“Mea Culpa” (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I would like to apologize to our faithful Via Lucis community for the lack of posts in the last three months, especially recently. We have recently completely changed our life situation, moving from Cape Cod to the hills of Ohio.

Temptation capital detail, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins  (Indre)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Temptation capital detail, Église Saint Martin, Plaimpied-Givaudins (Indre) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In doing so, we have had to disrupt our physical as well as emotional lives. Part of that physical disruption is that we STILL have not taken delivery of our furniture (that was picked up on June 1). We won’t be receiving it for at least another six or seven days! Perhaps it was not wise to use a moving company broker after all. But this has prevented us from having access to some of our equipment and photos (they are all safe, but inaccessible).

The good news is that we love our new home in Hideaway Hills, just southeast of the town of Lancaster, which is itself about 40 miles southeast of Columbus, where PJ’s siblings live. We live in hills surrounded by trees, deer, pileated woodpeckers, and Amish farms. The backroads could pass for the backroads of France!

Our new house in Ohio

Our new house in Ohio

It is a bit different from life on an island in Cape Cod, looking out over the sparkling waters of Buzzards Bay, but the Hocking Hills are magnificent and we are glad to be here. Right now, PJ and I are trying to plan our next trip to France, hopefully this coming Fall. And most of all, we are so anxious to get back to work on our beloved Via Lucis and to once again have you as part of our lives.

Finally, we would like to thank Jong-Soung Kimm who quite independently gave us three new posts to help fill the void. His contributions always contribute enormously to Via Lucis and these three were particularly appreciated.

Thanks for your patience!

Reflections of light at the top of the World (Dennis Aubrey)


Sometimes I get so sad, so depressed at the state of the world. The antics of our politicians, the naked greed of our Wall Street masters of the universe, and the sadness at seeing the land of promise and opportunity turning into the land of baristas. Sometimes I just think it is my age, but looking back, I don’t see a golden time. We have always been troubled as a people, but now we have descended further into an abyss. I despair at emerging into the light.

But then something happens to change my heart – first it was PJ who came into my life like a warming beacon. Sometimes it is the generosity and kindness of my friends who I cherish more than I can ever express. And my family (and PJ’s) are a fertile soil that nourishes the seedlings of hope and faith. Today, however, one of member of that family, my nephew Scott, is in my thoughts.

Nepal vista

This young man trained as an engineer at Santa Clara University and immediately got a responsible and well-paying job in his field of civil engineering. But his work there was not fulfilling and he made the choice to change everything. He originally planned to get a master’s degree in Engineering for Developing Communities but decided instead to go to Nepal for a couple of months to help rebuild the country devastated by earthquakes.

Making bricks, photo by Marissa Reis

Making bricks, photo by Marissa Reis

He has now been there longer than two months and he is committed to the process and the country. He speaks conversational Nepalese, and his words glow with the belief that he – and we – can make a difference.

Building walls, photo by Scott Hanson

Building walls, photo by Scott Hanson

To read his own words on his mission, please read this link.

Nepal Scott

So thank you, Scott, from your perch high atop of the world, for sharing your light with this old soul.

Nepal sunset, photo by Scott Hanson

Nepal sunset, photo by Scott Hanson

The Metropolitan and his Cathedral – Saint-Étienne de Sens (Dennis Aubrey)


The Department of Yonne in Burgundy is one of our favorite places in France and very fertile for our photographic explorations. It is home to the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne in Auxerre, the Collégliale Saint Lazare in Avallon and also the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens.

Today, Sens is a fairly quiet town of about 27,000 people, the second most important of the Yonne after Auxerre. One would have no idea from its current state just how important Sens was in the Middle Ages as the seat of the “Primate of Gaul,” perhaps the most important bishop in France and superior to the bishopric of Paris. For much of the early Middle Ages, the Kings of France were anointed here, not at Reims.

Sens was the capital of an ecclesiastical province composed of several neighboring dioceses and headed by a metropolitan, the archbishop designated by the Pope. At its height, the Archdiocese of Sens counted seven suffragans – subordinate bishops – at Chartres, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris, Orléans, Nevers, and Troyes. Only in 1622 was Paris raised to the status of a Metropolitan See and Chartres, Orléans, and Meaux were separated from Sens.

Nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sens was an important settlement long before the Middle Ages. It was the site of an oppidum of the Senones, a Celtic tribe of Gaul. Caesar called it Agedincum and it later became an administrative center of Roman Gaul, situated at the intersection of the roads from Troyes to Orléans and Lyons to Paris . The first recorded Christian activity on the site was founded by the Saints Savinian and Potentian, sent by the Bishop of Rome in the 4th Century to proselytize the Gauls. They were martyred in 390. Their church was rebuilt in the sixth or seventh century. In 731, the Saracens ranged far enough north that they besieged the town, which was rescued by its bishop.

In the ninth century, the earlier church was succeeded by a Carolingian edifice, but this burned in 982. The church was immediately reconstructed by the Bishop Seguin and consecrated a few years later.

Around 1135, the Archbishop of Sens, Henri Sanglier, decided to replace the Carolingian cathedral of the tenth century with a structure befitting the importance of the metropolitan see over which he presided. Archbishop Sanglier was a singular person in the French landscape. He was a friend of both Abbot Suger of Saint Denis and Bernard of Clairvaux. He twice gave refuge to Thomas à Becket during his struggles with King Henry II. The second time was after Becket was forced to leave the abbey of Pontigny after the English monarch threatened to close every Cistercian house in England. When he was welcomed to Sens, Becket enthused, “ô douce, encore, ô très douce France! Oui, elle est douce, vraiment douce, la France!”

At the time of Sanglier’s rebuilding, church architecture was dominated by the great Romanesque churches. Sanglier commissioned a new architect to build his new church, who proposed building with a revolutionary form of vaulting – the rib vaulting that had begun to appear in the Norman churches in France and England. Although the finished cathedral in Sens was not completed for four centuries, the main structure was the product of a single mind, Guillaume de Sens. While there is no direct documentary record, there is enough evidence that we can perhaps infer the identity of the architect.

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Saint-Etienne was constructed in its original form between 1135-1164 and was consecrated on 19 April 1163 by Pope Alexandre III, who was then in exile in Sens. This makes Saint-Étienne the oldest Gothic cathedral in France. The first Gothic structure is the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, built by Suger, but it did not become a cathedral until the 20th Century.

There is an interesting side note to Guillaume de Sens. Becket was at Sens during the time of the building of Saint-Étienne and when he returned to Canterbury, he made plans to rebuild the cathedral there. He was assassinated before he could do so, but the architect who was hired to build was the same Guillaume de Sens. Some historians speculate that Becket made the recommendation. In 1180 while working on the construction, Guillaume fell fifty feet from the scaffolding. Crippled, he returned home to Sens where he died soon after.

Nave and sexpartite vaulting, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave and sexpartite vaulting, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The architecture of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens is defined by three elements – the vaulting, the width of the nave, and the style of the nave pillars and columns.

The church features early Gothic sexpartite vaulting over a modest clerestory, and may even have been the first church to be completely vaulted in this manner. Like the Romanesque churches it was designed to supplant, there was a gallery between the aisle arcades and the clerestory level.

Crossing vault, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing vault, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The church’s size is fairly modest, perhaps because the builders were not completely confident in the new architectural style. Saint-Étienne feels Romanesque; it is perhaps more solid than beautiful.

The interior lacks height but is very wide. A comparison with the almost-contemporary Notre Dame de Paris is telling. Sens’ length is 113.5 meters, which is smaller than Notre Dame de Paris at 128 meters. The nave height is 24.4 meters, much lower than Paris’ 33.5 meters. The width of the nave, in contrast, is 15.25 meters, almost two full meters larger than Paris. This width is one of the distinguishing factors of the Saint-Étienne de Sens. It also makes clear the builders’ intent to cover the structure with a vault, since it is too large for a wooden roof.

Finally, there is an interesting variation in the nave arcade supports – alternating piers and columns between the bays. This was not an innovation at Sens, but a very interesting stylistic choice.

Alternating pillars and columns in nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Alternating pillars and columns in nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

In addition to the architectural details, Sens contains some magnificent stained glass throughout the cathedral.

