A Roadside Masterpiece – Amuse Bouche #32 (Dennis Aubrey)

In 2012 PJ and I spent some time in Burgundy exploring the regional churches there. At the limits of that exploration, we visited the small 12th century church of Notre Dame d’Avenas. This modest church sits literally on the side of D18E, a regional road that passes through the commune of Avenas, population 128.

Legend recounts that the 12th century builders came to Avenas to a church on the site of an ancient abbey destroyed by Saracens. “It was decided to rebuild a church on the ruins of the ancient monastery of Pelagius, destroyed by the barbarians. The work began, but every morning the tools of the workers were found scattered … The building owner, thinking God did not want that location, had an idea. He would throw his hammer and where it fell, that would be the future sit. He did so and the hammer fell 1200 meters away in a hawthorn bush, near the sacred fountain of Avenas.”

Église Notre Dame d'Avenas, Avenas (Rhône)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Notre Dame d’Avenas, Avenas (Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The church came under the rule of the monastery of Cluny and its Benedictine monks. The sculptors of Cluny III made one lasting contribution to the church, the limestone altar with its magnificent carving featuring Christ in Majesty, surrounded by the twelve apostles, each carrying a book.

Altar, Église Notre Dame d'Avenas, Avenas (Rhône)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Altar, Église Notre Dame d’Avenas, Avenas (Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The ensemble as a whole is excellent, including the other panels not shown in this view. But I am particularly struck by the figure of Christ. Though damaged, we can see Christ giving the sign of benediction with his right hand. He has a small, neat beard and his clothes are finely rendered. His face, however, demonstrates an almost surreal calmness. I can only wonder what the sculptor felt as he worked to free this figure from the stone.

Altar detail, Église Notre Dame d’Avenas, Avenas (Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Altar detail, Église Notre Dame d’Avenas, Avenas (Rhône) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

8 responses to “A Roadside Masterpiece – Amuse Bouche #32 (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Thanks, Kalli. I love all the stories associated with these churches. I have a couple of dozen old books in French that tell these stories as part of the local histories. Fascinating reading.

      • I have always loved Medieval history, particularly France and England, so your interesting posts are always a treat when the business part of my computer morning is finished and I can savor your entries. I’m sure your book in French must make satisfactory reading.

      • I was touched by the post on your relative who is so generous of heart, spirit, time and energy. He is willing to give the gift of himself to another person, or in this case, to another culture. This such a rare and beautiful gift and one that the world so desperately needs. It is truly a Christ-like gift. I would be so thankful to have a person like that in my family – a special person. Both my wife and I have been ill over this past year, but we are finally coming to the end of it, other life changes, too, all good, but, change none the less. I hope this finds you and PJ well, too.

  1. Hi Dennis,

    Christ’s face there has an almost zen like calm rendered quite differently from those we see more commonly. Beautiful.

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