A few years ago PJ and I were photographing the Église Saint Pierre in the small Auvergnat town of Biollet that featured some of the most odd and engaging capitals that we had ever seen. At first we thought that these were primitive and amateurish, but as we reflected we suspected that we might be missing something. Our research led us to a paper ”Figures d’entre deux mondes” written by Albert and Monique Pinto, which resulted not only on our post The Mysterious Capitals of Biollet but to a guest article by Albert Pinto.
So on our last trip when were planning our visit to the Clermont-Ferrand area near the Pinto home, we were disappointed to learn that they no longer lived in the area but had moved to Provence. This year we planned to meet them for dinner when we visited Aix-en-Provence and on one fine Tuesday we did so. In addition to the dinner, Albert had made arrangements for us to photograph the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur in Aix. We met for dinner at the Brasserie Leopold at our hotel, the Saint Christopher right in town.
We were immediately charmed and delighted by both Monique and Albert. We connected on the level of our mutual love of Romanesque churches. Their experience was exhaustive – there was never a church that we named that they were not familiar with, a pretty extraordinary thing considering that we have visited and photographed over 800 of these structures ourselves.
We discovered something else in our conversation that evening – a shared passion for wines and food! As we ate our meal, we talked about the different wines and the foods from the different regions of France. When the Auvergne came up, PJ and I rhapsodized about one of our favorite dishes, la truffade, the wonderful concoction of potatoes, lardons, and cheese. Monique, a native of the region immediately offered to make us a truffade for lunch the next day when we had finished our photography of the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. So our day was planned in its entirety!
The next morning we made our way to the cathedral, a stunning structure right in the center of the old town of Aix-en-Provence, difficult to reach among the winding and narrow streets. But we arrived early to find Albert waiting for us. He knew the church intimately and showed us the different parts of the church that have been built up over the centuries. The oldest part of the church is the fifth century baptistère, one of the rare early Christian remnants of Romanized Gaul.
There are several Romanesque elements including one of the two naves of the structure (the other is the Gothic structure seen in the first photograph above).
This large and elegant structure features so many interesting elements that it was difficult to select among them for this post. One of my personal favorites is this view of the crossing in the Romanesque nave.
While we were photographing, we became aware of preparations for a funeral in the church. Normally this means that we would be forced to wait outside until the ceremonies were complete, but Albert talked to the curé who made arrangements for us to spend that time in one of the most interesting features of the church, the Romanesque cloister, today a square but originally rectangular. It was truncated in the 17th century for a visit from Louis XIV, but this is one case where a later modification may have worked in the favor of the cloister, since it is almost perfect in form.
In addition to the perfections of its proportions, the cloister is filled with sculptural features of the finest quality, including the capitals and the superb array of of paired columns. This cloister certainly deserves a post of its own, which I hope to prepare in the near future.
After photographing the cathedral, we adjourned to the Pinto home across town for our truffade lunch. While Monique was putting the finishing touches on our lunch, Albert brought out a book, “1000 églises romanes de France” by André Verrassel. Their copy was marked up with notes of their exhaustive visits to these churches and was a great record of their travels. PJ and I have already ordered our copy to add to our library. We only hope that we can fill ours as they did their own.
As we left their apartment to continue our journey to nearby Graveson, Monique said, “Grâce à Biollet”. Albert repeated the phrase and we could only agree. Grâce à Biollet we had discovered this couple who represent all that we find wonderful in our world of France, food, wine and the Romanesque.
Location: 43.531977° 5.447552°
Note: This is the first post during a month in which I have been recovering from the illness described earlier on these pages. We will now start to post on some of the churches that we managed to photograph on our curtailed trip in May and June.