We’re Planning Another Trip (Dennis Aubrey)


We had mentioned earlier that when I recovered my health we were going to take a trip to France, Corsica and Sardinia to photograph the Romanesque churches there. We finally decided that I would probably be well enough to travel in Fall 2019; it was a glorious plan and we were looking forward to investigating the new worlds of Corsica and Sardinia. But when we began planning in detail, we came to realize that it was too much, too soon. The long drives to Southern France, then traversing both Corsica and Sardinia north to south and back again meant that we would have to spend two months on the trip and that was probably a risk for me, especially in an area of Italy where I don’t speak the language.

So, we went back to the drawing board and came up with a wonderful alternative. We will spend three and a half weeks shooting Norman churches in England and Wales and three weeks traveling through France, partly to shoot churches and partly to visit friends that we have not seen since I got sick. What a trip we have planned!

We cross the channel from France from Cherbourg to Portsmith and spend time shooting in the Dorset, Wilshire, and Devon areas, move north into Somerset toward Wells and Bath, then into Wales for five days. My father’s side of the family came from Abercynrig in Wales and we will visit there as well as photograph the great churches of Heresfordshire and Gloucestershire. The we run further north to the Scottish borderlands to photograph the great cathedral churches in Durham and Carlisle. The last ten days we work our way south to Canterbury via Lincoln, Ely, Cambridge, Saint Albans, Waltham Abbey and Rochester. Overall we plan on photographing about 35 churches in the 24 days we will be in England; ambitious, but very exciting.

We then take a short break of three days in Ghent, just to relax and see the sights (echoing to the words of Jacques Brel, Entre les tours de Bruges et Gand). Then we go to Saint Quentin to photograph the great Gothic basilica there with its spectacular examples of entasis in the nave. Then we go to Amiens to photograph Notre-Dame d’Amiens, one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world, also possessor of examples of entasis in the nave columns. The challenge of adequately capturing the intentional deformations in the columns is great, but I can’t wait to try. From Amiens we return to Chartres for three days to photograph the progress on the restoration and to see our many friends there. We stay in the most wonderful little hotel – the Parvis – which is literally a 150 feet from the west portal. Such a pleasure to park the car for three days and spend the rest of the time walking and photographing!

South ambulatory entrance, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

After Chartres, we head to the Dordogne and Quercy to photograph the churches there. In Souillac, we stay at a hotel that I have visited year after year since 1986, the Pont de l’Ouysse, and we photograph one of our favorite churches, the Abbaye Sainte Marie de Souillac. with its astonishing sculptural ensemble.

Nave from east, Église Sainte Marie, Souillac (Lot) Photo by PJ McKey

From the Quercy region, we head to the Puy de Dôme to another of our “homes” in France, the Cour Carrée in Perrier, near Issoire. The Vilette family has honored us with their friendship, culinary mastery and hospitality for years, and we always look forward to returning. It helps that the area is one of the richest in Romanesque masterpieces, including the nearby Basilique Saint Austremoine in Issoire.

South side aisle, Basilique Saint Austremoine, Issoire (Puy de Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

From the Puy de Dôme we make our way to the final stop, the third in our holy trinity of hotels, the Crispol in Vézelay. Paule and Christian Schori have befriended and hosted us for over fifteen years and no trip to France is complete without staying with them at their wonderful hotel/restaurant. In addition, we always get the opportunity to visit our favorite Romanesque church in the world, the Basilique Sainte Madeleine.

North side aisle, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Another reason to visit (as if we needed one) is much more melancholy – we will make the trip to the Monastery of La Pierre Qui Vire and visit the grave of our beloved friend, Angelico Surchamp, who died last year. His last words to us were, ““We are separated by thousands of kilometers and a great ocean, but our hearts are close.” Now we are separated by eternity, but our hearts are still close.

PJ with Dom Angelico Surchamp in Le Villars

From Vezélay, we return home, via Boston. We have had such a good time planning this trip – having the confidence that we will be able to travel again and take up the mantle of our work. I can only imagine what it will feel like to be back in the saddle.

One thing we ask of our readers, however. We have never photographed in the English churches and cathedrals and would appreciate any tips that we can get. As you know, we have pretty much unfettered access in France, but don’t know if we will be so welcome in England. We will begin our research soon, but will be thankful for your knowledge and advice.

