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.

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.

“Mea Culpa” (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I would like to apologize to our faithful Via Lucis community for the lack of posts in the last three months, especially recently. We have recently completely changed our life situation, moving from Cape Cod to the hills of Ohio.

Temptation capital detail, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins  (Indre)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Temptation capital detail, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins (Indre) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In doing so, we have had to disrupt our physical as well as emotional lives. Part of that physical disruption is that we STILL have not taken delivery of our furniture (that was picked up on June 1). We won’t be receiving it for at least another six or seven days! Perhaps it was not wise to use a moving company broker after all. But this has prevented us from having access to some of our equipment and photos (they are all safe, but inaccessible).

The good news is that we love our new home in Hideaway Hills, just southeast of the town of Lancaster, which is itself about 40 miles southeast of Columbus, where PJ’s siblings live. We live in hills surrounded by trees, deer, pileated woodpeckers, and Amish farms. The backroads could pass for the backroads of France!

Our new house in Ohio

Our new house in Ohio

It is a bit different from life on an island in Cape Cod, looking out over the sparkling waters of Buzzards Bay, but the Hocking Hills are magnificent and we are glad to be here. Right now, PJ and I are trying to plan our next trip to France, hopefully this coming Fall. And most of all, we are so anxious to get back to work on our beloved Via Lucis and to once again have you as part of our lives.

Finally, we would like to thank Jong-Soung Kimm who quite independently gave us three new posts to help fill the void. His contributions always contribute enormously to Via Lucis and these three were particularly appreciated.

Thanks for your patience!

The Benedictine Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The Monastery was begun in 992 outside the walls of Girona when Ramón Borrell, count of Barcelona deeded to the monks the right over the property of Sant Pere. Borrell made further donation the following year to put the fledgling monastery on firmer footing. In 1117 Ramón Berenguer III of Barcelona merged the monastery with the Abbey of Sainte-Marie-de-Lagrasse in present day France, although Sant Pere kept its own abbot and a large degree of autonomy. Sant Pere was never a large community as it was not the parish church, and only baptisms were held at the church. The control of abbots over the monastery ceased in 1339 when King Pero III of Aragon made Girona a duchy of the kingdom of Aragon. It began to decline in importance in the 15th century, and was absorbed into other monasteries in 1592.

The Romanesque church that we see today dates from 1130. The western façade with a prominent, 3.5-meter diameter rose window and an unusual, squared top is thought to be a carryover from a previous church.

Western facade, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western facade, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The church is built on the basilica plan of nave and two aisles, the crossing which is the same size as a typical bay, short north and south transepts, but with unusual deviations. The north transept has apses both on the east and the north faces, and a stair turret to the campanile; the south transept has two small apsidal chapels in tandem.

Plan, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Illustration by Jong-Soung Kimm

Plan, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona)

The nave is composed of four bays defined by substantial rectangular piers with semi-cylindrical pilasters with well-proportioned capitals, which in turn support sturdy transverse arches for the barrel vault.

Nave, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A short bay to the east of the crossing framed by two pairs of columns with very delicate and elaborate capitals, precedes the chancel. These capitals for the chancel arch columns are thought to be the work of different artists than the stone carvers for the nave. Some of them have been attributed to the master of Cabestany. The chancel itself is laid out in a semi-circular plan divided into seven sectors, slender colonnettes separating each, and there are three windows on the curving chancel wall.

Chancel, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Chancel, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The oblique view looking up at the intersection of the nave vaulting and the chancel shows the oven vault for the chancel. The barrel vault continues over the crossing in the same direction as the nave, ending with a diaphragm wall with a quatrefoil oculus over the entry bay to the chancel.

Chancel entry bay, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Chancel entry bay, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The level difference between the nave floor and the chancel is much less than at some early Romanesque churches with crypts underneath, presumably because of the terrain sloping away toward the east. The nave floor is raised at the easternmost bay by one step, while another step raises the level of the crossing, and there are four steps to the level of the entry bay to the chancel. Finally, one additional step completes the gentle ascent to the chancel floor. The view from the north aisle toward the southeast illuminates the pure geometry of the nave arcades well, and also shows that each pier is set on a cross shape base.

Nave piers, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave piers, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave elevation scheme shows that the semi-circular tops of clerestory windows extend higher than the springing of the barrel vault.

Nave elevation, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view from the south transept toward the crossing and the north transept shows the north-facing apse (Photo 8), and the view from the north aisle toward the south transept shows the two apsidal chapels in tandem (Photo 9).

View from south transept, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from south transept, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from north transept, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from north transept, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking straight up to the nave vaulting shows the high caliber of masons building the curving surface on the one hand, as well as the logic with which the master builder brought together all constituent parts toward a harmonious architecture on the other.

