Craig Shier wrote to us last week about our post on the Église Saint Gal de Langast, “It’s great that you are documenting these “lesser” churches. There was tremendous diversity beyond that seen in the “great” churches.”
We have already shot 37 churches in our two weeks in France this year, and of those, 30 must be classified as modest. Part of the reason is that we are spending a great time in areas without the great churches, but part is because these are that they are filled with remarkable remnants of their medieval origins.
The Calvados region was the site of the bitterest fighting in Normandy in 1944 after the Overlord invasion. It is a miracle that anything survived the intense three-month battle, but many of these churches managed – usually deprived of the distinctive Norman clochers that had marked them for eight hundred years. Ruqueville’s contribution in the Calvados is the modest Église Saint Pierre. Saint Pierre is a lovely little Norman-style church with a short nave, a choir, and a small groin-vaulted apse.
It is the chancel crossing that is of most interest, however. Each of the four heavy pillars that support the massive belfry is topped with an outsized historiated capital featuring some of the most remarkable Romanesque sculpture that we have seen in the Normandy or Brittany regions.
This shot of the ensemble in the northwest corner of the chancel shows the relative scale of the capitals and their superb workmanship. The capital on the left is the “Flight to Egypt”. Joseph (carrying an axe) leads Mary and Jesus on the donkey with a bright star behind them. On the right is the capital entitled “The Combat”. Usually this represents Good versus Evil, but this particular capital does not seem to be so specific.
The two most remarkable capitals, however, are on the south side of the church. The first is next to the apse and features a cleric and an angel. The extraordinary detail of the clothing and the folded wings of the angel mark this work as the effort of a master craftsman, far more sophisticated than any other that we have seen in this region, especially working in such a small church. This fact, plus the oversized capitals are completely out of scale with the modest dimensions of the church itself, makes PJ think that these capitals were meant for another more wealthy site but ended up here in Ruqueville.
The masterpiece of the ensemble has to be the “Doubting Thomas” capital, however. Christ is seen in the center giving the benediction while to the left, Thomas inserts his finger into the wound in Jesus’ side. The magnificent visual storytelling is supported by the skill shown both in the composition of the three-dimensional image and the carving.
All in all, we had no expectation of such magnificent sculpted work when we entered the small church in Ruqueville. The other Norman examples of sculpture, while interesting, displayed far less sophistication and were less evocative in their story-telling. It was a delight to make the discovery and certainly made our day on the last day we photographed in Calvados.