Rediscovered Gems (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have been doing an enormous amount of work preparing for our exhibition this week at the McConnell Art Center in Columbus, Ohio. We had to select our photos, color correct and proof each one, arrange the printing, framing and wrapping the selection of thirty-eight images. We deliver the images tomorrow with all of the associated labels and the proof of the exhibition catalog.

One of the great joys of doing this was rediscovering images that we had forgotten, images that we liked so much that we included them in the show. Here are five that I particularly enjoyed. The first is Poitier’s Basilique Saint Hilaire. This shot of the strange upper ambulatory shows the complex nature of the rebuilding, additions, and renovations that have taken place over the centuries, as the purity of the original design have long been replaced by a hodgepodge of structures. It is easy to see the complexity in the ground plan.

Plan, Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne)

This photograph taken in the ambulatory shows the unique passageways on the sides of the chancel. From a photographic viewpoint, I love the welter of columns and arches in every direction and how the light varies from region to region.

Ambulatory, Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photograph by Dennis Aubrey

PJ’s shot of the altar at Notre Dame de Nazareth in Vaison-la-Romaine is a beautifully balanced photograph, but I particularly love the way the chancel crossing looms in the darkness at the top. As happens so often, the lighting fixture is a distraction on the central column but there is nothing that can be done about that. The austere, undecorated stones of the building are shown to great advantage here.

Altar, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Nazareth, Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ Aubrey

This next shot of the altar at La Souterraine took me totally by surprise. What seems to be a simple, uncomplicated shot features a striking counterfocus in the internal elements. The diagonal line from the bible on the altar to the flowers to the stone font is trisected by the statue in the niche to the right. In addition, the shiny lightning bolt section of the floor in the foreground leads directly to both the font and the statue. This gives an unexpected sense of motion to the otherwise stable composition and is another example of PJ’s surprising eye for detail in composition.

Altar from side aisle, Église Notre Dame, La Souterraine (Creuse) Photo by PJ Aubrey

I am always a sucker for symmetry in these churches, and the photograph of the north side aisle at Coutances’ cathedral is a perfect illustration of that. This is just a simple shot but pleases me immeasurably, particularly the lighted central passage terminating at the stained glass window in the dark wall at the end.

North side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame, Coutances (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This next photograph of Saint Étienne in Blomac was astonishing to me – the composition, the color and the layering of detail give this great emotional resonance. PJ always talks about how these small churches hold the history of the communities. Every detail reaffirms that here – the flowers at the foot of Mary’s statue (supported by a wooden stump), the floor pattern, the rug at the altar, the metal table in the left foreground, and especially the collection of objects on the table next to the pillar. This is a shot that we both missed for years and then rediscovered.

Nave detail, Église Saint Étienne, Blomac (Aude) Photo by PJ Aubrey

This final shot was taken in 2007, our first year of photographing for Via Lucis. PJ has taken a split composition, usually a bad idea, and made it beautiful. The obvious charm is the vignette with the statue framed on the right side, with the candles in the photograph in perfect position as if lighting the scene. But the secondary framing is astonishing – both the left and right framing pillars are perfectly vertical, as we always try to accomplish with our tilt-shift lenses, but the interior pillars are all leaning. This is one of the graces of these old churches, how they settle over the years into compositions of their own.

Side chapel from aisle, Église Notre Dame, Cunault (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Our exhibition in Columbus is open for the rest of the year and we would love for readers who live in the area to come visit and let us know what you think. For those who are interested in the photographs but can’t attend, here is a link to the catalog.

McConnell Arts Center Catalog

The Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe – Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kim


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.

Ground plan, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne)

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 Church

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.

Ensemble view from northeast, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

South facade, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Nave, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Axial view of choir, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

North side aisle, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

South side aisle, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Axial view of nave facing west, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Western bay, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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 nave looking up, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View of the fresco painting in the barrel vault of the eastern six bays of the nave (link to Dennis blog).

Nave vault, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking up to the crossing highlights the sturdy and impressive cross-shaped piers at the corners.

Crossing, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View of the central chapel on the axis of the chevet.

Central chapel, Abbatiale Saint Savin, Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (Vienne) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Come See Us at the Lancaster City ArtWalk (Dennis Aubrey)


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.

North side aisle, Église Notre Dame la Grande, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Aubrey

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.

A Columbus, Ohio Exhibition (Dennis Aubrey)


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.

McDonnell Art Center, Worthington (Ohio)

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.

Memories (Dennis Aubrey)


Recognizing truth is a matter of experience because it involves distinguishing the real from the illusory. Experience itself is a product of memory. And memory is even more complex than truth. And so the pattern gets more multi-faceted the deeper we look, like one of Mandlebrot’s mathematical phantasms. What appears at first simple becomes infinitely complicated and intricate.

