The Cathedral Saint Peter of Worms – A Guest Post (Jong-Soung Kimm)


Together with Speyer and Mainz, Worms is one of the three “Imperial Cathedrals (Kaiserdom)” along the upper Rhein, one of the finest achievements of the High Romanesque architecture in Germany.

Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The plan of Worms is based on a nave plus two aisles, both eastern and western choirs, one transept near the eastern apse with an impressive crossing tower, a smaller tower above the western choir, and four cylindrical corner towers. All these architectural elements of the cathedral create a harmonious ensemble, and it projects a majestic skyline over the Rhein. The present cathedral was constructed mostly between 1125 and 1181 over the footprint of an earlier cathedral that had been built a century earlier by Bishop Burchard, an important historical figure. The cathedral is built of red sandstone, material also used at Speyer and Mainz, that visually ties the three Kaiserdoms. The general view from the south shows the splendid Gothic style South Portal of ca.1300, which replaced the Romanesque façade of the Nikolaus Chapel inside.

South portal, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The south transept, mere 5 meters away from the high altar directly inside, shows a modest, yet meticulously positioned doorway and asymmetrically located arched openings and a round window. The gable has what is known as “Lombard molding.”

Nave, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave was built between 1160 and 1170, and the chancel at the far end of the photograph, was completed in 1181 when the cathedral was consecrated. The plan of the nave is organized as five square bays as seen above by the cross vaulting. The aisles are half as wide as the nave, and therefore, north and south aisles have ten smaller square bays each. The procession of alternating major and minor piers along the length of the nave is slow moving and contemplative, a characteristic of Romanesque space.

Chancel, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The high altar was designed by Balthasar Neumann, one of the most important architects of the 18th century in Germany. The gilded wood and marble Baroque altar is a powerful work of art in itself, holding forth in the strong frame of the Romanesque architecture of the Worms Cathedral. The eastern apse seen beyond the altar was the earliest part of the cathedral constructed from 1125 to 1144.

Nave arcades and clerestory, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The photograph illustrates the nave elevation scheme well; the major piers with half round pilasters over rectangular projection continue all the way to the springing of the main arches and cross ribs for the vaulting, while the minor piers receive the arches for the clerestory windows and blind arcades underneath.

Nave to western choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The photograph shows the western choir at the end of finely proportioned nave. The height of the nave is 26 meters.

Western choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The western choir was built the last at around the end of the 12th century. The interior view of the choir gives a clue to the dynamic, sculptural massing that projects beyond the main volume of the nave on the exterior. One can only marvel at the master builder’s ingenuity in designing the rose window and the surrounding smaller windows as well as the masons’ meticulous workmanship in chiseling the precise moldings.

Camera information: 21mm Super Angulon for Leica on Canon 5D with an adapter.

Location: 49.629930° 8.360178°

✜ This is a repost from Jong-Soung Kimm from April 2012 on our Via Lucis site. For more information on Mr. Kimm, please see this link. ✜

The Gothic Experimenters of Morienval (Dennis Aubrey)


I know this title sounds like something from a Frankenstein movie with crazed professors and bodies stolen from the grave, but in actuality the words refer to something more benign. Benign, but also fairly radical for its day.

Clive Colin, Frankenstein (1931)

Clive Colin, Frankenstein (1931)

The Abbey of Our Lady of Morienval was a Benedictine abbey for women in the valley of Crépy-en-Valois on the edge of the Compiègne forest. In the 11th century, the abbey boasted a fine Romanesque church but a mere century later urgent repairs were needed. The first was strengthening the west façade with the installation of the Gothic bell-tower, and below it inside, a narthex leading to the Romanesque nave. While the tower itself is beautiful and of excellent proportions, it is not well-wedded to the rest of the façade.

Bell tower,  Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Bell tower, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Inside the tower is a narthex leading into the nave, which is clearly Romanesque. Notice the very thick wall from the bell-tower to the earlier part of the church.

Nave through narthex arch, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave through narthex arch, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Once in the original part of the church, we can see the round arcade arches of the nave and the thick walls. It is a fairly typical of the period and style, although the vaulting is 17th century.

Nave, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the reverse angle from the chancel crossing back into the nave we see the Romanesque elements quite clearly.

View from crossing, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

View from crossing, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

And the simple side aisle might be any number of Benedictine churches throughout France, prototypical Romanesque, covered with groin vaults.

