Our recent post on the difficulties of photographing churches in Italy was followed by a panegyric on photographing in France. We have to be honest, however. It is not all as easy as we made it out to be.
Take today, for example. We are in the Limousin, the area around Limoges. There are a number of remarkable churches in the region – Le Dorat, Bénévent-l’Abbaye, La Souterraine, and the first of today’s targets, the Collégiale Saint-Junien in Saint-Junien. We got a nice early start so that we could hit all three of our targets, but there was a problem.
This was Sunday. We thought that there might be a mass, but when we looked it up on the internet, there was no mention of a service. We arrived to find people trickling into the church and when we opened the doors, we heard the sound of singing.
A mass. That was fine with us. We sat in the rear of the church and quietly watched and listened. It was clear that the service had just started. The people of Saint Junien appeared very devout and sang well and lustily throughout the service. I was an altar boy when young, and knew the time it took to complete a good mass. Most likely it was 45 minutes, although if the priest was like the infamous Father Graw, the mass would be over in 30 minutes. I learned the Latin responses in order to keep up with him and remember that ad Deum qui lætíficat iuventútem meam came out as a single rushed word, addeumquilætíficatiuventútemmeam. A hesitation and Father Graw was off and I was behind for the rest of the service.
Things were progressing smoothly, albeit slowly, when we heard a commotion outside. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t these people more respectful of the service going on here?” After awhile, the door opened and a large group of people entered, families mostly, all carrying small infants dressed in white outfits. A baptism! A mass baptism!
We were now an hour into the services when the families were called forth and the blessing given, and then the mass ended. Another group came in, mostly men in suits. PJ and I were worried. Would we ever have the opportunity to photograph?
After the mass, the group of people assembled at the altar and we saw a full-fledged French baptismal service began for the five children, including a pair of twins. There were lots of children about, several of whom spent their time running around and having a great time in the large echoing interior of the church.
Finally, the actual ceremony of baptism was concluded, the oil placed on the foreheads of the newly welcomed, the parents had their say, the godparents had theirs, the priest gave a heartfelt and somewhat long blessing, and then everyone got up to leave. Of course, at this point, the friends and families gathered on the steps of the church for photographs (there must have been fifty people in the “inner” circle). PJ and I unloaded our gear (and were mistaken for the official photographers of the baptism by some of the parishioners).
Eventually the church emptied out and PJ and I had our time – two hours uninterrupted in an empty church. It was everything we had hoped for. The hour and a half delay was forgotten in the orgy of shots that we collected (about 450 shots between us).
Saint Junien was magnificent and well worth every second of the wait. But we thought we should be honest and remind everyone that these are living churches, and as such, they give little thought to those of us who are merely witnesses and not participants.
Location: 45.887345° 0.902496°