PJ and I have been overhauling our library recently, a huge task considering that we have over 45,000 images of French and Spanish Romanesque churches. We use Adobe Lightroom to organize the photographs and to process them. If you are looking for a digital asset management system, we can’t recommend it too highly. Even though it is a lot of work to group the images into stacks and to process, there is a benefit – we rediscover gems of churches that we shot and sort of forgot. This post is a celebration of a few of them.
The first, Notre Dame de Chauriat in the Auvergne, we visited for the famous Vierge Romane there, but the church was a delight. Beautifully painted, it is an elegant and simple example of the local style. This shot of the nave arcades gives a real feeling for what these churches must have looked like when they were built nine hundred years ago.
Just 12 miles west of Chauriat is town of Beaumont with the superb Abbaye Saint Pierre de Beaumont. The abbey church is a simple, solid, barrel-vaulted structure that is a perfect representation of the sober and shadowed monastic architecture that is Romanesque. The walls are thick so that they can support the narrow barrel vault, which leaves only small openings for windows. The light coming through this window struck me as a wonderfully graded background for the crucifix in the chancel.
North and a little east of Beaumont is the Burgundy town of Iguerande. The side aisles of the Eglise d’Iguerande have these elegant little groin vaults between rounded arches, a perfect harbinger of the transition to Gothic. They could use a groin vault to cover these aisles because the span distances were small and square. One would expect the arches separating the vaults to be ogive, but I think Iguerande demonstrates an early version of groin vaulting in a Romanesque church.
About 25 miles north of Iguerande is the great Basilique Notre Dame in Paray-le-Monial, one of the most beautiful monuments of Cluniac architecture. In 1673 Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a nun in the town, had a divine revelation in which Jesus “promised her that all those who rendered this honour to His Heart would be endowed with an abundance of heavenly graces”. In 1864 she was beatified and the Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated every June in her honor. The basilica in Paray-le-Monial is the home to the Society of the Sacred Heart.
Crossing to the west of France in the Charente-Maritime just 80 miles north of Bordeaux, we find the Eglise Saint Pierre in Aulnay-de-Saintonge. This is an extraordinary church filled with the most expressive capitals above clustered piers along the nave. This particular shot of the nave shows the slightly ogive banded barrel vault supported by those pier clusters.
Our forthcoming trip will be next fall and we will concentrate exclusively on Burgundy and the Auvergne. We will be reshooting some churches but I am sure that we will find more special gems scattered through the French countryside. We can’t wait to start.