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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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.

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°

PJ and Saint Trophime’s Cloister (Dennis Aubrey)


The first year that PJ and I went together to France to photograph churches and the vierges romanes, we visited the abbey at Fontenay. PJ immediately fell in love with cloisters and I fell in love with this picture of her sketching.

PJ drawing at the cloister, Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d'Or)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ drawing at the cloister, Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

She has always shown a great affinity for photographing the patterns in cloisters, from times that she used a long lens to compress the columns …

Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

… to her ability to convey the peace and serenity of the enclosed spaces.

The half cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

The half cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Last year we decided to return to Arles to photograph at one of our favorite churches, the Cathédrale Saint Trophime. We have done a creditable job photographing the interior from a trip a few years ago, but we didn’t have time to work in the cloister. We went back last May and PJ shot the cloister while I did a detailed study of the magnificent western façade. Here are a few examples of her work on that sunny Provençal day.

The first shot is from above the cloister where we can see the 12th century clocher in the distance, three stories high and decorated with Lombard bands. As in most churches, the cloisters are found on the south side of the nave, but they are separated from the church by an area that used to be part of the archbishop’s palace. The cloister consists of two Romanesque and two Gothic galleries. PJ’s photos concentrate on the Romanesque galleries, which are more interesting.

Clocher and Cloister, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Clocher and Cloister, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The Romanesque galleries have triple sets of slender columns topped with ornately carved historiated capitals depicting Old and New Testament stories. At the corners and in the center of each gallery are piers featuring full size sculptures of saints and bishops with bas-relief friezes between the corner pieces. As might be expected from a cathedral with such a superbly sculpted west façade, the carving in the cloister is also masterful.

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The carved column piers also depict biblical and historical events. This selection shows Saint Stephen surrounded by Saint Andrew on the left and Saint Paul on the right carrying a scroll. In the space between Stephen and Paul is a frieze showing the resurrection of Christ.

Saints Andrew, Stephen, and Paul, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Saints Andrew, Stephen, and Paul, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Another pier ensemble illustrates the story of Jesus meeting the two followers at Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. In this shot, Jesus is on the left, and his follower is on the right, carrying the signs of pilgrimage, including the scallop shell. We can see the three pairs of columns in the background.

Jesus meets followers at Emmaus, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Jesus meets followers at Emmaus, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The next shot features one of the pier statues, in this case, Saint Peter, who is actually flanking Saint Trophime in the ensemble. Notice the superbly carved capitals in the background.

Saint Peter, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Saint Peter, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Because of the construction going on in the cloister while PJ was working, we were not able to spend the time to photograph the details of all the capitals as we normally would. This gives us, of course, a reason to return to Arles for yet another visit to the Cathédrale Saint Trophime.

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.

Signs of Invisible Loveliness (Dennis Aubrey)


“Any thinking person realizes that the appearances of beauty are signs of an invisible loveliness” (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchy, I.3)

Today’s article is about the sublime Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor in Cerisy-la-Forêt, 25 miles due west of Caen. Saint Vigor is a fine example of the virile and energetic architectural style that emerged almost full-grown in the century following the grant of lands to Rollo and his Vikings after the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911. Certainly this church showed how quickly Norman Romanesque art reached its peak.

As is common with so many of these churches, there is a legend to its foundation. Saint Vigor, an early evangelist in the region and the bishop of Bayeux was asked to rid the region around Cerisiacum of a “horrible snake that put to death men and animals”. Vigor struck the monster with his crucifix and imprinted the cross on the serpent’s forehead. He then tied it about the neck and presented it to his companion Theodomir, who drowned it at La Fosse-Soucy, a natural sinkhole where the river Aure disappears underground. Volusien, lord of the region, granted twenty-five villages as a reward and in 510 Vigor built the first hermitage on the site.

Exterior of the Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Exterior of the Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The current church was founded in 1032 by the Duke of Normandy Robert the Magnificent, but construction began later, after his death. The church was actually built by his son, William the Conqueror and is contemporary to the famed Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen. Saint Vigor was one of the most important abbeys in Normandy and was attached to the Benedictine order. The church was built with a cruciform ground plan with a rounded apse, short transepts, and no ambulatory. The nave as originally constructed between 1035 and 1087 consisted of eight bays, but the five western-most bays were demolished in 1811.

Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The nave elevation shows three levels; the side aisle arcades topped by the tribunes, and then finally finished with large clerestory windows. Both the tribunes and the clerestory feature doubled arches within each main arch. The rhythmic effect is elegant and sophisticated,

Nave elevation, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave elevation, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The apse of Saint Vigor is a unique construct. There is no ambulatory; this was not a great pilgrimage church but a working abbey. The apse is deep and topped by a ribbed vault. There are Gothic choir stalls that date from the very early 1400’s, the oldest in Normandy. There is, however, no denying that the dominant feature of the apse is the array of fifteen large windows on three levels.

Choir, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Choir, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The second level of the windows has a narrow arcade and walkway which gives a great view of the apse as a whole (and we can see PJ photographing there in the next shot). All of the windows are large and deep and as a set they create a magnificent backdrop for the altar.

Apse windows, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse windows, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In a closeup of the window area, we see narrow passage of the walkway and the beautiful stonework of the arches themselves. We can also see the little figurative corbels on the third level, one of the few examples of sculptural adornment that we found in the church.

Apse windows, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse windows, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

From the vantage point of the apsidal walkway on the second level, we can see across to the tribunes above the nave arcades.

