The Two Madonnas (PJ McKey)

Looking to photograph their Vierge Romane, we first went to Eglise Saint Anne in Heume L’Eglise in May 2006. It was love at first sight. On a cool, grey, rainy spring day we finally found this small country church sitting in the middle of a few farm houses and barns, kept company only by the distant lowing of cows. The minute we walked in we could feel the life, the warmth of spirit, the sense of refuge. It felt almost like a home instead of a church. There were flowers everywhere, as though spring had found its way into this church before anywhere else. There were small notes of thanks or need tucked at the feet of the statues; Saint Anne, Saint Joseph, the Blessed Virgin.

This must have been what it was like in the distant pass throughout rural France, a step from the isolated hard outside world into the the comfort of community. Here there is joy and hope. I’m partial to these humble churches. This is what a church is meant to be, the heart and soul of a town, the keeper of its history, its celebrations, pains and promises.

Église Sainte Anne, Heume l'Eglise (Puy (Puy de Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey
Église Sainte Anne, Heume l’Eglise (Puy (Puy de Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

In 2008 we had to come back. The church at Heume is watched over by two Madonnas – a spectacular 12th century wooden polychrome statue, one of the finest we have found, and a 21st century French farm wife, Madame Bernadette Geille. Before coming to France, we made arrangements with her to take the Vierge out of her small locked grotto so we could photograph her.

The double nave of Eglise Sainte Anne, Heume l'Eglise (Puy de Dôme)  Photo by PJ McKey
The double nave of Eglise Sainte Anne, Heume l’Eglise (Puy de Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

The church was just as we remembered it and in may ways it felt like coming home, particularly because of Madame Geille. She is the keeper of this church, its protector. She loves this church and all it has been to her town over the centuries. She cares for it and keeps it safe. Like a good mother, she is proud, wanting to show us all the special statutes, plaques and paintings. Each one is a testament to the life of the church, each one a treasure no matter how plain or modest. This church is a living record of the faith of this town and she is honored that we have come here.

PJ McKey and Notre Dame d'Heume l'Eglise, Photo by Dennis Aubrey
PJ McKey and Notre Dame d’Heume l’Eglise, Photo by Dennis Aubrey

She beamed as we photographed the Vierge, her pride and joy. Touching this Madonna brought tears to my eyes. This good Mother has comforted many and watched over many, for close to nine hundred years. This good Mother gave us her Son. I have seldom been so moved. After several hours of work, we were invited to Madame’s home next door to the church. A good country woman would never turn anyone away without refreshments. We were graciously offered “American whiskey, Jack Daniels” and potato chips, a snack thoughtfully chosen to make us feel welcome. Given with such joy and caring, it was one of the best things I have ever eaten. We left feeling renewed, filled completely, ready to travel on. Don’t worry Madame, we did not go away hungry.

Mme Geille, the gardienne, and her charge
Mme Geille, the gardienne, and her charge

If you are interested in seeing more of these images, please see the Via Lucis website.

3 thoughts on “The Two Madonnas (PJ McKey)

  1. ““American whiskey, Jack Daniels” and potato chips” … got to love the French… we should all be so lucky!

  2. Vincent, we actually couldn’t face the Jack Daniels so early in the day and so substituted a wonderful “vin cuit”, a spiced “cooked” wine that they had made themselves. But the typical French thoughfulness in trying to find something that would be appropriate to Americans was the height of charm.

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