Last summer when we had our exhibition at the Marian Library at the University of Dayton, we were interviewed by Radio Maria. Here is a link to the interview (about 45 minutes long) where we talk about the Vierges Romanes and Black Madonnas that we photograph in France and Spain. Enjoy!
Readers of Via Lucis would remember that the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe was featured in an article by Dennis some years ago. Whereas The focus of that blog was on the 11th and 12th century fresco painting on the church nave ceiling, the present article is intended to illustrate the unusual vaulting technique used in the abbey church.
As the founding charter of the Abbey of Notre-Dame of Saint-Savin was lost during the French wars of religion in the 16th century, the precise year of founding is unclear, but it is known that a cleric in Charlemagne’s court came upon the relics of the 5th century brothers Savin and Cyprien who fled their homeland in Macedonia to avoid persecution, but were martyred near the present town of Saint-Savin by the Gartempe river, and a Benedictine abbey was founded in their honor in the early decades of the 9th century with the blessing of Charlemagne. The abbey extant today was established in 1010 when Aumode, Countess of Poitou and Aquitaine, made a sizable donation for building the abbey. Bishops Odon II and Gervais undertook the building campaign for the abbey church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe between 1040 and 1090. The large block of convent to the south of the abbey church was built in the 13th century through donation from Count Alphonse of Poitiers, brother of St. Louis.
The abbey church of Saint-Savin is based on a Latin cross plan. It consists, from west to east, of a square narthex with a finely proportioned spire above; three bays of nave with half-round transverse arches and barrel-vault supported by compound piers; six bays also with barrel-vault, but without transverse arches; a square crossing with a crossing tower above; transepts to north and south; a deep choir/chancel with 2-meter wide ambulatory and five radiating chapels.
The nine bays of the nave measure 42 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 18 meters high at the zenith of the barrel vault. The surface of the nave vaulting measures 412 m2. The nave floor is slightly raised to east, creating an impression of the choir being elevated even higher than the level difference when seen from the west. The transepts and the choir were the first to be built, then the western three bays of the nave, finally the eastern six bays of the nave over the foundation of the Carolingian abbey. It was eventually completed in the 12th century in the general state seen today. The axis of the church is slightly deflected at the compound piers where the western three bays are joined to the six bays without the transverse arches.
In comparison with one of the “classic” Romanesque churches such as Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Vézelay, it is immediately apparent that the space of Saint-Savin is organized with more Roman architectural elements. The 15-meter high sturdy cylindrical nave columns support semi-circular arches running length-wise in the east-west direction. Over the procession of these six semi-cylindrical arches, a continuous barrel vault is built for the nave. The unusual vaulting of the nave at Saint-Savin seamlessly transforms itself as a wedge of the groin-vault for each bay of aisles to the north and south. The aisles, about 5.5 meters wide, are almost as high as the nave, making Saint-Savin one of several hall churches constructed in the southwestern region of France. The nave is thus lighted not from clerestory windows, but from tall windows on the exterior walls of aisles. The barrel vault surface receives an adequate illumination for the justly famous fresco painting. Another unusual aspect of Saint Savin, a characteristic of the Poitevine Romanesque architecture, is that masonry surfaces are stuccoed and decorated with faux marbre in pale rose and pastel tone.
The convent block to the south and the abbey ensemble to the north greet visitors when approaching from the northeast across the Gartempe river. The five radiating chapels as well as the chapel on the north transept create a dynamic and sculptural massing.
The south façade of St.-Savin-sur-Gartempe abbey church shows the finely proportioned spire at the west built between the end of the 14th and the dawn of 15th centuries in the High Gothic style.
The view of the nave toward the choir shows 15-meter-high columns supporting half round arches in the east-west direction. A continuous barrel vault rests over the longitudinal seats for the nave.
The axial view of the choir. The sturdy columns and capitals have the Classical proportion of the Corinthian order, but with carvings of imaginary animals and vegetation.
The view of the north aisle toward east. The use of faux marbre technique on the masonry is an important characteristic of the Poitevine Romanesque architecture.
The view from south aisle toward northeast shows generous windows on the exterior walls of a hall church, as opposed to the clerestory windows of a high nave-low aisle configuration, providing ample light for the vault fresco. The half round arches running length-wise facing the nave, transform themselves to a series of “pies” of the groin vaults of aisles.