Transept windows, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Transept windows, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

There are four in particular that are remarkable – the choir ambulatory lancets that were created at the beginning of the 13th Century, probably from Suger’s school at Saint Denis. They tell the story of Saint Eustache,the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan and finally the story of Thomas à Becket and his martyrdom at Canterbury.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cathedral is the heart of Sens, visible from a great distance across the Yonne plain. There is little in the modern town to suggest that it was at the center of the life in 12th Century France and home to one of the most powerful prelates in the Church. But stepping inside, we can see the care and pride of both the patron and the builder in the stone and glass of Saint-Étienne de Sens.

Ambulatory chapel, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory chapel, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 48.198142 3.284078

Improperia and the madness of it all – Dennis Aubrey


Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
“The Masque of Pandora”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1875)

The long dark nights magnify our solitude and lay us to waste. The world is mad and we just don’t know what to do.

We are willing to take great risks for the sake of our purses. We know what the destruction of the rain forest means, but we are unwilling to stop. We know that the global climate is changing but we won’t cut back on the creation of greenhouse gases. We suborn slavery and tyranny for cheap products to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace. We destroy the last of animal species that are the product of millenia’s selection and evolution for the pleasure of the kill. And we destroy each other in a frenzy of bullets, bombs, hatred, bigotry and greed.

Romanesque crucifix Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Romanesque crucifix Santa Majestat, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet-et-Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

As individuals we believe ourselves peaceful and righteous, but somehow as a race we are possessed by a madness of blood-lust and destruction. We are so because in our little private worlds of peace and righteousness, we believe others are evil and mad. Demagogues have long been skilled at using our divisiveness for their own power. This is true the world over and has been now and forever.

We know this because our poets have remarked on it for the last two thousand five hundred years. In his tragedy Antigone, Sophocles quoted a proverb, Quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat primus (Whom Jupiter would destroy he first drives mad). In the second century of the Christian era, Ahtenagoras of Athens wrote, At dæmon, homini quum struit aliquid malum, Pervertit illi primitus mentem suam (“The devil when he purports any evil against man, first perverts his mind.”)

Abbaye Saint Pierre de Beaumont, Beaumont (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Abbaye Saint Pierre de Beaumont, Beaumont (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the 5th century, the Sanscrit poet Bhartṛhari wrote,

Nor do the gods appear in warrior’s armour clad
To strike them down with sword and spear
Those whom they would destroy
They first make mad.

Quoted in John Brough, Poems from the Sanskrit, (1968), p, 67

Fresco with cruciifix Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Fresco with cruciifix Basilique Notre Dame, Paray-le-Monial (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Is the madness that surrounds us a sign that we being destroyed, or that we are simply destroying ourselves? Is there a reason that we stand at the precipice of disrupting the careful balance of nature that nurtures life as we know it? We must ask the question, because there is a difference between the madness that we see today and that which preceded. Today the madness destroys not just men, but more apocalyptically, it threatens to obliterate a world.

Gothic painted cross, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

Gothic painted cross, Chapelle de la Trinité, Prunet- et- Belpuig (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

There is a peculiar sculpted form of the crucifixion of Christ, known as the Improperia or the “outrages to Christ”. The implements of the pain inflicted on Jesus are attached to the crucifix. What would constitute the improperia to the body of humanity – torture, murder, war, sectarian politics, demagoguery, starvation, and greed? The implements of pain would be so numerous that we could not even see the wracked body beneath.

Improperia Crucifix, Cathedrale Sainte Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie, Elne (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Improperia Crucifix, Cathedrale Sainte Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie, Elne (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

We can only hope that this suffering and madness eventually will yield a purpose and a meaning, that it is not hollow and purposeless. But try as I might, all I can hear is the echo of the words of William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming”.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I long for our churches in France where PJ and I can sit quietly together, contemplating a monument to the higher purposes of our species.

The Hidden Presence – Saint Martin d’Artonne (Dennis Aubrey)


We have stated the intent of Via Lucis Photography to digitally document the Romanesque churches while trying to capture the hidden presence of medieval spirituality. PJ and I often discuss whether a church is “alive” or not. Sometimes that is a matter of an active religious life – churches like those of Thuret or Heume l’Eglise. Other times it is because of the efforts made to preserve a great monument, like Brioude or Fontenay.

