✿ Bones ✿ (PJ McKey)


The Église Saint-Pierre in the town of Parthenay-le-Vieux near Poitiers is mentioned for the first time in the texts in 1092. Today, it is an empty church, privately owned. On this day, it was being unconsciously watched over by a house painter working on the house next door. Our equipment and question about whether church was open spurred his interest and he couldn’t resist coming to take a look. Despite being a resident of the small town, he had never been inside. I think the church surprised him looking so beautiful in the morning light; elegant, bright and pure.

Église Saint-Pierre, Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The interior was devoid of statuary, candles, paintings, the usual elements that personalize a church and reveal its human history. Only a few sarcophagi lying in the north side aisle decorated this church.

Side aisle of Église Saint-Pierre , Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

The empty church revealed its true universal character; only the architecture was left to speak, to capture our spirit and eye. To me, Saint-Pierre didn’t seem abandoned, but simply felt like it was waiting and keeping watch the way buildings do over the passing events of our lives. I discovered some graffiti near the altar from the 1920’s and 1940’s, the post war years. I imagined revelers discovering a private place to experience the joy of peace, feeling reckless and exuberant.

Side chapel of Église Saint-Pierre , Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

I also liked the fact that I was alone inside. For most of the time, Dennis was busy shooting the exterior sculpture, so I had the church to myself; no occasional visitors would come in for prayer or to light a candle. There was no sense of being an intruder into the religious community. I confess I did one thing besides photograph – I sang, wanting to experience my voice heightened, amplified, serving as my own choir. I too felt wonderful, reckless and exuberant.

Nave and west front of Église Saint-Pierre , Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by PJ McKey

16 responses to “✿ Bones ✿ (PJ McKey)

  1. Yet, in the larger scheme of things so sad for the people of France and that town. These churches were built to give glory to God and to foster the familial relationship that God wants with us, and that we should have with Him and each other.
    I am happy that you were there to not only capture its ageless beauty but to sing so that its walls could again accept the sound of a human voice and amplify it to the heavens. God heard your song and was glad.

    • Thank you for your comment Deacon Paul. There are many churches, particularly in the very small towns, that exist on the edge of abandonment. Shrinking populations, lack of clergy, rising maintenance costs, security issues etc. make keeping them open more and more difficult. Some are open only once a month when it is their turn for Sunday mass.

  2. P.J., I love your line, “The empty church revealed its true universal character; only the architecture was left to speak, to capture our spirit and eye. To me, Saint-Pierre didn’t seem abandoned, but simply felt like it was waiting and keeping watch the way buildings do over the passing events of our lives.”

    In the Gospel of Luke Triumphal Entry” (which was anything but “triumphal”), Jesus responds to those who wish to silence those who welcome him with shouts of praise. “And he answered them,’ I tell you, if these [disciples] should hold their peace [i.e. become silent], the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

    As in one of your earlier posts re: the church of the Magdalene, the stones are singing still. Wish I could have heard your voice and stood with you in the building that was keeping watch. Beautiful photographs. Beautiful commentary.

    • Thank you Gordon. The churches as keepers of time and history is an image that stays with me. It plays in my head in every church we visit. It’s part of their power and something I try to capture in the photography.

    • Thanks Trish. There is definitely a sadness here. It seemed connected to the aloneness of the place. Like a house, it’s a space that needs people to complete it.

    • The acoustics were incredible! I wish I could remember what I sang…I hope it was something like Amazing Grace the church deserved that. Thanks for your comment.

  3. What a pleasant surprise to find a PJ post! This deserted Church has more of a spiritual aspect than a busy touristy one to me! I too would have sung. What a lucky painter to have met you two and taken the plunge to see this majesty.

    • Thanks Viv. It was a special experience. Dennis sepnt a long time photographing the exterior so I had the place to myself. It truly felt like it was mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s