Tribune, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

Tribune, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

It is easy to appreciate the purity of the lines of the Norman churches like Saint Vigor of Cerisy-la-Forêt. These restless Viking conquerors spread their power and their faith and we see magnificence of the churches they created at the Sicilian cathedrals in Monreale and Cefalù, as well as the English masterpieces in Durham and Winchester. The Normans spread across the European landscape and were influenced by many other cultures, but for the churches in their new homeland on the west coast of France, they preferred a purity of form unadorned.

Nave from tribune, Eglise Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave from tribune, Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ and I have often discussed the various styles of Romanesque churches in France and how they differ from each other. Norman Romanesque is spare, elegant, and by comparison with other Romanesque styles, undecorated. There are few bright colors, no great iconographic programs of capitals in the naves, and none of the spectacular tympanæ that we see in the rest of the country. PJ’s take on this is that the purity of Norman architecture demands a response like modern art – we must bring our own thoughts and feelings into the architecture to understand it. The meaning of a Mark Rothko painting is not given to us on a platter; we must earn it with our own efforts.

Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor, Cerisy-la-Forêt (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

In her own way, PJ is speaking about the same process that Thomas Aquinas described in art. He wrote that although we receive information from the senses, those senses cannot recognize beauty themselves. It is the mind that contemplates the form presented by the senses and discovers beauty. Appreciation of beauty is the result of the cognitive process. At the Église Abbatiale Saint Vigor in Cerisy-la-Forêt, we see that principal in action, and perhaps get a glimpse of that “invisible loveliness” which lies behind the simple stone of the churches and which belies the history of the bellicose Vikings who built them.

Location: 49.197202° -0.932525°

Our 2015 Trip to Europe


The holiday season has been very intense for us but we have started to plan for our next trip to Europe in May and June. There will be some very familiar places where we will repeat our photographic exploits, but also an entirely new (for us) experience. We are going to Italy!

PJ and I were at dinner with our dear friend Diane Quaid in November and the conversation turned to bucket lists. PJ turned to me and asked if there was one place that I would like to go and I replied “Ravenna”. At that moment we decided to add Italy to our tour for 2015.

Europe Map 2015

So the general outline of the trip is as follows: In ➀ Vézelay we will stay at our home in the area, the Crispol Hotel, which will be our base for photographing and for a visit with Pere Angelico Surchamps at the nearby monastery of La Pierre Qui Vire, the birthplace of the Éditions Zodiaque. We are hoping that Janet Marquardt will be able to join us for the visit.

Dom Angelico Surchamp, September 20, 2011

Dom Angelico Surchamp, September 20, 2011

From Vézelay we will make a long drive to ➁ Milan to photograph the Duomo, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, Battistero Sant Ambrogio, Battistero San Lorenzo Maggiore, Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro, and the Basilica di San Simpliciano. From Milan we drive a couple of hours to ➂ Ravenna, where we will photograph the Battistero degli Ariani, Battistero Neoniano, Chiesa San Michele in Africisco, Basilica di San Giovanni Evangelista, and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe. The amazing Byzantine churches with their famous mosaics are drawing us to this part of the world for almost two weeks.

Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe (Image in the Public Domain)

Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe (Image in the Public Domain)

From Ravenna we have a treat in store – three days in ➃ Florence with PJ’s brother Mark Krausz. We’ll take some time to enjoy the city but will probably not have time to really work on the churches. We’ll save that for a return visit. From Florence we spend a night in ➄ Modena. We hope to photograph the Duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo e San Geminiano.

From here, we head back to France, first the ➅ Le Puy area in the Haute Loire. We will shoot the Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy and several of the remote churches of the area, including one of our favorites, the Abbaye Saint-André de Lavaudieu. From here we go about an hour north where we will stay just outside of ➆ Issoire at one of our favorite hotels in France, the lovely Cour Carrée in Perriers. I was sick here for six days on our last trip so we are looking forward to returning and enjoying the hospitality and cuisine of Jean-Luc Villette. While in the region, we will be photographing the many spectacular Romanesque churches in the Clermont-Ferrand area.

Basilique Saint Austremoine, Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

Basilique Saint Austremoine, Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

From Issoire we go to my omphalos, the Hotel Pont de l’Ouysse in ➇ Lacave in the Dordogne. I first fell in love with this hotel in 1986; PJ and I return every year to enjoy the cuisine and the region. From Lacave, we head to the ➈ Limousin where we will photograph the wonderful Romanesque churches surrounding Limoges – the Collégiale Saint-Pierre in Le Dorat, the Abbaye de Saint-Amand à Saint-Junien, the Église Bénévent-l’Abbaye, the Collégiale Saint-Léonard à Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, the Église Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul à Solignac, and the Église Notre Dame de La Souterraine.

From the Limousin we go a short distance northwest to ➉ Poitiers to visit our family friend Thérese Gayet at their home at Danlot, and then visit the city itself, along with our old family stomping ground at Chauvigny. From Chauvigny we go to ➀➀ Bourges to photograph the cathedral, then to ➀➁ Chartres for three more days documenting the restoration there. And then finally, three days in ➀➂ Paris in an apartment on the Ile Saint Louis will finish our trip. We are so excited to return, especially since the last journey was truncated by my illness.

Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ and I have a great deal of research to do, mostly on the churches in Italy. It will be our first time to work there and we need to know the regulations and practices of that country. If anyone has any information or suggestions to make, on Italy or even the Limousin region, please let us know. It will, of course, be gratefully received.

Happy Holidays!


PJ and I would like to wish you all – readers, contributors, fellow bloggers, and lovers of the Romanesque – a wonderful holiday season for 2014.

Dennis Aubrey

This church is the First Congregational Church, Chatham (Massachusetts).