But other times it is because there is a certain animus in the church that can only be described as the hidden presence of the spirituality that motivated the builders. These artisans were not working to express a personal vision and they eschewed sentimentality and individualism. Instead, they were intent on describing in stone the mystery of the liturgy of their faith and religion.

Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

Artonne is a small town in the Puy-de-Dôme, just fifteen short miles due north of Clermont-Ferrand. The eleventh century church, the Église Saint Martin, is a collégiale, originally a collegiate church maintained by a group of secular priests living a communal life. Saint Martin is currently undergoing a very necessary restoration, as can be seen in this shot of the south side aisle.

Side aisle, Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

One can readily see the peeling plaster, mold and crumbling stonework that mark the 900 year age of the structure. The ambulatory is blocked off by chairs because parts of the vaulting are starting to fall off and pose a danger to visitors.

Ambulatory, Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

It is also possible to see the results of some pretty heavy-handed restoration that compromised the look of the church.

Poor restoration of the arch, north side aisle, Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But it is only necessary to look closely at the church to see that this was a special place with a special meaning to those who built it. Artonne has a population today of 770 souls and it is hard to imagine there being many more than this in the eleventh century when the Saint Martin d’Artonne was constructed. The church shows a loving care and attention to detail on the part of the builders that is almost inconceivable by today’s standards.

Nave, Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When the canons were sitting in their stalls in the chancel during services, they would have looked back through the nave at the western entrance of the church and seen the same things that we see today. They would have felt the sheltering hands of God as demonstrated in the great stones that raised their church, and they would have looked at the soaring arches of the ogive barrel vault and known that this church invited them to their Heaven and their Lord, to whom they dedicated their lives.

View of nave to the west, Église Saint Martin, Artonne (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Location: http://goo.gl/0fQDyP

La Pierre et Saint-Sernin de Toulouse (Dennis Aubrey) translated by Arnaud Sergent


This is a translation of “The Stone and Saint Sernin” by Arnaud Sergent.

Nous avons déjà beaucoup écrit sur les églises de pèlerinage le long du chemin de Compostelle : Conques, Vézelay, Le Puy, et bien d’autres. Cet article va parler de la superbe basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse, et du rôle qu’elle a joué dans l’unification de la France.

Les dates de construction de la basilique ne sont pas complètement claires, mais il semblerait que les travaux aient commencé vers l’an mille. Le chœur fut consacré en 1096 et l’église dédiée au premier évêque et martyr de la ville Saint-Saturnin (pas la suite déformé en Sernin). Saint-Sernin est une des églises de pèlerinage les plus remarquables et très possiblement fut le modèle pour la Cathédrale de Santiago de Compostelle. Elle a en effet les mêmes doubles bas-côtés et un déambulatoire avec des chapelles radiales.

Nave, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nef, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de Dennis Aubrey

Cette basilique a également joué un rôle, certes mineur, mais important dans l’unification de la France. Lors de la croisade des Albigeois, les « croisés » menés par Simon de Montfort affrontèrent Le Comte de Toulouse Raymond VI, allié de Pedro II d’Aragon.

Jusqu’à ce jour, le nom de Simon de Montfort continue de déchainer les passions, enthousiasme comme haine. Personne ne conteste sa morale exemplaire et le fait que ses troupes l’adoraient. Regardé comme un instrument des Cieux et de la justice divine au sommet de la Chrétienté, le pillage brutal du Midi lui a attiré la haine tenace de ses victimes, que leurs descendants ont conservé jusqu’à nos jours. Montfort était un grand leader militaire et a battu Pedro et Raymond de façon décisive à la bataille de Muret en septembre 1213. Pedro fut tué mais Raymond continua la lutte et Toulouse, la capitale de l’ancien royaume Wisigoth fut successivement occupée par chaque camp, souffrant énormément à chaque fois. En 1215, Raymond profita de l’absence de Montfort pour revenir et reprendre les rênes de la ville.”

Nave elevation, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Elévation de la nef, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de Dennis Aubrey

Montfort revint immédiatement et assiégea la ville. Le 25 juin 1218 vit le retour de la bonne fortune des toulousains. Sortant de la messe à Saint-Sernin ( ?), dans une église encore incomplète suite aux ravages de la guerre, Montfort fut tué par une pierre lancé depuis le toit de l’église par un mangonneau devant les remparts de la ville. La légende prétend qua la pierre fut lancée par donas e tozas e mulhers (dames, filles et femmes).

