The Church of the Meadows on the Loire (Dennis Aubrey)


Just five miles northwest of Saumur on the picturesque Loire River lies the small village of Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux, part of commune of Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault. Chênehutte was the site of a Gaulish oppidum and later an important Roman camp that bivouacked half a legion, or around 3,000 men. The camp sat on a hill overlooking the Loire and guarded the road from Angers to Tours. Given this history, the name “Chênehutte” always makes me think of the native huts of the Gauls, made of oak (“hutte” and “chêne”), and of the character Astérix, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo.

Astérix ( René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Astérix ( René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

What a wonderful vision and it makes plenty of sense, but the notion is completely wrong; we’ll have to look elsewhere for historical evidence of the little warrior! The name comes from Carnonensis, the Roman name, transformed into Canahutia in the 11th century. Just a few hundred yards from the Roman military camp is the Romanesque church, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux. The church owes its name to the meadows bordering the adjacent river Loire.

Loire River, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Loire River, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This bulk of the church was built in the 11th century church with the local limestone. The apse, belltower and side door are 12th century. One enters from the north portal and we immediately see the simple arcades supported by columns with large decorated capitals. Above is the high barrel vault spanning the narrow nave. There is no clerestory level so the interior is quite dark.

Nave arcades,  Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave arcades,
Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The east end of the church features an apse and two echeloned chapels at the end of the side aisle. The apse is preceded by a chancel crossing beneath the clocher. The choir is composed of a single bay topped with a barrel vault and a cul-de-four vault at the far end. This last section is pierced with four windows.

Apse,  Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse,
Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The side aisles are narrow with a tall window in each bay of the arcade providing the only interior light to the nave. Each side aisle is covered with a half-barrel vault. In the distance we see the side chapel on the south side of the apse.

South side aisle,  Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle,
Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this view of the north side aisle we see the chapel at the end and the choir in the distance. We can also see just how narrow this small church is, just the right size for the small community of Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux where it serves as the parish church. This explains how well-founded the church remains to this day.

North side aisle, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

North side aisle, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

The north portal is the main entrance of the church. I believe that this was a 19th century contribution where the west portal was moved stone-by-stone to this new location, but I haven’t gotten confirmation of that yet.

North portal, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

North portal, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux is an almost textbook example of the Angevin parish church that still remain in the region, the center of that dynastic power in the Middle Ages. Small and elegant, it is a reminder that it was not only monks who built the Romanesque churches, but the lay faithful as well.

Arcade arch, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Arcade arch, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux, Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

And now for a little confession – it may be a stretch to have this post open with a picture of Astérix, but he was one of my first comic book heroes. When we lived in Chauvigny, I would have my hair cut at a small barbershop on the square in the middle of town. It was much different that the factory-like military barbers we frequented most of my life. The shop walls were painted a baby blue and the interior had a wonderful perfumed air. But most important, the owners provided an unending supply of comics featuring Astérix and his pal, Obélix.

Astérix & Obélix ( René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Astérix & Obélix ( René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)


Location: 47.307803° -0.152978°

11 responses to “The Church of the Meadows on the Loire (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. I had forgotten him. What a smile he brought this morning. I was interested in the very abstract design in the capitols. Beautiful but so different than previous churches you have shared with us. Thanks, Dennis

    • Astérix is a wonderful character; it was fun remembering him in this context. As far as the capitals, they are simple abstracts, as you say. In thinking back to the Angevin churches, this may have been the tendency.

  2. What a pleasure to see – first of all – Asterix, as I too love those comic books – and what fun it is to see how the names of the minor characters change in differing language versions – and then that church which I knew so well when living in France.
    There used to be series of concerts in the summer months …but I used to like to visit out of season when it seemed to return to its vocation.
    On the Roman period, the ampitheatre of Gennes is not far away…

    • Helen, I cut my teeth on these characters. I remember reading the villain’s dialogue “Hein hein hein hein” and pronouncing it literally. It was only later that it was really just the French version of “heh heh heh heh”.

  3. There is something to be said for the simplicity of this church. It it restful. Pleasing in proportion. The apse has nothing distracting. A lovely, comfortable place beautifully (as always) photographed.

    • Absolutely, Nathan. These were wondrous years … imagine a kid who had spent the last six years of his life playing baseball and moving around the United States suddenly being dropped in France. My brother David and I used to lie in bed in the hotel where we stayed for the first month in Poitiers and count the words we knew had learned in French. One day we went for a long walk in the countryside and as we passed through a small village, the smell of the hay and the manure of the farming was so familiar, I knew it from when I was a 3-5 year old years before. With that smell came the French language and that night David and I couldn’t count the words that we knew. The words flooded back to us.

      As for the oculus, I think that is part of the 19th century transfer of the portal from the west to the north. It sits precisely over the location of the portal, which means it was probably added at that time.

  4. Dennis, the ashlar masonry in this lovely church is simply surperb and so precisely cut and placed. It shows how skilled the masons were the time the church was built. As for the barber with the Asterix comics – lucky you! I’d read them today if they were supplied by my barber!

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