This post was inspired by one of our readers. As is often the case when someone writes to us or comments on our work, we look them up. In this way we have discovered so many wonderful people. There are fellow photographers, artists, medievalists, travelers, writers, architects, and people with so many varying interests and contributions to the world of Via Lucis.
In this case it is someone new, a woman from England named Thirza Vallois. She wrote kind words about our recent post “The More Fool to Myself.” I did some research and found that she is an author of books on France. One in particular caught my eye, “Aveyron, a Bridge to French Arcadia”.
I purchased the Kindle version immediately and read it last night. What a joy! To read the names of those villages, to picture the towns and churches in my mind, and to recall the wonderful regional dishes – pounti, truffade, aligot, and estofinado. I could smell the gentiane (we were served the liqueur Aveze made from yellow gentiane while visiting in nearby Heume l’Eglise).
So in honor of this wonderful part of France, here is a quick tour of some churches that we find particularly compelling, beginning with the grand pilgrimage church in the hillside town of Conques.
The Basilique Sainte Foy is one of the classic pilgrimage churches on the route to Santiago de Compostela with a long, soaring nave, generous side aisles and tribunes high above the nave floor. The arcade pillars feature stützenwechsel, the alternation of square piers and round columns.
The sculpture of the west tympanum and the magnificent capitals all join in to make Sainte Foy one of the greatest Romanesque monuments in the world, filled with surprises at every turn.
Just to the east of Conques are the proximate towns of Espalion and Bessuéjouls. We have posted earlier on the lovey Saint Hilarion-de-Perse in Espalion.
The church was built of the local red sandstone in the shape of a Latin cross, although two Gothic side chapels were added later. It is a beautiful and elegant space, classically Romanesque.
Inside there are remnants of the wall paintings that originally adorned the church, particularly in the vaults. The choir has a lovely triumphal arch supported by two sculpted capitals. One of my favorite features is the presence of the large pediments supporting the pillar clusters.
The nearby town of Bessuéjouls features another fine Romanesque pilgrimage church, the Eglise Saint-Pierre à Bessuéjouls. The Église Saint Pierre de Bessuéjouls, classified as a UNESCO Heritage site, is tucked into a wooded area near a stream not far from Espalion. The name Bessuéjouls, which means “clearing in the wood,” is of Celtic origin, attesting to an early human habitation.
The most important feature of the church is the Saint Michael’s chapel – known as the chapelle aérienne – a Romanesque masterpiece. This chapel is a small room about 20′x20′ made of pink sandstone. The wooden ceiling is relatively high for the size of the room and supported by six columns with historiated capitals. The capitals look like they were inspired by those of Conques. On the nave wall there are four ranges of colonettes aligned like a cloister.
Finally, a church that we haven’t posted before, the Église Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cerson in Sainte-Eulalie-d’Olt. The town is perched on a hill above the river Lot with the church in a square in the center of town. On the lovely autumn afternoon that we shot there my knee was giving me a great deal of trouble, so I spent time in that square watching the activity of the town. While doing so, something hard struck me on the head and clattered to the pavement. I saw that marroniers were dropping their fruit, what PJ calls “buckeyes”. The square was full of horse chestnut trees and every breeze would send dozens of buckeyes onto the ground. After about ten minutes of this, a man gathered a broom and starting sweeping them up. I thought this was a bit futile because another breeze would come and more would fall. But he kept sweeping until someone passed into the square and a conversation would start. As soon as the conversation ended, the sweeping resumed.
What I remember about the Église Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cerson itself is that the church was graced with an apse with a seven-bay hemicycle and a charming ambulatory. It certainly deserves more than this brief mention and we’ll do it justice in another post sometime.
So we’d like to thank Thirza Vallois for inspiring us to figuratively revisit the Aveyron. If you haven’t seen this wonderful region and plan to go to the French countryside, consider this area – and read “Aveyron, a Bridge to French Arcadia” before you go – you won’t find a better guide.