PJ and I seldom have a full lunch while traveling in France, but on the rainy day that we were wending our way along the back roads of the Vaucluse in Provence we were feeling a bit peckish. We arrived in the small wine-growing village of Saint Pantaléon. The commune is one of the smallest in Provence, both in size (78 hectares/193 acres) and population (193). I’m not sure if it is a legal requirement that the population stays in a 1:1 ratio with acreage but the density of population is obviously low, in fitting with an agricultural community.
We decided to find a place to eat and saw a tiny sign attached to a wall saying “Auberge Saint Pantaléon” with no indication of direction. Somehow we wended our way down the hill below our objective, the Chapelle Saint Pantaléon and there it was, a hand-painted sign half-hidden behind a hedge, the indication that we had found the Auberge. We went in and found that we had followed close on the heels of a group of American tourists who did not speak French. We joined them in the tiny dining room and hoped for the best.
The reason we hoped for the best was the decor – what can only be described as “French rural recycled” – everything was repurposed, including the body of a grand piano turned into an shelf. Nothing matched – the furniture, cutlery, glassware or table settings were all mismatched. The elderly proprietress brusquely informed us that the plat du jour was Fricassee de volaille à l’ancienne avec pâtes, roast chicken with mushrooms, served with pasta. We ordered, squashing our misgivings and amused ourselves listening to the other Americans trying to make out the fare, clearly a bit distressed by the unsophisticated look to the restaurant. The proprietress spoke no English and we thought to help them out, but one of the group insisted that she spoke French and could understand and we didn’t want to intrude.
After about 20 minutes, she came in with our plates and, as we have come to expect in small restaurants like this, the meal was absolutely delightful. The meal, wine, and the bottle of Badoit was about $30.
Sated by the meal, we went back up the hill to the Église Saint Pantaléon, which is actually a 12th century chapel, or more accurately, a conglomeration of chapels. There are later additions to the main church on both sides of the original. Both the church and the village are named after the saint known as Sant Pantalí in Catalan, so called from his Byzantine name Panteleimon (“all-compassionate”).
The nave is a single bay arrangement with a raised chancel and a tiny apse. On the other side of the nave we can see a reproduction of the famous icon of Saint Pantaléon from the Monastery of Saint Katherine on Mount Sinai.
From the apse, we can see how small the church really is – a single bay for the nave. We can also see how the flanking chapels and side aisles were added to the original structure. None of the arches are properly centered and the structure is a hodgepodge, what PJ calls a “pudding church“.
Each transept arm shelters two chapels – one echeloned to the east and a side chapel. There are also side chapels in the short side aisles, which means that there are six adjunct chapels in this tiny structure.
There is a minimum of sculptural decoration, mostly small capitals at about eye height in the transepts. There are a number of fine oil paintings, however, including the “Vierge à l’Enfant entre la décapitation de saint Pantaléon, saint Clément et sainte Catherine, cadre” that dates from 1635.
Outside of the church on the east is a necropole with tombs carved out of the rock. We have seen these at the Église du Chatel in Saint Floret in the Puy-de-Dôme. The tombs on this site date from the 10th century and were considerably endangered by restoration of the church early in the 20th century. The cemetery and the church was acquired by the state in 1906 and were subsequently classified as a historical monuments in 1907.
The quiet village of Saint Pantaléon is a bit of a throwback in the Provence. Just a short distance from the tourist centers of Gordes and Roussillon with their crowds and high prices, it is a different world altogether. As for the Auberge, it is almost invisible in every way, from the road and especially on the internet. There are no hotels and only one restaurant listed in TripAdvisor, for example, and this little gem is not to be found. But this is the France we love and next time in the area, we’ll come back for both the Auberge and the chapel.
Location: 43.882301° 5.214340°