Side aisle, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Bas-côté, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de Dennis Aubrey

La mort de Montfort changea le caractère de la croisade. Son fils Amaury de Montfort fut incapable de conserver les terres conquises par son père et renonça à tous ses droits sur l’Occitanie en faveur de la Couronne. A partir de là, la lutte devint politique. Blanche de Castille, régente de son fils Louis IX résolut le problème avec le traité de Paris-Meaux en 1229. La fille unique de Raymond VII, Jeanne de Toulouse se maria à Alphonse de France, comte de Poitiers en 1234 dans le cadre du traité. Les termes du traité stipulaient que si le couple décédait sans enfants, le Languedoc reviendrait à la couronne de France.

Alphonse et Jeanne moururent tous deux lors de leur retour de la huitième croisade de Louis IX, où le roi mourut également, et les Capétiens héritèrent alors de la Province de Languedoc comme domaine du royaume de France.

Side aisle, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Bas-côté, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de PJ McKey

Il est intéressant de constater que juste quelques années avant la mort de Montfort, Philippe Auguste emporta une bataille importante à Bouvines (27 juillet 1214) contre les anglais, les flamands, et les troupes impériales germaniques assemblés contre lui. Cette bataille mit fin à l’empire Plantagenêt sur le continent et amena l’Anjou, le Maine, la Bretagne, la Normandie et la Touraine dans le royaume de France. Cette bataille eut également un effet curieux sur l’Angleterre elle-même_ l’année suivante, les barons anglais forcèrent le roi Jean à signer la Magna Carta.

Dans le cours de quelques décennies, les possessions de la monarchie Capétienne s’accrurent du domaine royal autour de l’ile de France à un territoire beaucoup plus proche de la France actuelle.

Map of the Capetian kingdom expanded during the reign of Philippe Augustus (Source Wikipedia.fr; GNU Free Documentation License.)

Carte de l’extension du royaume Capétien sous le règne de Philippe-Auguste (Source Wikipedia.fr; GNU Free Documentation License.)

De nos jours, la grande basilique toulousaine ne conserve plus de trace des terribles guerres qui achevèrent le mouvement cathare dans les terres de langue d’oc. Saint-Sernin, à la voûte en berceau, est un superbe monument symbolisant les aspirations plus paisibles de nos ancêtres.

Ambulatory, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Déambulatoire, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de PJ McKey

Saint-Sernin est connue pour sa superbe brique rose et ses magnifiques sculptures qui parent l’église. De nombreux chapiteaux coiffent les colonnes, un tympan décore l’entrée, et de remarquables sculptures romanes se trouvent le long du déambulatoire.

Altar detail, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Détail de l’autel, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de PJ McKey

Ces plaques sculptées, construites dans le déambulatoire, sont taillées dans le marbre. Le Christ en majesté est le plus fameux, et date du début du 12ème.

Christ in mandorla, ambulatory Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Christ en Majesté, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de Dennis Aubrey

Le tympan de la porte de Miègeville date de la première ou deuxième décennie du 12ème siècle et a été influencé par les bas-reliefs de sarcophages chrétiens primitifs. Cette Ascension marque le début du renouveau de la sculpture médiévale monumentale. A peine une génération après son apparition à Saint-Sernin, chaque grande cathédrale et abbaye en France seront ornées de ces compositions sculpturales.

Miègeville portal tympanum, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Le tympan de la porte de Miègeville, Basilique Saint Sernin, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) Photo de Dennis Aubrey

Aujourd’hui, l’occitan est redevenu à la mode (on peut le voir sur les panneaux et l’entendre sur les marchés). Mon père se souviens avec plaisir d’un collègue s’exclamant enthousiaste “on parle la meilleure franchese en Toulousa”. Et Simon de Montfort est toujours honni.
Mais personne n’aurait pu prédire les extraordinaires conséquences de l’acte de guerre d’un groupe de femmes et enfants un jour de juin 1218. La pierre qui a écrasé le crâne du leader de la croisade a pavé la voie pour le passage de l’antique royaume de Toulouse dans les mains du détesté roi de France.
Coordonnées GPS : 43.608489° 1.442185°

En tant que toulousain, cette histoire est effectivement étonnement présente dans notre mémoire collective. Par contre, on m’a toujours raconté que la pierre fatale fut lancée depuis les remparts de la ville, et non depuis Saint-Sernin. C’est d’ailleurs à l’emplacement de remparts que se situe aujourd’hui la plaque commémorative de l’événement (voir photo plus bas).