28 thoughts on “We’re Planning Another Trip (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dear Dennis — I’m delighted to learn that you’ll be visiting my home country Britain in autumn of this year! I’m sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms, have no fear of that. However — one big difference between Britain and France with regard to cultural monuments as well as locations in general, is that Britain is infinitely more CROWDED than France, in every way you can think of. The remoteness and calm of villages such as Conques (for example) has almost no equivalent in Britain, sadly, where the sort of cultural destinations you’ll be aiming to photograph will be apt to be much more busy with tourists and sight-seers every day of the week (Mondays probably being your best bet). Therefore pre-planning will be even more essential than normal, and giving plenty of notice will be imperative. All that said, once you have the access you require, you’ll most certainly find a warm welcome and a helpful reception everywhere you go! All best, John Peacock

    1. John, great advice and much appreciated. We know that the cathedrals are much beloved in England and that we will have to exhibit patience and planning in order to get the shots we need. But part of the fun is getting to meet the people who work there and can help us be successful.

  2. England is a bit more difficult, particularly in the smaller churches. You need to get in touch with the ‘church ladies’ some can be grumpy, others are delightful. Try to write in advance to find out if the churches are open, of course the big cathedrals are usually opened without restrictions. See if you can get permission to photograph the crypt at Canterbury, normally no photos allowed. I’d love to have had the chance.

    1. Thanks, Debora. We will definitely take your advice about the church ladies. They are an important part of the landscape in France and I’m sure just as important in England. We’ll try to get permission to photograph in the Canterbury crypt as well. There is so much research to do!

  3. I guess Angelico would not have said about an eternity separing you as he lived in a world where god was present everywhere, as he once expressed in the Evreux exhibition about his paintings.

    I am happy you’re in better health !

  4. I do hope you are able to fulfill all your plans. I should point out that here in Britain there is now a charge to enter many of the ancient Cathedrals unlike in France where even Notre-Dame in Paris is free.

    Westminster Abbey’s entrance fee is quite substantial I understand whereas Westminster Cathedral, being Catholic, is free. The latter’s foundation stone was only laid in 1895 but it was built by 1903. The style is Byzantine with spectacular mosaics decorating the interior which are still being added over the years. When I was a child the Cathedral was hidden in a back street. Today it opens onto a large piazza which gives a beautiful view of the front elevation.

    Don’t forget Peterborough Cathedral on your way back down! This has a spectacular front. I am a little biased as my father was once the Organist and Master of the Choristers there!

    1. Thanks for the information. We are most concerned with limitations on tripods because they are necessary for our work. Believe it or not, we are not going to London on this trip because we would need to spend too much time there. That will be the basis for our return trip later, along with other churches that we decide are necessary.

      Peterborough is definitely on the list, right after Lincoln and Southwell. Does your father still live there?

      1. No – my father died in 1965. He was there when I was born in 1943 and I believe we moved away a year or two after. He was organist there for over twenty years. There is a brass plaque in the cathedral showing the names of the organists over the years but unfortunately I did not take a photo of it when I last visited some 44 years ago. If I ever go back that will be a photo project for me!

    1. Scott, we are very excited to do this. We can make great inroads into the Norman inventory of churches in this one trip, then figure out what we need to do to follow up later!

  5. Its lovely to know that you will photograph some of our beautiful Norman churches. Some of the Cathedrals, Ely you will have to pay to entre, some you just pay to take photos, some are free. I did Carlisle last month and had to paid to take photos, but worth it. Mostly the larger churches are free, but some are not always open, it is best to google them first. Will look forward to seeing your photos of them, we have lots of smaller Norman churches here in the Fens and Norfolk. Good luck with your trip 🙂 Lynne

      1. You will have a great time, look forward to seeing them all 🙂 I am going to Finland in August to photograph as many Finnish churches that I can, can’t wait for that either 🙂

      2. Yes hopefully, but they close at the end of August, so we can’t be late. We are taking our motorhome, as my husband wants to try and drive right up to the north, so we too have a lot of planning to do 🙂 a lot of the fun, is in the planning,

  6. Love the name of this basilica: Saint Austremoine. It’s like Saint Other Monk 🙂 And I love the funky purple colours. 🙂 Thanks, Dennis!

    1. Yuri, the story of the 19th century repainting of the church is fascinating. Anatole D’Auvergne was given a commission to whitewash the church, but having researched churches in the region and seeing the signs of the original painting, he used his own initiative to paint Saint Austremoine. Prosper Mérimée was the first Inspector of Monuments and he went ballistic, but D’Auvergne’s work stayed.

  7. Dear Dennis, it sounds like you two will have a challenging and fulfilling adventure. I will follow closely. My best wishes to you.

  8. As much as you both admire Chartres and its restoration, the great cathedral in Glouscester, with its walls of stained glass, and intricate vaulted ceilings will be such a treat. I only recently learned through DNA testing that my dad’s mom’s family comes from Wales and the Cotswolds, and I’m planning my own trip to reconnect with those roots. I will live vicariously through your and P.J.’s eyes until then.

  9. Oh, this sounds like a wonderful adventure. I can’t wait to go along. I have started to set aside coins for a larger monitor so I can enjoy the trip in style. All the very best, stay healthy and enjoy!

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