The axial view of the nave to west. The six nave bays to the east have continuous barrel vault resting on longitudinal seats without transverse arches defining each bay. The nave floor is a few steps below the narthex and the plaza outside.
The western three bays of the nave are framed by half round transverse arches resting on substantial compound piers. A tall tribune space over the narthex has a generous opening looking out to the nave.
View of the nave looking up toward the choir shows where the axis is slightly deflected at the intersection of the easternmost transverse arch and the continuous barrel vault.
View of the fresco painting in the barrel vault of the eastern six bays of the nave (link to Dennis blog).
The view looking up to the crossing highlights the sturdy and impressive cross-shaped piers at the corners.
View of the central chapel on the axis of the chevet.
While the most important object for the high artistic esteem accorded to Saint-Savin is the fresco painting on the nave vaulting affectionately nick-named “Romanesque Sistine Chapel,” Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is an important monument in the development of Romanesque architecture. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage register in 1983.
Location: 46.566944, 0.864444
I would like to particularly thank Jong-Soung Kimm for the post. First of all, it is direly needed by the Via Lucis blog in my absence. Second, I grew up just up the road from Saint Savin in the town of Chauvigny, often written about in these pages. The Abbatiale Saint Savin in those days was dingy, underlit, and unloved by all except the locals and lovers of the Romanesque. It has now been beautifully restored and it is such a delight to see a study like this published here.
Our “Painted Romanesque” exhibition will be on display at the Lancaster City ArtWalk next week. The ArtWalk is organized by Destination Downtown Lancaster as part of the Lancaster Festival, the city’s ten-day celebration of the arts (July 18-July 28). ArtWalk provides visual artists with a platform to share their talents and gifts to enrich the lives of the community members. Artists are chosen by a jury to display their artwork in Downtown Lancaster businesses from July 20-July 28.
This annual ArtWalk attracts an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each year. More than forty artists show and sell their work in numerous downtown venues while the closed city streets host a beer garden, music, and food trucks.
Our set of eight images will be at Art & Clay On Main at 150 W Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130 on Friday, July 20 from 6-10pm. PJ and I will be there speaking about our photography during that time.
We will also participate in the Artist’s Reception on Thursday, July 19 from 5-7pm at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio at 145 E Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130. Again, members of the Via Lucis community are welcome to come to either event. Our lives have been so enriched by meeting many of you in the past and we hope to do so in this next month.
We are very pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition at the McConnell Art Center in the Columbus suburb of Worthington. We will be featuring thirty-six photographs of Romanesque churches in an exhibition called “Light and Stone” from October 18, 2018 to January 6, 2019. In addition, there will be a reception at the gallery on October 19 from 6-8 pm.
The McConnell Art Center (MAC) is a contemporary, multidisciplinary facility presenting and promoting the performing, visual and digital arts. The 20,000 square foot building features a 213 seat theatre, an exhibition gallery, four classrooms, a digital imaging studio, a dance studio and rotating exhibitions sprinkled throughout the facility.
The address for the exhibition is:
McConnell Art Center
777 Evening Street
Columbus, OH 43085
Our current exposition at the Marian Library at the University of Dayton ends on July 27, so this Columbus show will be the next time we have the opportunity to show our work in a solo show. We hope to see anyone from the Via Lucis community who happens to be in this area, especially for the reception. We extend an open invitation to you all.
I was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer in late September and as can be imagined, life turned upside down. Oncology treatments started immediately and in March I started radiation.
There is a holistic practitioner locally who has dedicated enormous efforts on helping the “wellness” side of the equation and she has achieved great results, so much so that I felt pretty good through much of the radiation. But the last three weeks was devastating to my system and I was in pretty bad shape. Looking back on it now, it was much worse than I realized.
I have one strange quirk when very ill. When I got sick in France in 2015, on our return to Cape Cod I entered a “nesting” phase – I bought new cupboards, a barbecue, a bench for our deck, and lots of other things for our home. I sat on the couch with my iPad and ordered continuously; I even bought a beautiful bronze chiminea! This year, I did the same thing, only it was artwork. I bought three paintings by Salvatore Grippi, prints by Irving Amen, Joan Miró, Pierre Bonnard – statues, glass sculpture by Shahid Khan and Richard Satava, and more, filling our home with beautiful things. We already had a plethora of art, but I filled every available wall, spending far more than I ever would have if my mind worked properly. I never understood why I did this, but during my cancer treatments, I was often up alone at night looking at the works, loving our home, and loving PJ so much. It was painful to see how my suffering hurt PJ and I longed for a way to make it up to her
The solution was to celebrate the end of radiation with a road trip to Charleston and Savannah so that we could visit with our great friend Diane Quaid. Diane recently moved from Cape Cod to South Carolina near Hilton Head. Ten days after radiation was completed we started – I was feeling better at the beginning of the trip, but as we moved along, things deteriorated. We had some wonderful moments, but the trip was too much too soon, but I was bound and determined to go through with it.