Simon de Montfort est effectivement l’infâme envahisseur barbare venu de nord anéantir la plus grande civilisation occidentale du moyen-âge qui était sur le point (avec l’alliance entre la Comté de Toulouse et le Royaume d’Aragon) de constituer une entité très puissante, et à la culture florissante. Pensez simplement aux troubadours de Langue d’Oc et à l’académie des jeux floraux. Je me souviens parfaitement venir en CM1 avec mon institutrice en « pèlerinage » au pied de la plaque commémorant la mort de l’infâme pour nous féliciter que même notre indépendance perdu, au moins Simon de Montfort avait été tué par les occitans.

Plaque commémorant la mort de Simon de Montfort au 35 allées Jules Guesde à Toulouse – photo internet

Plaque commémorant la mort de Simon de Montfort au 35 allées Jules Guesde à Toulouse – photo internet

Ceci dit, l’école de la troisième république a beaucoup plus fait pour définitivement tuer l’occitan que Simon de Montfort. Le revival auquel fait allusion Dennis dans son texte est avant tout folklorique et patrimonial. C’est certes mieux que rien, mais l’usage courant de la langue, encore courant à l’époque de mes grands-parents a bel et bien disparu. Reste une ville et une région superbe symbole d’une civilisation riante et raffinée qui a illuminé 2 siècles du Moyen-Age.

Arnaud Sergent

Two Brothers in Chauvigny (Dennis Aubrey)


This post is not about my brother David and our adventures in the Poitevin town of Chauvigny where we grew up. Instead it is a tale of two monks, both sculptors, who worked in the medieval churches of Chauvigny. One, Gofridus, is justly famous for his work at the Collégiale Saint Pierre at the top of the hill that dominates the town. The other, Harduinus, was less known for his work in the church of the lower town, Notre Dame de Chauvigny. Visitors streamed up the hill to see Gofridus’ creations while Notre Dame remained quiet and empty. It seems that Harduinus saw fit to complain to his abbot Imbertus about the reception to his sculptural work.

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“I don’t understand it,” Harduinis complained. “My work is so much better than his. My forms are more realistic, my carving is better, yet everyone flocks to see Gofridus’ work and mine is here unseen.” Imbertus nodded tolerantly as the young monk charged on. “You have assured me that my work is pleasing to the Lord. My wild beasts are as realistic as it is possible to be. Brother Mainardus of Lusignan went to the Crusades with his Lord Guy, and said that when he saw my beasts, he jumped backwards, fearing that they would leap from the stone and tear at his flesh, just as he saw them do in the Holy Land.”

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Yes, my son, your beasts are fearsome indeed.”

“Far more fearsome than those beasts that Gofridus has carved, even if they are tearing at the flesh of humans. They aren’t fearful, they’re comical!

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“And my birds, aren’t my birds more perfect, more beautiful. Gofridus’ birds are silly, eating human flesh. Birds eat seeds, insects and grains, not people.”

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Didn’t you say that my birds were so real that they are like those created by God on the fifth day when he said ‘let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.'”

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Église Notre Dame de Chauvigny, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“Be careful, my son. Do not compare yourself to the Lord and His creation. Your creations are more modest.”

“Modest? Gofridus is modest? Did you seen that he actually inscribed his own name on one of his capitals!!! ‘Gofridus me fecit!’ On the capital depicting the Visit of the Magi, center on the altar, visible to all.”

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“I understand your confusion, my son. What would you have me say?”

“Tell me, Father Abbot, why does the world flock to Gofridus’ sculptures while mine remain unseen just a short distance away?”

Imbertus rested his hand on the shoulder of his young monk. “That which pleaseth the Lord does not necessarily please the soul of man.” And this lesson sank into Hardunius’ heart and he himself began to find the beauty of Gofridus’ visions.