Two Madonnas redux (Dennis Aubrey)

This year our visit to the Puy-de-Dôme allowed us to see and photograph some of our favorite Vierges Romanes; Notre Dame des Fers in Orcival, Notre Dame du Mont Cornador in Saint Nectaire, and especially, Notre Dame d’Heume, in the tiny village of Heume l’Eglise (to see just how tiny, look at the following GPS coordinates in Google Earth: Latitude 45.718438° Longitude 2.733212°).

Notre Dame d'Heume l'Eglise (Puy-de-Dôme) (Photo by PJ McKey)

We had the opportunity to return to Heume l’Eglise (see PJ’s earlier post) as we left the Auvergne on our way to the Dordogne. My parents were traveling with us at this time and we especially wanted them to see two women – Notre Dame d’Heume and the guardienne of the church, Mme Bernadette Geille. We wound around in the hills on the tiny roads, passed the small walled cemetery and entered the hamlet. Mme Geille greeted us enthusiastically (she does everything enthusiastically) and we went to the Eglise Sainte Anne.

After setting off the alarm that protects the Vierge, we got down to shooting. It is such an amazing thing to touch and photograph this beautiful sculpture. As I was shooting the Vierge, Mme Geille showed my mother the treasures of the church, all the while dusting and polishing. My mother was enchanted and the two of them chatted for an hour.

Notre Dame d'Heume, Heume l'Eglise (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)
Detail of Notre Dame d'Heume, macro lens (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

Afterwards, Mme Geille invited us to her home. Her husband, Yves, made us very welcome (wearing his yellow ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby shirt – Clermont had just won the French league championship). Last time we visited, he was out hunting. He returned just before we left and when we asked how the hunting was, he replied, “On perde le chien” (“We lost the dog”). We were served a very interesting Auvergnat specialty aperitif, Avèze. Made with the roots of the gentiane plant (Gentiana Lutea), it was slightly bitter but very attractive. No matter how many time we go to France, we always learn something new.

We asked if we could take a photo of Mme Geille with the Vierge. We wanted the picture for two reasons. First, she has always been so nice to us that we wanted something by which to remember her. She didn’t want to have her picture taken because, in her words, “She’s too beautiful.” But when we insisted, she allowed us the single shot, even though she felt herself unworthy. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

Mme Geille, the gardienne, and her charge (Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

And second, notice how Mme Geille’s cheeks are the same as those of the Vierge. In 2008, we met a hermit priest at Corneilla de Conflent in the Pyrénées-Orientales, Father Joseph Raaymakers. Father Joseph maintains that he has gone to villages and has seen in the face of a young woman the exact visage that was represented in these ancient carvings. “Go to Montserrat,” he said, “and you will see the Madonna walking in the town.” In the face of Mme Geille, we see the face of Notre Dame d’Heume.

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