Side aisle, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

When we get to the east end, we see the most significant experimentation. First, the choir is covered with a very early rib vault, probably from around 1122. We can see in the next photo that this was covered with a rib vault – primitive and unwieldy with rough stone courses, but still an example of that newly developing technology that channeled the stresses of the vault down to the pillars. This was not neccessary to support a heavy crossing tower because the twin Ottonian-style towers flank the apse just east of the transepts.

Choir, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Choir, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

At the same time as the choir was vaulted, the builders added what is usually referred to as the ambulatory around the apse. There is a question as to whether or not this is an ambulatory although it was built about the time that the abbey received the relics of Saint Annobert. Ambulatories usually connect with side aisles in order to create a passage from the west to the east and then back out to the west again, but at Morienval, the structure does not connect at all. For this reason, some writers think that it was just a structural addition to shore up the east side of the church that was in danger of collapse from the sloped terrain.

Apse and ambulatory, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse and ambulatory, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

It is, nevertheless, a very curious structure. Look carefully at the roof of the ambulatory – you will see curved ribs that follow the trapezoidal structure of each bay. This also dates from 1122 which makes it one of the earliest rib vaults in France, and almost certainly the first to used curved (as opposed to arched) ribs to span the uneven space. Again it is somewhat primitive and inelegant, but most experiments are not finished as beautifully as we might hope.

Ambulatory, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory, Abbaye Notre Dame de Morienval, Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

Today, Notre Dame de Morienval is sober and uncluttered, home to some beautiful sculpture, an abbey no more but a parish church. It seems that the nuns of long ago were aware of the earliest trends in vaulting from Normandy and the Île-de-France and they were not averse to trying something new. And their little ambulatory is a lovely achievement, never repeated, keeping the memory of their experimentation alive.

Statue in Notre Dame de Morienval (Oise)

Statue in Notre Dame de Morienval (Oise) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 49.298110° 2.922147°

Our safety net (Dennis Aubrey)


As readers of this blog know, we recently narrowly escaped a major disaster when I accidentally deleted this blog in April. A supposedly unrecoverable event was saved by the good people at WordPress. Whew.

But it got me thinking, what happens if we lose our actual photographs? We have a 14 terabyte RAID 10 array to store the images and we back up on another 5TB drive, but what happens if the house burns down or someone breaks in and steals everything.

Thecus N7700 Pro NAS storage server

Thecus N7700 Pro NAS storage server

I thought about DVD’s offsite but that simply would not work since the library as it exists now would require 500 DVD’s. We decided on a Cloud-based safety net and signed up for an unlimited account on JustCloud and backed up our entire image library there. This screen capture shows the progress as of today.

Progress!

Progress!

The process is ridiculously simple. I dragged the Image Library icon onto the “Drag and Drop to Backup” area and it’s done. You can see that over 100,000 of our 198,000 files are safe already. What you don’t see is that this has taken about 16 days to upload over our online system. That means a month’s worth of uploads, day and night. But then we will be safe and our images accessible from anywhere in the world. That solves our anticipated problem of having duplicate databases when we buy our home in France. One final benefit is that we can do all of our backups to JustCloud as well.

So overall, I think it was the best solution. And we breathe just a bit easier.

L’Église Saint Hilarion de Perse (Dennis Aubrey)


In the Middle Ages, the department now known as the Aveyron was the wild, sparsely inhabited province of the Rouergue. Its most famous site was the pilgrimage church Sainte Foy in Conques, which we have featured several times. Pilgrims from Clermont-Ferrand towards Conques would crossed the Aubrac mountains and met up with the old Roman road that followed the river Lot (known as “Olt” in Occitan). On that road, thirty kilometers east of Conques, stands the small town of Espalion that featured its own pilgrimage church, Saint Hilarion de Perse, as well as the nearby Église Saint Pierre de Bessejouls.

Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Hilarion de Perse was built sometime in the 11th Century, part of a monastery founded on the spot where the martyr Saint Hilarion was beheaded in 730 by the Saracens. According to legend, Hilarion was born in Lévinhac, just two short kilometers from the spot where he was martyred. He was the parish priest of Lévinhac and was persecuted by the Saracens, often forced to flee across the river Olt. Once, when the river was in flood, he laid down his cloak on the waters and crossed as if on a boat. After he was killed, Hilarion allegedly washed his severed head in a nearby fountain. His remains were kept in Lévinhac but later transferred to the church in Espalion. These relics were the treasure of the Église Saint Hilarion de Perse and were much venerated by pilgrims on the Compostella pilgrimage route.