Side aisle, Basilique Saint Remi, Reims (Marne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Some memories we remember as dreams, in the present tense; others as historical phenomena that stay safely in the past. Some memories carry their meaning with them. Others mean something because of their relationship with something that occurred in the past. Others depend on the future to reveal their significance. This is the web that is woven back and forth, across and through time.

North side aisle, Eglise Saint-Étienne, Vignory (Haute-Marne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Some memories lie dormant until something conjures them up. When my brother David and I were 11 and 12, our family moved back to France from the United States. We had lived in France before and as small boys we spoke the language fluently, but had been in America for the past six years and forgotten all we knew. For the first week or so after our return, we lay in bed in our hotel room at night before going to sleep, counting the French words we had newly learned. One day we might know twenty or thirty, the next day perhaps a dozen or so more. Then one warm summer afternoon we went for a walk in the countryside and passed through a small farming village. While walking along the road we smelled the very particular and very familiar smell of a French farm village. It was so clear to us that we knew that smell from our past. We remarked on it and left the significance behind. That night as we lay in bed, we tried to count the French words we knew, but couldn’t. Words and phrases flooded back to us and we couldn’t keep up with them. That smell of the farms unlocked the memories, and a language associated with those memories.

Side aisle of Notre Dame de Mont-Devant-Sassey (Haute-Marne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

There are certain things that are done to consciously preserve memories, to fix moments in time so that they will never be forgotten. We take pictures, write descriptions and letters, film with a camcorder, and still it is not possible to retain a memory in its entirety. Most of the time, parts are remembered and then the detail is filled in with ideas, interpretations, and transitions that have no relationship to the original. And then other times something happens in a moment that is unforgettable and complete, and as long as there is a portion of that singular memory, the entire memory will be complete. Once, in Los Angeles I was a driving on the streets. I slowed at a corner to make a right turn in heavy traffic. As I did, my eyes momentarily locked with those of a young 20 year old Latino standing on the corner. In the moment of our eyes locking was all the pride of millennia of human breeding; male challenge, virile and powerful, born to rule. As I continued around the corner his girlfriend came into view. We, too, locked eyes, but hers were bruised, swollen and battered. And the look in her eyes was that of utter despair and hopelessness, doomed somehow to be ruled. These two seconds are forever part of my being.

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

My very first memory is like a black and white snapshot, clear and crisp, but in trying to understand it I fill in blanks for things I didn’t know at the age of 15 months when it happened. It is hard to keep the memory pure. Sitting on a lawn on a summer day by myself. It was not our home; we were visiting. On chairs across what seemed to be an enormous lawn were the adults, perhaps five or six, talking and watching me. My mother was in a sundress, I think. Behind them stood a house with a high front porch where the adults were sitting. In my memory, my parents seemed an immense distance away; it seemed that I had never been so far from them. Attached to the visual memory is a sensation of freedom, of being unfettered. All I did with the freedom, most likely, was to eat rolly-polly bugs and other nonsense I picked up around me, but the feeling is there half a century later.

Basilique Saint Hilaire, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Most of my memories are visual, but some have multi-sensory character, like that of my Aunt Dell descending on us when we were children. She came in a wave of perfume, bright red kewpie doll lips, and thick pancake make up. When she lit on our face, we were dusted with dry powder and left with a big red smear of lipstick on her chosen target, usually a conspicuous cheek or forehead. And afterwards, a dry, not-unpleasant perfume lingered for hours. When I think of Dell I remember the red lips, the dusting with powder and the smell of perfume.

North Side Aisle, Notre Dame la Grande, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But few memories are this complete. Most are like the medieval restorations of the 19th century French architect Viollet-le-Duc. He looked at the vestigial forms, the ruins of chateaux and churches, and tried to extrapolate them back to their original construction. In the end, these restorations became more and more the evocation of an imaginary Gothic age guided by his imaginative intelligence. They became fantasies on a medieval theme, until like some, like Pierrefonds, were no more real than the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. In our human memory, we construct upon the framework of the conscious image and try to fill in the details. But if we are not careful, the details overwhelm the original memory, distort it, and in some cases replace the original with a reconstruction. And like a Viollet-le-Duc restoration, the original is subsumed by the fantasy.

Our Dayton Opening (Dennis Aubrey)


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.

PJ at the exhibit of photos, July 2018

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.

Happy Easter


We are fortunate in having found yet another medieval sculpture of the patron of secular Easter celebrations, Saint Saliento Lepus.

Saint Saliendo Lepus

Saint Saliendo 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.