Two Brothers in Chauvigny (Dennis Aubrey)


This post is not about my brother David and our adventures in the Poitevin town of Chauvigny where we grew up. Instead it is a tale of two monks, both sculptors, who worked in the medieval churches of Chauvigny. One, Gofridus, is justly famous for his work at the Collégiale Saint Pierre at the top of the hill that dominates the town. The other, Harduinus, was less known for his work in the church of the lower town, Notre Dame de Chauvigny. Visitors streamed up the hill to see Gofridus’ creations while Notre Dame remained quiet and empty. It seems that Harduinus saw fit to complain to his abbot Imbertus about the reception to his sculptural work.

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“I don’t understand it,” Harduinis complained. “My work is so much better than his. My forms are more realistic, my carving is better, yet everyone flocks to see Gofridus’ work and mine is here unseen.” Imbertus nodded tolerantly as the young monk charged on. “You have assured me that my work is pleasing to the Lord. My wild beasts are as realistic as it is possible to be. Brother Mainardus of Lusignan went to the Crusades with his Lord Guy, and said that when he saw my beasts, he jumped backwards, fearing that they would leap from the stone and tear at his flesh, just as he saw them do in the Holy Land.”

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Yes, my son, your beasts are fearsome indeed.”

“Far more fearsome than those beasts that Gofridus has carved, even if they are tearing at the flesh of humans. They aren’t fearful, they’re comical!

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“And my birds, aren’t my birds more perfect, more beautiful. Gofridus’ birds are silly, eating human flesh. Birds eat seeds, insects and grains, not people.”

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Didn’t you say that my birds were so real that they are like those created by God on the fifth day when he said ‘let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.'”

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Be careful, my son. Do not compare yourself to the Lord and His creation. Your creations are more modest.”

“Modest? Gofridus is modest? Did you seen that he actually inscribed his own name on one of his capitals!!! ‘Gofridus me fecit!’ On the capital depicting the Visit of the Magi, center on the altar, visible to all.”

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“I understand your confusion, my son. What would you have me say?”

“Tell me, Father Abbot, why does the world flock to Gofridus’ sculptures while mine remain unseen just a short distance away?”

Imbertus rested his hand on the shoulder of his young monk. “That which pleaseth the Lord does not necessarily please the soul of man.” And this lesson sank into Hardunius’ heart and he himself began to find the beauty of Gofridus’ visions.

10 responses to “Two Brothers in Chauvigny (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Merci une fois de plus pour vos merveilleuses photos et pour l’histoire de Gofridus et Harduinus. Eh oui ! L’injustice continue, car lors de mon rapide passage à Chauvigny, je ne suis pas allée voir les sculptures de Harduinus. Je ne savais même pas qu’elles existaient !

    Mais maintenant, peut-être, j’irai, un jour !

    Avec mes meilleures pensées

    • Yuri, I lived in Chauvigny for a year as a boy, went to Saint Pierre so many times to see Gofridus’ work and climb about the castle, but never even noticed the Notre Dame capitals. PJ and I have shot in Chauvigny four times and never went to Notre Dame de Chauvigny, which is right in the main square of town. This year we determined to photograph Notre Dame and I was amazed at the capitals. It was then that I started imagining the plight of Harduinus!

  2. Thank you so much for this installment. What great close up photos of my favorite subject. In fact, my mousepad is a replication of the third photo though taken from a different angle and from a photo I saw on line! (our family business does custom sublimation work on many products so when I needed a new mousepad I was able to use the image I wanted.

    Please do more of this as I feel you can really “get into the heads” of these medieval hearts and minds when you see the “stories” that were told to them through these everyday items. I find them better than tympanum at telling the local story. It makes you wonder what was going through the journeyman sculpture as he created these marvels. I am sure more personal expressions were allowed than in the rude screen or more prominent sculptural elements.

  3. Dennis,
    Because of you, I said to my husband : “today we have to visit Chauvigny, it´s on our way ( we are going to Niort )” . Thank you for your post about the two brothers. We also visit “Saint Pierre les eglises ” in Chauvigny, a small church in a cimetry , with very old paintings in the choir.
    Best regards
    Chantal of Rhone valley – France

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