Nave vault, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave vault, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

As mentioned earlier, the terrain slopes away toward the east, making the apse and the campanile stand tall seen from the east. The exterior of the apse is built in a smooth semi-cylindrical shape, while the campanile is built on an octagonal plan, and it has two tiers. The upper tier of two stories feature double arches divided by columns, decorated with Lombard bands.

Chevet with campanile, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Chevet with campanile, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

In 1362 when the city walls were expanded to include Sant Pere within its walls, the campanile of the monastery was rebuilt for more defensive function. The cloister, while relatively small in size, is an excellent example of Catalan Romanesque architecture. The northern gallery attached to the church wall dates from 1154, while the other three galleries from 1190. The capitals of the columns have motifs very similar to those in the cloisters of Sant Cugat del Vallès, or those in the Cathedral of Girona.

Cloister, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Cloister, Monastir Sant Pere de Galligants, Girona (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The fact that the former Monasterio de Sant Pere de Galligants has been the home of the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia in Girona since 1857 is a measure of poetic justice, as it is one of the most “classical” and quintessential Catalan Romanesque churches.

Location: 41.98888 2.82638

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

The Benedictine Monastery Church of Sant Pere de Rodes, a Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


The former Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is one of the important monuments of early Romanesque architecture which developed in the early 11th century in the Catalan region of Iberian Peninsula. Perched above the Costa Brava fishing and resort town of El Port de la Selva in the Verdera mountain, the partly restored monastery offers a breath-taking view of the bay of Llançà.

Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona)

Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona)

The beginning of the monastery is not known, and it is shrouded in legends. The first reference to a simple monastery cell dedicated to St. Peter is documented from around 880, but the founding of an independent Benedictine monastery under an abbot is recorded to have taken place in 945. It flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries, but slowly began to decline in importance, and it encountered sacking on several occasions in the 17th century. The Benedictines left the monastery altogether at the end of the 18th century.

As the monastery complex is constructed on a mountain site, different parts are built at varying levels on a terraced arrangement. The 12th century cloister occupies the fairly flat central terrain. The monastery church itself, sited at the northwest corner of the complex, was only partially completed at its consecration in 1022 by the archbishop of Narbonne. It is built on the Latin cross plan.

Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Sketch plan by Jong-Soung Kimm

Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Sketch plan by Jong-Soung Kimm

As a visitor enters the church through the fairly spacious narthex at the west, the most striking architectural features that come into view are the double-tiered “classical” columns set on very high plinths, which collectively form the T-shaped piers.

Nave piers, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave piers, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave is four bays long, and it is covered with barrel vault, each bay being defined by substantial transverse arches supported by the upper tiers of “classical” columns.

View of nave to west, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View of nave to west, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking up at the barrel vault of the nave bays illustrates the simple space of the monastery church well.

Vault, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Vault, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The aisles are rather narrow, and they are covered with half-barrel vault.

Side aisle, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Side aisle, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The arches defining the relatively short north and south transepts which open out from the crossing, are supported by columns on the lower tiers.

Transept arches, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Transept arches, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The chancel is defined by an egg-shaped, rather than a half round, apse with oven vault above, with ambulatory surrounding it, but without radiating chapels.

Chancel, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Chancel, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

It is probable that the columns supporting the entry arch to the chancel is the work of a master mason who restored Sant Pere at some later period than the original church: the columns have about the same diameter as the nave columns, but stand in one continuous shaft from the chancel floor to the springing of the chancel arch by stacking two pieces of marble one on top of the other, creating somewhat unexpected and dissonant, slender proportion for that pair of columns. The rectangular capitals above these columns, also, are deviations from classical design, reminiscent of Mozarabic capitals found at San Pedro de la Nave, for example.

The square crossing at the end of the nave is covered with barrel vault running in the same direction as the nave in one continuous barrel shape, so that the spatial progression from the western entry through the nave is cusped by the chancel with only a slight expansion of space at the crossing towards the transepts. Each transept, about the size of one nave bay in length, but with lower vaulting, has own apsidal chapel that fills the full width of the transept. The view of the south transept chapel indicates that the east facing window had been blocked by adjoining construction at some point later.

South transept chapel, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

South transept chapel, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The double-tiered columns on high plinths in the nave are placed facing each other at each pier supporting the transverse arches, while additional single-tier columns on plinths on either side of the piers placed in the longitudinal direction support the nave arches. A typical pier, because of the clustering of columns, comes across wonderfully sculptural in its presence. The view from the north transept toward the southwest across the crossing into the first bay of the nave illustrates this adequately.

View from crossing to nave, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from crossing to nave, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the nave elevation with two piers which are missing plinths projecting toward the nave and lower tiers of columns, shows the scheme of nave elevation well, but also reminds the viewer how important and essential the clustering of columns is in the overall composition which the master builder would have envisioned for the original design of the church.

