and Sainte Radegonde in Poitiers. We never tire of photographing these churches and never feel that we can completely capture their majesty.

Location: 46.88167 -0.05239

Dreams and Decay (Dennis Aubrey)


I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What’s left us then? James Joyce, Ulysses

In reading this quote from Joyce, the image evoked by “one livid final flame” is the destruction of the Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire de Béziers where the heat grew so intense from the flames that the church exploded “like a grenade;” it split in two and collapsed in an inferno on those sheltering within. But often the destruction is less of an explosion and more of a decay.

No church demonstrates this gradual destruction as much as the famous Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges, one of the landmarks of the Norman architectural renaissance in the 11th century. There had been a monastery on the site since 654 and in its early heyday, the abbey had a population of a thousand monks.

View of Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime) (1702)  Bibliothèque nationale de France,  Image in the Public Domain

View of Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime) (1702) Bibliothèque nationale de France, Image in the Public Domain

The Vikings appeared in the 9th century and on May 24, 841, the Carolingian monastery was burnt to the ground. The monks scattered and prayed “A furore Normannorum libera nos Domine!” (“From the fury of the Normans, Lord deliver us!”) Shortly after, the French king purchased the peace with Rollo and his Vikings by signing the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911. The blighted lands on the west coast of France became Normandy and experienced a marvelous renaissance at the hands of their former tormenters. The abbey at Jumièges was rebuilt by William Longespee, Duke of Normandy, a century after its previous destruction. On the first of July 1067, Champart, archbishop of Rouen, dedicated the abbey church Notre Dame de Jumièges – the glory of Norman Romanesque architecture – in the presence of William the Conqueror. During this time, the abbey became one of the great centers of learning in Europe and her abbots participated in all of the important affairs of both church and state.

Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Decline began in the 15th century during the English invasions of Henry V. The abbey suffered greatly – many of the monks fled both a plague and war. Both English and French troops looted and pillaged the monastery. Jumièges was lamentabiliter desolata, destructa and annihilata, sad desolate, destroyed and annihilated. Felled buildings, ruined farms, and agriculture were abandoned for five years. Nicholas Le Roux, abbot of Jumièges, felt that the abbey was being punished for his participation in the trial of Joan of Arc.

View of western gate, Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by Dennis Aubrey

View of western gate, Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by Dennis Aubrey

During the Wars of Religion, the abbey was sacked again. On May 8, 1562 the Huguenots, not content with ravaging Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre and Cadebec, put Jumièges to the sword. Every thing of value – even the lead with which the buildings were covered – was looted. The books of the library and the archives were stolen. The abbey was once again desolated. A mere seventeen monks returned to bring order to the chaos.

Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Further disaster struck during the French Revolution. The abbey was sold and in 1795 the purchaser, Pierre Lescuyer, destroyed the cloister and dormitory. In 1802 a new owner, Jean-Baptiste Lefort, timber merchant from nearby Canteleu, demolished the choir of the church, which subsequently served as a stone quarry until 1824.

Watercolor (1849) View of Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime) Bibliothèque nationale de France, Image in the Public Domain

Watercolor (1849) View of Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime) Bibliothèque nationale de France, Image in the Public Domain

With the added decay of time and neglect, we are left with a ruin that only hints at the glorious abbey that was the pride of both Normandy and France. Even the best of our hopes and dreams and love will fall in decay, perhaps leaving an impression of greatness, but most likely scenting softly of decay, even in the glorious sunlight of a Norman afternoon.

Chapel, Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Chapel, Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Jumièges (Seine-Maritime), Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 49.4320088° 0.8192216°