As lovely a legend that this makes, the truth is that Hilarion was probably a missionary hermit who came to evangelize the people of the Rouergue.

South door, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South door, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The date of foundation of the monastery of Perse is not precisely known, but it is mentioned in a document of 1060 in which Hughes de Calmont donated the monastery to Conques. This association with the prosperous community of Conques enabled the church to be rebuilt in the first half of the 12th Century. The monastic buildings attached to the church did not survive the religious wars and were destroyed in 1568.

The church that remains is, however, a marvel. It was built of the local red sandstone in the shape of a Latin cross, although two Gothic side chapels were added later. It is a beautiful and elegant space, classically Romanesque.

Nave and transept, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave and transept, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by PJ McKey

Inside there are remnants of the wall paintings that originally adorned the church, particularly in the vaults. The choir has a lovely triumphal arch supported by two sculpted capitals. One of my favorite features is the presence of the large pediments supporting the pillar clusters.

Nave and transept, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave and transept, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by PJ McKey

But the glory of this church is the sculpture, particularly the exterior sculpture that adorns the lovely south portal. The portal features a tympanum surrounded by four archivolts and supported by a sculpted lintel.

South Portal, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South Portal, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The tympanum and lintel are especially fine, although many commentators consider them primitive. But the carving is dynamic and features a complex symbolic iconography. The lightning bolts at the top denote the Fall while the panel with the Virgin and ten apostles represents Redemption. But the most interesting section is on the lintel – the Judgment. On the left is a representation of Satan and four retainers balanced on the right by Christ and four apostles. If you look closely at the left-hand section of the Judgment lintel, you can see the Maw of Hell, very like that at Sainte Foy in Conques.

Tympanum, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Tympanum, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

After the monastery buildings were destroyed in the sixteenth century, Saint Hilarion de Perse became the parish church of Espalion. In the seventeenth century a new church was built in the town to take that function. But there are still those who worship at the old pilgrimage church, as can see by this votive statue of the Virgin, covered with evidence of devotion and veneration. The walnuts are one of the most interesting features of the shot, laying amid the pile of letters.

Votive statue of Mary, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron)  Photo by PJ McKey

Votive statue of Mary, Église Saint Hilarion-de-Perse, Espalion (Aveyron) Photo by PJ McKey

Just three miles to the west on the road to Conques is the church of Saint Pierre de Bessuéjouls with its famous Saint Michael’s chapel. That will be the subject of our next post as we explore the road to Conques.

Church Etiquette for Photographers (Dennis Aubrey)


We get requests from many photographers, both experienced and novices, who want to understand what it takes to shoot at these churches. We have provided technical explanations already – we have discussed our camera gear, the lenses that we use and our procedures on a shooting trip.

We always stress the importance of preparation; to have an idea of what is important in a church; whether or not it will be crowded, the time of day you might be shooting, the time of year, and whether special permission will be required. It is also important to know something about what is unique or distinctive in the church. We once shot at the Cathédrale Saint Etienne in Cahors without realizing that the most remarkable feature of the church was the magnificent north portal in an alley on the opposite side of the main entrance. It was a good excuse to go back and shoot again later.

North portal, Cathédrale Saint Etienne, Cahors (Lot)  Photo by PJ McKey

North portal, Cathédrale Saint Etienne, Cahors (Lot) Photo by PJ McKey

This post addresses something different – perhaps it can be considered a primer for photographing in churches, especially in France and the United States. There are three main issues – respect for the church and the parishioners, use of tripods and access.

The first issue – respect for the churches and parishioners – is easy to communicate. Stay quiet and unobtrusive as much as possible. Don’t intrude on people who are praying or meditating. It is best not to photograph the services themselves except from a distance. And remember that these are religious services – we went to the vespers service at the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay a couple of years ago, a service in which the monks and nuns sing the mass. A tour of Dutch tourists came in during the service. They sat respectfully and listened , but when it was finished, they applauded. The treated it like a performance. You could feel the shock among both the congregation and the monks and nuns.

