Treasures of the Chapel – Prunet-et-Belpuig (Dennis Aubrey)


As French villages go, they don’t get much smaller than Prunet-et-Belpuig, which tops out with a population of 59. As the name indicates, the town is a combination of two adjacent villages; Prunet appears in a text from 869 as Prunetus, from the latin pruna, meaning “plum”. Belpuig is a Catalan word for “beautiful hill” and probably refers to the eminence on which a 12th century castle was built.

In the Belpuig portion of the village is a small church, the Chapelle de la Trinité, originally known as San Pere de la Serra, Serra meaning “mountain” in Catalan. In the 17th century the church was renamed the Chapelle de la Trinité. This church is unique for Via Lucis because, while its form is pure 11th century Romanesque, we came for the remarkable collection of medieval artifacts housed inside.

The church has a simple rectangular exterior made of shale and sandstone with a small chevet decorated with Lombard bands and two windows surmounted by a round stone arch. There are no transepts.

Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The interior features a barrel-vaulted nave featuring a fine Retable de la Trinité (1698 but recently restored).

Nave and apse, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave and apse, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is also a single side aisle to the south covered with a half-barrel vault. This side aisle runs the entire length of the nave and apse. At the end of the side aisle is the finest treasure of the church, the magnificent Romanesque crucifix from the 12th century.

Side aisle, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

In the 17th century, the crucifix was subjected unfortunately to an “abusive” restoration when it was painted and gilded, but was recently restored to its original condition. The life-sized Christ on the cross is known as the Santa Majestat.

Romanesque crucifix Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Romanesque crucifix Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There are several unique features of this work – Christ wears a sleeved tunic, has open eyes, and no crown of thorns. This would seem to indicate that this crucifix was not about the suffering Christ but the triumphant Christ. The Santa Majestat is one of the finest works of Romanesque art in a region rich with them.

Closeup of  Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Closeup of Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is an unusual 14th century crucifix in the nave just to the left of the Retable de la Trinité (it can be seen in the photograph of the nave above). This is a stylized wooden cross painted on both sides which was originally the property of the church in Prunet. This image is clearly an example of Christ suffering on the cross.

Gothic painted cross, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Gothic painted cross, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

It seems that no self-respecting Romanesque church in the Pyrénées is without a vierge romane, and Chapelle de la Trinité is no exception. The side aisle features the beautiful 14th century Vierge de Prunet.

Vierge de Prunet, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Vierge de Prunet, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The main door of the church has spectacular metal fittings. Some people think of these fittings as decoration, but there is a fundamental structural purpose. This is the original Romanesque door and is composed of three thicknesses of wood, the first laid vertically, the second horizontal, and the third vertical again, exactly like plywood. The fittings actually hold the three layers together, especially since the medieval glue has lost its effectiveness.

Metal door fixtures, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Metal door fixtures, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

After World War II, a Dutch priest from Perpignan settled in the chapel and made it a place of meditation and contemplation. He lived there for over 50 years until 1998. As a side note, the other part of the village, Prunet, has its own Romanesque church – the Église Saint Etienne. We didn’t photograph there during our trip to the region, so we have another reason to return to this fertile area of exploration.

Location: 42.562406° 2.625663°

21 responses to “Treasures of the Chapel – Prunet-et-Belpuig (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Brilliant. On my wall I have a postcard of the Santa Majestat which I picked up when my friend took me to to see “un superbe Christ” (her words). Your photos, however, reveal details I can’t see in the postcard nor could I see them in the Chapel, not wanting to get too close. The crucifix looks very modern, quite unlike, say, the sculptures on Romanesque capitals.

    • Trish, we have another post coming in a few days for your trip, this time about Saint-Genes-les-Fontaines. Might be able to get in another one or two before you leave! BTW, I remember that you got to Prunet-et-Belpuig on your last trip.

    • Karen, the doors are really special. Wish I had taken the shot “end-on” so you could see the layering of the wood and how much it has warped over the years, only held in place by the metal fixtures.

  2. What a treasure! Ed and I became Catholics in a very small church built by a ship’s carpenter in 1880 in Frenchtown, MT. Ed’s grandparents were the first couple to be married in that church. I could really identify with the closeness and comfort of this small, lovely place of worship.

    • Kalli, I read your comment too fast and thought it said “Ed and I were married in 1880 in Frenchtown, MT.” Whew!!! Anyway, thanks for this. It is funny, but many of your comments have reflected your life with Ed in the past, and I enjoy putting together the picture of your life together. This is a special thing, Kalli; thank you. It adds an interesting dimension to our work on medieval architecture, to find it reflected in your life like this.

      • Thank you Dennis. That was so touching. Ed passed in April, 2009. We had just short of 58 wonderful years filled with love and adventure. I think of him everyday.

      • Kalli, please feel free to reflect our medieval world in your life today. I thank you for feeling that you can. I am so lucky that my parents are both alive and well, physically and mentally, as they close out their 8th decade. They are going to France with us again next year!

  3. With these amazing treasures in such a remote place, what kind of security did you find to protect them from theft or vandalism? If you don’t want to answer, I understand totally, but I often wonder whether publicity, no matter how well meaning, might jeopardize the art itself…. This is a very fine line that I’m sure you deal with constantly. By the way, this is an excellent post, and I hope to visit there one day. The Pyrenees are so spectacular!

    • Vann, it is amazing how little security there is. The vierges romanes are particularly vulnerable and have been the object of many thefts. We were once in a small town called Thoisy-le-Désert in Burgundy to photograph their vierge. The church was closed so I walked over the the Mairie to inquire about a key. In a small town hall (this is just a village) a group of people were preparing for a party of some kind. I asked them about the statue and all of a sudden people started crying. It turned out that the Madonna had been stolen a decade earlier. One of the women said, “It is like taking the heart from the village.” They were inconsolable. It certainly is not the wholesale theft and sale of monuments like Paul Gouvert did. More and more, small churches are consigning their treasures to large cathedrals or basilicas to afford them a measure of protection.

      As far as visiting the Pyrenees, I sincerely hope you can go. It is spectacular. We are doing this series of posts on churches in that reason because we found out that we had neglected writing about so many of the churches that we photographed. Trish Worth (soundslikewish.wordpress.com) is a regular correspondent and she is returning in April. We decided to catch up for her.

  4. This is absolutely beautiful!! The only reason why i found this is because i was trying to locate on the Google maps the exact location of my cousin who operates a “hostel” nearby. Els & Marc Nypels. I have not had the pleasure of visiting them or this area…yet. I live in Canada. Thank you for the beautiful photos and write-up.

    Marj.

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