PJ and Saint Trophime’s Cloister (Dennis Aubrey)


The first year that PJ and I went together to France to photograph churches and the vierges romanes, we visited the abbey at Fontenay. PJ immediately fell in love with cloisters and I fell in love with this picture of her sketching.

PJ drawing at the cloister, Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d'Or)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ drawing at the cloister, Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

She has always shown a great affinity for photographing the patterns in cloisters, from times that she used a long lens to compress the columns …

Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

… to her ability to convey the peace and serenity of the enclosed spaces.

The half cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

The half cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Last year we decided to return to Arles to photograph at one of our favorite churches, the Cathédrale Saint Trophime. We have done a creditable job photographing the interior from a trip a few years ago, but we didn’t have time to work in the cloister. We went back last May and PJ shot the cloister while I did a detailed study of the magnificent western façade. Here are a few examples of her work on that sunny Provençal day.

The first shot is from above the cloister where we can see the 12th century clocher in the distance, three stories high and decorated with Lombard bands. As in most churches, the cloisters are found on the south side of the nave, but they are separated from the church by an area that used to be part of the archbishop’s palace. The cloister consists of two Romanesque and two Gothic galleries. PJ’s photos concentrate on the Romanesque galleries, which are more interesting.

Clocher and Cloister, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Clocher and Cloister, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The Romanesque galleries have triple sets of slender columns topped with ornately carved historiated capitals depicting Old and New Testament stories. At the corners and in the center of each gallery are piers featuring full size sculptures of saints and bishops with bas-relief friezes between the corner pieces. As might be expected from a cathedral with such a superbly sculpted west façade, the carving in the cloister is also masterful.

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The carved column piers also depict biblical and historical events. This selection shows Saint Stephen surrounded by Saint Andrew on the left and Saint Paul on the right carrying a scroll. In the space between Stephen and Paul is a frieze showing the resurrection of Christ.

Saints Andrew, Stephen, and Paul, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Saints Andrew, Stephen, and Paul, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Another pier ensemble illustrates the story of Jesus meeting the two followers at Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. In this shot, Jesus is on the left, and his follower is on the right, carrying the signs of pilgrimage, including the scallop shell. We can see the three pairs of columns in the background.

Jesus meets followers at Emmaus, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Jesus meets followers at Emmaus, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

The next shot features one of the pier statues, in this case, Saint Peter, who is actually flanking Saint Trophime in the ensemble. Notice the superbly carved capitals in the background.

Saint Peter, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Saint Peter, Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Because of the construction going on in the cloister while PJ was working, we were not able to spend the time to photograph the details of all the capitals as we normally would. This gives us, of course, a reason to return to Arles for yet another visit to the Cathédrale Saint Trophime.

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Cathédrale Saint-Trophime (Photo by PJ McKey)

Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.

16 responses to “PJ and Saint Trophime’s Cloister (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. So beautifully photographed and so wonderfully described! I want to return to it over and over. I’ve seen this church (but not the cloister) and your work is better than being there.

    • Jay, it is funny how sometimes we enjoy the churches more from our photography (especially for me when I discover what PJ has shot). At any rate, it is always such a pleasure to make a virtual trip back and look at the photos that we have taken. In reality, we only use a small fraction of the total number when we post, so we tend to forget the rest until we have a reason to go back and look again.

  2. It is easy to see why you both fell in love with the Romanesque churches and their art. As time went on and the methods of sculpture became more refined the stark emotion seemed to disappear. How wonderful to see the old tradition preserved in these glorious churches and your photographs.

  3. How pleasant it would be to walk and examine the sculptures in this cloister. I love cloisters. If I was building a house, I’d find a way to build a cloister on it, or maybe the house around it. Beautiful as always.

    • Aquila, some really brilliant sculptures here and I can’t wait to come back and photograph them in detail. We have, for example, shot all of the capitals in Vézelay, Autun, Mozac, Saint Benoit, and many other churches, often from multiple angles. What one sees in close examination often completely astonishes us!

      In a side note, PJ and I looked at an apartment in Avallon (in Burgundy) that was being built in the shell of a Romanesque church. The apartment we looked at was on the second floor and one side was pierced by a nave column with a capital, which was incorporated in the wall of the apartment!

      • What a wonderful thing to have in an apartment, but sad the church was just a shell and being turned into housing. I would love to wander those old churches and cloisters, even with only my little point and shoot camera it’d be fun to see what kind of photos I’d get. Ah well, to dream on a frigid winter night.

      • Aquila, this was a very small Romanesque church and had been used as a barn and as a garage for many years. The young man who was transforming it was sensible to its past and was doing a very good job of using the space without destroying the Romanesque remnants.

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