When individuals are praying, they are very sensitive to interruptions (clicking of the camera can be very annoying) and of being photographed. Ask before you do so if you must shoot someone. Several years ago I saw a woman in a wheelchair at services in Vézelay, seated alone at the back of the church. I was taken by the way the light from a window looked like a reverse shadow of her image. When the service was over, I asked if I could take her picture. She gave me a lovely smile for the shot.

Shadow of light, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Shadow of light, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

It is also important to respect the church itself. In most cases, the altars are off-limits. This is almost assured if the church is actively used and consecrated. Stay off the altars, respect the signs and ropes that bar entry. If you are allowed to photograph in that area, leave when any sign of services begins. I was once shooting the vault from the altar at the Église Saints Pierre & Paul in Wissenbourg and failed to notice the arrival of parishioners. It wasn’t until the clerics started prepping the altar that I realized a service was imminent.

The artist in his studio  (Photo by PJ McKey)

Dennis photographing the chancel vault, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Coutances, Coutances (Manche) Photo by PJ McKey

The second issue is often not centered on photography in the church, which is usually allowed. But the difficulty arises in the need to use tripods. For us, tripods are a must since we shoot with small apertures and very long exposures. We spend hours shooting each church so there is no question of sneaking in.

Nave with layer mask of windows, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, Providence (Rhode Island)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, Providence (Rhode Island) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We find that in the United States it is almost always necessary to get advance permission from the church offices in order to shoot with tripods in a large church or cathedral. When we shot at the Washington National Cathedral for the first time, for example, we worked for a couple of weeks to get proper access. In Providence or Boston we just made arrangements a few days prior.

Light on pillar, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC  (Photo by PJ McKey)

Light on pillar, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC (Photo by PJ McKey)

Smaller parish churches, on the other hand, are treated almost as private property. It is advisable to get permission to shoot on the premises, but it can often be done on the day that you arrive. It is a more informal process and we have found that the parish priests, deacons, rectors, or employees are pleased to show the church and discuss it.

Nave of Saint Ann Church, Lenox (Massachusetts)   Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave of Saint Ann Church, Lenox (Massachusetts) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In France, the churches are the property of the State, often managed by the church or a commune, and there are few obstacles to shooting except in large cathedrals – we would never have gotten access to Chartres like we did on the last two occasions had we not been invited.

View from the tribunes, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure)  Photo by PJ McKey

View from the tribunes, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure) Photo by PJ McKey

But that being said, the only places other than Chartres, Notre Dame de Paris, or Saint Denis that we needed actual permission was in Angers because the buildings that we visited were not open to the public, period. We have shot in Vézelay, Senlis, Sens, Reims, Laon, Albi, and many others with no problem.

The third issue in photographing the churches is the kind of access that you are allowed. In the large churches, there are two kinds of access. The normal access is when you can photograph in the space with a tripod undisturbed by any official interference. The second is where you are given access to areas that are not available to tourists at all and seldom seen by any visitors. This takes the most planning and communication with the church authorities and is not easily granted. In most cases the photographer will need a strong reference in order to gain this type of access.

Flying buttesses, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure)  Photo by PJ McKey

Flying buttesses, Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure) Photo by PJ McKey

One further difficulty of access remains in rural France – getting inside. These smaller churches are often (alas) closed, and it is necessary to search around to find who might have the key. That can be quite an adventure. Your best chance to find a key is at the Mairie, but that city office might only be open one or two days a week. In the Charente last year, one Mairie was only open on Thursday afternoons.

Many times the key is with a local person who lives nearby. In a small village in the Saône-et-Loire departent of Burgundy we found the church locked and no sign of where the key might be obtained. Across the square was a small house with a lovely, well-kept garden in the small front yard. I crossed to the house and rang the bell. When the elderly woman who lived there opened the door – gazing a bit suspiciously at this large stranger – I asked about the key. She brightened immediately, reached into a flower pot and pulled out the huge metal key. She gave it to me and said that she had to leave and run some errands in town but I could just return the key when I was finished.