We loved the Georgia lowlands and ate wonderful meals of fresh local seafood. That was medicine in itself, but the highlight was the opportunity to photograph Savannah’s beautiful cathedral. The cathedral, in the old downtown of the city, is a wonderful structure. It is essentially a large hall church with a nave and side aisles but no transepts. Instead there are chapels on each side of the altar.
The original cathedral was founded to serve a congregation of immigrants fleeing the insurrection in Haiti and the revolution in France. The first parish, the Congregation of Saint Jean-Baptiste, was formed at the end of the 18th century. The original French Gothic-style cathedral was dedicated in 1876 by the Archbishop of Baltimore. In 1898 a devastating fire destroyed everything except the outside walls and the two spires. Rebuilding began immediately and the cathedral we see today was dedicated on October 28, 1900.
The first thing one notices upon entering the church are the paintings, The stained glass windows, executed by the Innsbruck Glassmakers in the Austrian Tyrol, were installed in the Cathedral around 1904. Christopher Murphy, a noted Savannah artist, planned and directed a team of artists in the painting of the murals.
So now it is a month later and I am making real progress in my recovery. We are both back to work – preparing our various exhibitions and now, hopefully, returning to our beloved Via Lucis blog. Thank you all for your patience and your good wishes; you have helped more than you will ever know.
One final note; regular readers of Via Lucis may notice that the photographic credits for PJ’s photos now read “PJ Aubrey” instead of “PJ McKey”. We started this project before we were married and we used her professional name. She has now decided to use her married name. The change does not seem to have affected the quality of her photographs at all!
Via Lucis has been very quiet lately, but it is not because nothing is happening. We are preparing a post on our recent trip to photograph Savannah’s Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist and working on our exhibition at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, which opens next week!
The exhibition of photos of Black Madonnas and Throne of Wisdom Madonnas takes place from June 25 to July 27 at the Marian Library. The Marian Library Gallery is on the seventh floor of Roesch Library at 300 College Park Drive, Dayton, Ohio 45469 and it is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Monday through Friday.
We will host a small reception on Wednesday, July 11 at 3:30pm. PJ and I would love to meet any members of the Via Lucis community who are in the region. If you are interested in coming, please email us and we will get you the information on the reception.
On an additional note, we have an upcoming show at the Lancaster Art Walk here in Lancaster, Ohio. We will be at the Artist’s Reception on Thursday, July 19 from 5-7pm at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio at 145 E Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130. Our “Painted Romanesque” exhibition will be on display at Art & Clay On Main at 150 W Main St, Lancaster, OH 43130 on Friday, July 20 from 6-9pm. Again, members of the Via Lucis community are welcome to come to either event. Our lives have been so enriched by meeting many of you in the past and we hope to do so in this next month.
On the technical side, our prints for the Dayton exhibition were provided by Miller’s Professional Imaging in Columbia, Missouri. After an exhaustive national search for vendors and extensive proofing with Miller’s, we selected them. Their work is superb and they have the best customer service I have seen in years.
Our framing was done locally by The Frame Shop here in Lancaster. Cindy and Steve Smith have done many art works for us and when we asked for a bid on the exhibition, they matched the online prices and provided real wood frames instead of composite frames. First rate works from friendly local neighbors – we couldn’t ask for more.
If you are interested in ordering the exhibition catalog, please follow this link.
We are fortunate in having found yet another medieval sculpture of the patron of secular Easter celebrations, Saint Saliento Lepus.
According to our research, Saint Saliendo Lepus was a 3rd century noble Roman rabbit who incurred the wrath of the Emperor Diocletian by hiding colored eggs in the forum. Enraged, Diocletian had him turned over to Plautian, prefect of the praetorium, who tortured him in an effort to force him to stop this practice, but when Saliento persisted, he was beheaded and served in a stew with lentils and onions. Though the legend is an ancient one, it is no more than that.