Our 2012 Trip to France (Dennis Aubrey)

This year we are concentrating on a couple of clusters of new churches while also revisiting some old favorites.

We begin in the west at ① Saint-Philibert-de-Grand Lieu (Loire-Atlantique) just south of Nantes. This tenth century church is one of the oldest in France. From there we circle Bretagne ②-③ and then move up to the ④ Contentin peninsula in Manche department of Normandy. There is a group of about 15 churches there that we’ve scheduled and then we move to the Calvados region around Caen. There is a wealth of churches in this area, from Église Saint Vigor in Cerisy-le-Foret to the great abbey churches of Caen itself. Four days in Calvados will not be enough.

Via Lucis trip – Fall 2012

One of the highlights of this trip is that my parents are spending four weeks with us. After Normandy, we pick them up in ⑥ Paris and then go to ⑦ Vézelay, our home away from home in France. We stay at the lovely Hotel Crispol just across the valley from the Basilique Sainte Madeleine. I first came here in 1998 and have been happy to return many times with PJ, my family, and other guests. Paule Schori, who owns and runs the hotel, introduced us to the Abbey of La Pierre Qui Vire and subsequently to Angelico Surchamp. It is only fitting that when we leave Vézelay, we go to ⑧ Tournus where we will visit Surchamp once again.

From Tournus we go to the ⑨ Allier where we will photograph a cluster of churches in the neighborhood of Moulins. We intended to go last year but had to change the schedule at the last moment, so we will get the chance this time. After the Allier, we go south to ⑩ Issoire, another of our favorites. We’ll be staying in the neighboring town of Perrier at the Cour Carrée, a glorious little inn with a wonderful restaurant. The Villettes are gracious hosts and we use their hotel as our base of operations in the bounteous Puy de Dôme region.

From Issoire we go to what must be called the personal center of my universe, the Pont de l’Ouysse in Lacave, between Rocamador and Souillac in the Lot. For over twenty-five years this has been the highlight of trips to France. The hotel and the superb restaurant have gotten nothing but better over the years. It doesn’t hurt that there are Romanesque churches throughout the region.

From the Lot we go north and west to the ①② and ①③ Charente-Maritime where we shoot an amazing concentration of Romanesque churches. Included will be some old favorites but most will be new. They have much in common stylistically, including decorated portals on the west facade, rich sculptural ornamentation and a hall church configuration. But there are also a great many column swallowers, one of our favorites.

After a nostalgic night in Poitiers (where we lived as a family in the early 60’s), we go to ①⑤ Angers for three days. There we will shoot the Angevin Cathédrale Saint Maurice and the Abbaye de Saint Aubin. There will be a special post on Saint Aubin later because of its unique combination of sculpture and murals.

From Angers we go to the hamlet of ①⑥ Herbilly near Beaugency where my family lived in 1952. We visit enjoy the company and hospitality of the family that owns the manor where we lived so long ago. From Herbilly we take my parents to Paris for three days, and then they return home to Santa Barbara, California. PJ and I head back to Vézelay for another week of photography and a chance to watch our favorite soccer team, AJ Auxerre (unfortunately relegated to Ligue 2 this year).

We hope to shoot another 85 churches during on this leg of our long pilgrimage, which will give us plenty to post when we come back. We also hope to do a few articles while we are traveling, but there is so much to do that we will inevitably lag behind. One thing different this year is that we will keep a journal. This will help our record-keeping and will also let PJ keep track of her ideas for later posts.

For those who are interested, here are links to the post about our equipment and how we use the lenses. There is also another post that describes our procedures for handling the thousands of photographs that we create each year in France.

14 thoughts on “Our 2012 Trip to France (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dear Dennis,

    Read your blog is an inspiration to me and I love the great photography pictures you post! I was watching an American movie the other day “The Way” I’m not sure if you have seen this, but anyways it’s about taking a pilgrimage from France to Spain I think and anyways I found the movie to be interesting and then reading your blog made the event come to life in my mind. Often I think humans preoccupy ourselves with nonsense but reading your blog kind of opens our mind to a world of new possibilities which is what I love about life, so thanks and look forward to reading further about your trips,


    1. Dave, PJ and I watched this about two months ago and loved it. She wants to walk part of the route herself (my knees are beyond bad and I probably won’t be able to do it.) My sister Ann is in Brasil now, but they hope to do it together. As far as our human preoccupations, we could not agree with you more. Our life has definitely opened up with new horizons, new friends, and deeper commitments as we have explored our beloved Romanesque churches. Thanks for your comment, and I love your quote “Many people realize their hearts desires late in life. Continue learning, never stop striving and keep your curiosity sharp, and you will never become too old to appreciate life.”.

    1. So many great places, Graham, we can’t wait. Among the old favorites are Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, Saint Austremoine in Issoire, Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, and Notre Dame la Grande in Poitiers. Who knows how many new places, which is also exciting. We’ll keep you posted! Someday – Wales!

  2. Oh, I’m so going to enjoy this. I have skirted in and around a lot of the areas you are going to …. did not know what I was missing but, you will deliver, I am sure of it. 😉

  3. Where are you staying in the Cotentin? It would be great to meet you in person while you are in my neck of the woods.

    I wish you all you’d wish for yourselves for a very happy and productive tour.

    1. Viv, we’ll be staying in Tamerville, just north of Valognes. You’re near Coutances, right? That seems to be about 50 kilometers away. I’ll contact you privately about getting together!

  4. Thanks for the travel “cheat sheet”! I have always loved Romanesque architecture and am just blown away by the beauty of your photographs. I need to take a road trip through France and this list will should be a helpful reference. Have a great time!

    1. You are very welcome. We have a Google Earth database which has about 1200 churches in it, all referenced and annotated with the Patrimoine de France information, plus stuff we’ve pulled in our research. It makes it easier in a way, but so hard to choose among the choices. In the Charente-Maritime, for example, there are about 40 churches that we’ve marked out but we’ll only have a chance to shoot 15 or so. Aaagh.

      1. Hmm, somehow I missed the link to your Google Earth link. I’ll have to check that out!

        I guess the upside of only seeing 15 churches among 40 is that you won’t be rushed which is really the point of properly shooting and representing one of these places.

      2. There is another benefit of only shooting a certain number from the many offered – we have to go back! After looking at the shots, so often we decide that we missed something or we see something else that we would like to shoot. For that reason we often return to the site of our crimes.

        The Google Earth database is not public, unfortunately. But here is a screen shot of what it looks like. The orange markers are for churches that we have not shot, the red for those that we have.

        Google Earth Database

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