PJ shooting at the Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Pierre, Jumièges  (Seine-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ shooting at the Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Pierre, Jumièges (Seine-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We have asked at many such houses, in some cases interrupting family gatherings, a woman putting on her wig, and men doing chores in their yards or fields. Once in the town of Peyrusse in the Auvergne, the mayor emerged from her house with a key that must have been a foot long and weighed five pounds. She exchanged it for my permit de conduire. But these kind people have never hesitated to help us when they heard the purpose of our visit. In some cases they show up where we are shooting to see if everything is working, turning on lights (often when they are not wanted), and sometimes, I think, looking to make sure that some small treasure of the church is still secure. But we always welcome them and try to engage in conversation about the church. Inevitably, they know something interesting or important about the church.

Dennis photographing at the Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Georges, Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville (Seine-Maritime)  Photo by PJ McKey

Dennis photographing at the Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Georges, Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville (Seine-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

There is one final thing to remember in France = there is a good reason that the churches are locked. Thieves have long known that they might find beautiful and valuable objects in these churches. The shortage of priests in the villages mean that they are most often empty and targets for theft. We went to the small town of Thoisy-le-Désert in the Côte-d’Or to see their famous vierge romane. When we arrived at the church which was situated in a field just outside of the village of about 200 souls, we found it locked. I walked into the nearby village and found a group of people preparing for a festival. When I asked about the vierge, everyone looked crestfallen, some even began crying. It turned out that the statue had been stolen twelve years earlier in 1995 and had never been recovered. It was like the heart had been stolen from the village.

Statue en bois polychrome : Vierge à l'Enfant assise, Image copyright Patrimoine de France, photo by Henri Heuzé.

Statue en bois polychrome : Vierge à l’Enfant assise, Thoisy-le-Désert. Image copyright Patrimoine de France, photo by Henri Heuzé.

It is important to understand some of these issues when going to France to photograph these churches. They are much cared for (even in the smallest town, the largest portion of the maintenance and repair falls on the shoulders of the inhabitants) and beloved, and many have been violated in the most brutal fashion.

If you are serious in photographing in these churches both in the United States, France, Spain, and anywhere else, you will find that people are ultimately pleased to have you do so. They just ask for you to respect the church itself, the faith that of those who worship there, and the people who come to pray and meditate. In France it is always a nice gesture to buy a candle and place it on one of the altars and to buy any small publication that describes the church and its history. Your contribution will help to defray the costs of maintaining these extraordinary medieval buildings.

Havoc and the dogs of war (Dennis Aubrey)


ANTONY:
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 1

One of the strangest sights that we find in our work documenting the Romanesque churches of France is the phenomenon of fortified churches. There is something so completely disconcerting about seeing a church surmounted with defensive towers, crenelations, and battlements. It is one thing to see a church as part of a castle, but quite another to see a free-standing structure studded with defensive measures. There is, of course, a very good reason for this to have happened.

Église Abbatiale Saint-Amand-du-Coly (Dordogne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Abbatiale Saint-Amand-du-Coly (Dordogne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Barbara Tuchman writes of the “calamitous 14th Century” in her book “A Distant Mirror” that one of the chief plagues of that time was the Hundred Years War. The conflict between the Plantagenets of England and Valois of France over the throne of France lasted from 1337 to 1453. The war was fought entirely on French soil and devastated much of the country. One of the reasons for the devastation was a change in the military orders.

The feudal world provided a liege lord with an army of vassals in time of need, but this was not sufficient for a war that carried on for so long. Disputing kings simply did not have the funds necessary to keep a standing army in the field, so they began hiring mercenaries. To feed and supply the troops, the English developed a system call “pâtis“, or ransoms of the country. A town or village where the troops were garrisoned would be required to pay for their upkeep. This didn’t generate any revenue for the cause, but it was a windfall to the mercenaries, who often made a fortune by extending “pâtis” out of their immediate area of garrison.

Fortified church, Église Saint Vivian d’Écoyeux, Écoyeux (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Fortified church, Église Saint Vivian d’Écoyeux, Écoyeux (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These bands of mercenaries, known as routiers, began to function as self-sufficient armies with their own leadership and no allegiance except to those who paid them. Their real survival depended on controlling a region, and control them they did. Robbery, murder, pillage, and rape were the result. The English captured the Poitevin town of Lusignan in 1346 and it was left in the command of a captain, Bertrand de Monferrand. His troops laid waste to “fifty parishes, ten monasteries, and destroyed towns and castles throughout southern Poitou.”