Nave elevation, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The columns which had been described as “classical” at the beginning of the article appear to be recycled from Roman ruins as the region of Girona is abundant with them, but with a caveat: while the capitals for columns have the proportion of Corinthian capitals, on closer inspection, the delicate carvings of capitals include designs of Byzantine and Moslem inspiration. Above the capitals are placed large square cushions with interwoven plant designs. Even with carvings of non-classical design on the capitals, the overall feeling of Sant Pere de Rodes is strongly Roman architecture in its ambience. Placing one order of columns on top of another immediately recalls the formal repertory of antique builders by which constituent elements in triumphal arches are deftly joined to create an architecture of powerful symbolism. There are two campaniles at the western edge of the monastery. The more elegant, Lombard design tower anchors the northwest corner of the partially restored cloister.

Campanile, Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Campanile, Monasterio de Sant Pere de Rodes, El Port de la Selva (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A footnote to the importance accorded to Sant Pere de Rodes during its heyday: at the beginning of the 11th century, an illuminated bible was produced at the monastery, and it is preserved today at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.

Location: 42.32361° 3.16667°

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

Reflections of light at the top of the World (Dennis Aubrey)


Sometimes I get so sad, so depressed at the state of the world. The antics of our politicians, the naked greed of our Wall Street masters of the universe, and the sadness at seeing the land of promise and opportunity turning into the land of baristas. Sometimes I just think it is my age, but looking back, I don’t see a golden time. We have always been troubled as a people, but now we have descended further into an abyss. I despair at emerging into the light.

But then something happens to change my heart – first it was PJ who came into my life like a warming beacon. Sometimes it is the generosity and kindness of my friends who I cherish more than I can ever express. And my family (and PJ’s) are a fertile soil that nourishes the seedlings of hope and faith. Today, however, one of member of that family, my nephew Scott, is in my thoughts.

Nepal vista

This young man trained as an engineer at Santa Clara University and immediately got a responsible and well-paying job in his field of civil engineering. But his work there was not fulfilling and he made the choice to change everything. He originally planned to get a master’s degree in Engineering for Developing Communities but decided instead to go to Nepal for a couple of months to help rebuild the country devastated by earthquakes.

Making bricks, photo by Marissa Reis

Making bricks, photo by Marissa Reis

He has now been there longer than two months and he is committed to the process and the country. He speaks conversational Nepalese, and his words glow with the belief that he – and we – can make a difference.

Building walls, photo by Scott Hanson

Building walls, photo by Scott Hanson

To read his own words on his mission, please read this link.

Nepal Scott

So thank you, Scott, from your perch high atop of the world, for sharing your light with this old soul.

Nepal sunset, photo by Scott Hanson

Nepal sunset, photo by Scott Hanson

A Madonna for Mariners – Amuse Bouche #33 (Dennis Aubrey)


En Avant de Guingamp

En Avant de Guingamp

Since the relegation of our beloved AJ Auxerre from Ligue 1, PJ and I have chosen another underdog, this time a tiny town represented in Ligue 1 by an over-achieving football club. The team we chose was En Avant de Guingamp, competing for the small Breton town with a population of 7,235 people. It would be inconceivable for a town the size of Devils Lake, North Dakota to field a major league baseball team, but this is the equivalent of Guingamp’s achievement. The home pitch, the Stade du Roudourou, has a capacity of 18,126, two-and-a-half times the population of the town. In 2014 they won their second Coupe de France competition against all other teams in French professional football! The Guingampais have good reason to be proud.

The Guingampais also have reason to be proud of their famed Basilique Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. This structure is an amalgam of contrasting styles but is somehow harmonious. Inside the church we found the famous Black Madonna, Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours (also anciently known as Notre Dame du Halgoët). I believe that she is normally found in the Porche Notre Dame on the north façade of the church, which features a famous labyrinth on the floor. But when we were there, she was ensconced in the south side aisle.

Side aisle with Madonna, Basilique Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. Guingamp (Côtes-d'Armor)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Side aisle with Madonna, Basilique Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Guingamp is just 20 miles from the sea, and for centuries the families of the mariners of the town prayed to Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours for the safe return of their loved ones. There was a pilgrimage to the Madonna on the Saturday before the first Sunday of July and records document her fame from the 15th century. The original, venerated for centuries, was torn down and destroyed in the French Revolution. The current Black Madonna was reconstituted in the 19th century from fragments of three different statues recovered from the broken pieces. The head, I have read, is from the original.

Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. Basilique Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d'Armor)  Photo by PJ McKey

Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours. Basilique Notre Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Guingamp (Côtes-d’Armor) Photo by PJ McKey

A final note – after our visit to Guingamp and her lovely basilica, PJ and I stopped at the small coastal town of Paimpol, where we enjoyed a late lunch of oysters and and a bottle of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine sur lie at a seaside cafe. A perfect day.

Huitres avec mignonette, Photo par PJ McKey

Huitres avec mignonette, Photo par PJ McKey

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.