More Celestial Vaults (Dennis Aubrey)

Shooting Romanesque and Gothic vaults has become one of my passions and I’ve finally worked out some techniques that allow me to get consistent results. I’m not one of these folks who can lie on my back and shoot upwards, and instead have to rig the camera properly to get the shots. The Canon 17mm tilt-shift side-mounted on the Manfrotto tripod is ideally suited to the job. Initial alignment is done by using a laser to mark the spot on the vault at the center of the image view.

Rig for shooting vaults with 17mm tilt shift

Once the camera is set up, I set a chair in place, pull out my trusty pocket mirror and perfect the alignment of the shot using the live view feature. Once you get used to working backwards and upside down, it is possible to get good results. One caution; doing this procedure in a busy church guarantees a curious audience.

The first shot here is the quadripartite vaulting of the Gothic Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile in Albi with its gorgeous painted surfaces. The entire church is sumptuously decorated like this.

Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile, Albi (Tarn) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This next shot is the painted oven vault of the Église Sainte-Radegonde in Poitiers. This shot was taken from behind the raised altar.

Église Sainte-Radegonde, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Close by Poitiers is the Vienne town of Civray with its superb Église Saint-Nicolas. This church is not as well known as its Poitiers siblings, but is definitely worth a visit. The west tympanum is extraordinary (and features a column swallower) and the interior is a beautifully painted example of the Poitou Romanesque church. We’ll be doing a full post on Saint-Nicholas soon, but until then, you’ll have to settle for this shot of the crossing dome.

Église Saint-Nicolas, Civray (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The next shot is of the vaulting of the magnificent Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. We had a commission to shoot here for three days and this is one of my favorite shots. It is possible to appreciate the stained glass windows that are the pride of this church.

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

Finally, we ended our trip this year with a visit to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis in the Oise, north of Paris. This shot features the crossing and the vaults of the nave, apse, and two transepts.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis, Senlis (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When I look at these images it is hard to believe that the vaults are actually made of stone. The medieval vaults were developed to protect the church from fire and depredation but quickly evolved into expressions of faith and aspiration. The technical achievements of spanning wide interior spaces with stone vaults was one of the great attainments of the medieval mind.

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