During the periods of truce in the Hundred Years War, the routiers stayed together, their ranks swollen by the unemployed soldiers from both armies, and they ranged far and wide in France, destroying and robbing as they went. Southern France and the Provence were especially hard hit. Later the companies devastated Burgundy and by the beginning of the fifteenth century were laying waste to northern and eastern France.

Capital, Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Georges, Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville (Seine-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Georges, Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville (Seine-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These companies were highly organized on a military basis and often had their own uniforms. Some, like the Bande Blanche of Arnaud de Cervole who was known as l’Archiprêtre (The Archpriest), had their own uniforms. Detachments of soldiers sent to curb them were defeated and the companies continued their depredations. The King of France tried to hire them away to fight elsewhere and this worked sometimes, but too often not. Some of the routier companies found their way to the fertile internecine wars of Italy and prospered. John Hawkwood’s White Company fought for and against the Papacy and Hawkwood himself became famous and much honored.

Fresco of John Hawkwood, Duomo, Firenze

Fresco of John Hawkwood, Duomo, Firenze

The only constant in this ever-changing equation was that the land of France was brutalized and pillaged for a century. A company of routiers would show up at a town and demand a ransom. If it were not paid, the town would be attacked and devastated. There was no recourse to justice and it must have seemed to the populace that they were being ravaged by wild beasts.

Two Demons Fighting, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay  (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Two Demons Fighting, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The churches were a constant target because they held items of value and because they were the center of life in the towns and villages. In the Aquitaine, so many of these churches were attacked and damaged, if not destroyed. The architecture changed to account for these violent times – monasteries and churches were fortified for defense. Sometimes this helped, but all too often, it did not.

Fortified church, Église Saint Vivian d'Écoyeux, Écoyeux (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Fortified church, Église Saint Vivian d’Écoyeux, Écoyeux (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The architecture certainly suffered, but perhaps more importantly, so did the faith of the people. They lost their belief in the protection of the church, which could not protect the people, nor even the churches and the clergy. No punishment came to the evil-doers, in fact they seemed to prosper. And the warlike aspect taken by the churches did nothing to support the message of peace, a message that must have seemed cruel and mocking in the world of the routiers. And the kings who cried “Havoc” found that the dogs of war bit the hands of those who fed them and seemed to have an insatiable appetite for more. This is a lesson that all rulers must learn, but none seem to understand.

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Geay (Dennis Aubrey)


There has been so much damage to the Romanesque monuments in the Saintonge region of France – the Hundred Years War was brutal, and then the wars of religion and the French Revolution continued the devastation – that it is difficult to find a church that has not been substantially rebuilt in the area. One that we found and admired is the 12th Century Église Saint-Vivien de Geay.

View from east,  Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

View from east, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the exterior shot, we can see the massive clocher that dominates the structure. Unlike many of her sisters in the Saintonge, Saint-Vivien has a very modest western facade and a wonderful chevet. These photographs also show the very large transepts in the structure.

Chevet, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chevet, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We can see from the western entrance to the nave the hall church construction with banded ogive barrel vaults and a complex, rather unordered chancel. This chancel, which holds the crossing tower, is the dominant feature of the church.

Nave, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

The crossing tower is built on four sturdy columns in the chancel that are connected by the corresponding four powerful arches. Above the arches is a blind arcade as decoration.

Crossing vault, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing vault, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This crossing tower was not part of the original 12th Century church, but was rebuilt in the 15th Century I believe. I think that the original tower was faulty and they built a much larger and more dominant clocher over the chancel crossing. It is clear that the necessary reinforcement was not gracefully done. In this shot we can see that the east/west arches are not properly centered and are awkwardly integrated.

Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

This fault, however, is compensated by the wonderful effect that is achieved in the transept where we now have a set of double arches leading north and south. This is elegant and unique, in my experience, and one of the things I like best about Saint-Vivien.

North transept with double arches, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North transept with double arches, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this view of the crossing from the north transept, we can see how the space between the double arches was used. In this case there are two niches which were used for ex-votos and church treasures, and the wooden pulpit entrance wraps around the outermost pillar into the nave.

Crossing, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

Crossing, Église Saint-Vivien de Geay, Geay (Charente-Maritime) Photo by PJ McKey

Saint-Vivien de Geay is an interesting Romanesque church in a region filled with Romanesque remnants. We were glad to see so much of the original still extant, especially in light of the peculiar interior architecture of the crossing.