A Song in Provence (Dennis Aubrey)


The Basilique Sainte Anne in the Provencal town of Apt is one of our favorite memories, for a number of reasons. There are, of course, the architecture and the history. Apt hosted one of the first Christian communities in Gaul and had a cathedral as early as the third century. This structure and the city were destroyed by invasions of the Franks between 260 and 280 AD. A subsequent church was destroyed by Lombards in 574 and a Carolingian cathedral razed by Saracens in 896. The cathedral we see today was begun in 1056 but not completed by the time Pope Urban II visited in 1096.

Nave, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the 12th century, the sixth cathedral was built on the site, but not completed until late in the 17th century. As a result, Sainte Anne is filled with Romanesque, Gothic and even Baroque elements. The church was consecrated to the memory of Anne, the mother of Mary, and contained important relics for her worship.

Sainte Anne has not been a cathedral since the French Revolution and is now a basilica. The nave was completely rebuilt in the 16th century and very little remains of the Romanesque portion, only the sixth bay which supports the Romanesque bell tower. The south side aisle is Romanesque and in arcades on the wall are sarcophagi from the 13th century.

Side aisle, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The northern side aisle with the Sainte Anne’s chapel is 14th century Gothic. The chapel shelters the “Veil of Saint Anne,” which has an interesting history. This long linen cloth was thought to be an authentic relic from the time of Christ but is actually from Damietta, Egypt. The date of manufacture was two or three years prior to the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders and was probably brought to France shortly thereafter.

Chapelle Sainte Anne, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chapelle Sainte Anne, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The crypt dates from the Merovingian period, but the construction that we see now is Romanesque. There are two naves separated by heavy pillars. Between them is a heavy monolithic altar.

Crypt altar, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by PJ McKey

Crypt altar, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

But as interesting as the church is, our memories are of things personal instead of things architectural. We visited with my parents, who patiently waited while PJ and I shot the interior, then they adjourned to enjoy the afternoon in the lovely square outside. While we were photographing, however, a group came into the church. There was a young woman, an older couple who appeared to be her parents, and a priest. They walked along the church talking, pointing, and discussing. Eventually they went to the altar and it became clear that they were planning the young woman’s impending wedding ceremony.

Crypt ambulatory detail, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by PJ McKey

Crypt ambulatory detail, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

After some time, the young woman began singing – a glorious operatic voice singing Goudod’s Ave Maria.

Transept, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by PJ McKey

Transept, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The voice filled the church with sublime sound and we were transfixed as she sang the entire piece. The acoustics throughout the church were superb and after a while I stopped shooting and just listened. All I feel was gratitude for being there with PJ, being there with my parents, and being there for this moment of beauty.

Sarcophagi, Basilique Saint-Anne d'Apt, Apt (Vaucluse)  Photo by PJ McKey

Sarcophagi, Basilique Saint-Anne d’Apt, Apt (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 43.876084° 5.397286°

11 responses to “A Song in Provence (Dennis Aubrey)

      • Nathan, I’m getting positively jealous. Ok, you’re taking the Via Lemovicensis, and you’re coming up on a couple of wonderful churches – Chateaumeillant and Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre (modeled after Jerusalem). But very nearby La Châtre is Nohant-sur-Vic with a church covered in brilliant frescoes. George Sand was part of the discovery of these frescoes (her estate is close by). Now, one other thing, a recommendation, if you will – at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat consider going straight south to Rocamadour. The countryside is splendid but you will also find three magnificent abbey churches at Carennac, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, and Souillac. The sculpture at these three churches is almost unrivaled, especially at Souillac. Besides, the pilgrimage city of Rocamadour is a remarkable site.

        On your way west to rejoin the main route, there are a number of superb churches as well. Make sure you look at our “Featured Churches” section under France. Click on a church and see it in situ and then expand to see everything near.

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