We have stated the intent of Via Lucis Photography to digitally document the Romanesque churches while trying to capture the hidden presence of medieval spirituality. PJ and I often discuss whether a church is “alive” or not. Sometimes that is a matter of an active religious life – churches like those of Thuret or Heume l’Eglise. Other times it is because of the efforts made to preserve a great monument, like Brioude or Fontenay.
But other times it is because there is a certain animus in the church that can only be described as the hidden presence of the spirituality that motivated the builders. These artisans were not working to express a personal vision and they eschewed sentimentality and individualism. Instead, they were intent on describing in stone the mystery of the liturgy of their faith and religion.
Artonne is a small town in the Puy-de-Dôme, just fifteen short miles due north of Clermont-Ferrand. The eleventh century church, the Église Saint Martin, is a collégiale, originally a collegiate church maintained by a group of secular priests living a communal life. Saint Martin is currently undergoing a very necessary restoration, as can be seen in this shot of the south side aisle.
One can readily see the peeling plaster, mold and crumbling stonework that mark the 900 year age of the structure. The ambulatory is blocked off by chairs because parts of the vaulting are starting to fall off and pose a danger to visitors.
It is also possible to see the results of some pretty heavy-handed restoration that compromised the look of the church.
But it is only necessary to look closely at the church to see that this was a special place with a special meaning to those who built it. Artonne has a population today of 770 souls and it is hard to imagine there being many more than this in the eleventh century when the Saint Martin d’Artonne was constructed. The church shows a loving care and attention to detail on the part of the builders that is almost inconceivable by today’s standards.
When the canons were sitting in their stalls in the chancel during services, they would have looked back through the nave at the western entrance of the church and seen the same things that we see today. They would have felt the sheltering hands of God as demonstrated in the great stones that raised their church, and they would have looked at the soaring arches of the ogive barrel vault and known that this church invited them to their Heaven and their Lord, to whom they dedicated their lives.