July 28, 2010 Chenonceaux, France

Mary writes-

Knowing that we had seen enough of the excesses of the 16th century ruling class, today we go in search of medieval churches. We also know that the chances of their being crowds at the churches we want to see are very, very slim. With our trusty Dorling Kindersley guide in hand, we know we can see several churches all within a small radius. Unfortunately as we program TomTom, he has no idea what we are seeking. No problem, we just set him for the centers of the towns where the churches are supposed to be.

As we approach the first town, I notice an old looking church. We pull in and yes! it’s the first church on our list and there is nobody except us visiting.


Eglise St. Martin
Eglise St. Martin

Parts of the Eglise St. Martin are from the 11th century, right up our alley. The church is built in the Romanesque style and has a square tower. Inside are fragments of frescoes. One is about St. Nicholas and the three boys he saved. The frescoes are pretty much red and yellow which is really the original cartoon outline. Time and the process of recovery has removed much of the original colors. I imagine what this little church must have looked like with its brightly colored frescoes filling the walls and ceiling. What a miraculous place it must have been for the simple folk who lived here.

Jolly really old St. Nicholas
Jolly really old St. Nicholas

Our appetites are whetted now to see more of this early art. Not too far away, once again by luck, we find the 12th century church, St. Jacques-des-Guerets. Once again we are the only people visiting.

St. Jacques-des-Guerets
St. Jacques-des-Guerets

Wow, there are way more frescoes here – Christ in Majesty (many of the Christs we see are in mandorla, kind of an oval womb type thing), the Last Supper, the resurrection of the dead, and many more. The colors are brighter here too.

Early Last Supper
Early Last Supper

We are feeling pretty smug at our ability to find these churches. But you know they say, pride goeth before a fall. Our next quarry is the chapel of St. Gilles in Montoire. We find Montoire and even find the alleyway leading down to the chapel. But how to get there? I suggest John drive down this tiny alley which turns out to have no exit. He backs a ways out and then tries a K-turn. Oh uh, he scrapes something. This could add a great deal of expense to our vacation. Finally we find a parking space and get out to walk to the chapel and also to see what damage has been done. It’s divine providence! The scrape has left almost no damage just a little paint that can be wiped off!

So out of the car and down the alley to the chapel. No luck. It’s locked. But there’s a sign (in French) saying that if we go to the Cafe de la Paix they have the key. This reminds us of a chapel we once got into in Germany to see a Riemanschneider carving. You had to go the nearby package store and get the key. Since we don’t want to appear rude, we also have lunch.

St. Gilles
St. Gilles

Armed with medieval-looking keys we go back to the chapel. Dedicated to St. Gilles in the 12th century, it is tiny. It has three Christs in mandorlas. The drapery of Christ’s clothing is very pleated in the V’s you see in the paintings of this time. Also there is some anatomical detail on the surface of the skin. Italian paintings and frescoes from the 12th and 13th century are the same. There’s an interesting Christ with his hands outstretched and the symbols for alpha and omega on either side.

I am the alpha and omega
“I am the alpha and omega”

Although we have a bunch more planned for today, it is getting on towards three o’clock and I am wearing down. All this cold medicine makes me tired. We decide to visit one more 12th century church, St. Genest in Lavardin. What, there’s other people here?! Yes, there were two other people looking at the church, obviously kindred spirits.

St. Genest in Lavardin
St. Genest in Lavardin

This church is very decorated. Most of the color is gone, though. I especially liked what looked like a conga line to hell. The artist made a point of showing that kings go to hell too.

We’ve enjoyed our time in Chenonceaux. The Abbaye du Fontevraud, wine tasting, the Chateau of Chenonceau, French dining and the medieval churches were all worth our while. Tomorrow, on to Beaune!

Conga line to Hell
Conga line to Hell

July 27, 2010 Chenonceaux




Bon Labourer gardens

Originally uploaded by marymompics

John writes – We set out to see the Chateau of Chenonceau, just about a kilometer away from our hotel here in Chenonceaux. Note that the chateau’s name has the singular form, while the town appears to be a plural. We are given to understand that this is deliberate, to emphasize the uniqueness of the chateau, perhaps?

Just before getting into the car, we notice that just beyond the parking lot is a beautiful flower, herb and vegetable garden. Perhaps some of these are ingredients used in the restaurant.




Chateau Chenonceau

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Just ahead of us is a tour bus from Romania. Perhaps not such a good omen. We park the car, buy our tickets from an incredibly confusing ticket machine (rivaling BART for all you Bay Area folks out there), and walk down a beautiful tree-lined path to the chateau and gardens. A lot of other people seem to have same idea. As it stands today, the chateau spans the Cher River, a tributary of the Loire. Initially, though, it was a smaller but nonetheless grand residence of the royal chancellor, Thomas Bohier.




The river Cher

Originally uploaded by marymompics

To improve his standing with the crown, Bohier deeded the chateau to King Henry II of France, who, although married to Catherine de Medici, gave the house to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers in 1547. She was the one who extended the chateau by building a bridge to the other bank of the Cher.




Catherine de Medici

Originally uploaded by marymompics

On Henry’s death in 1559, Catherine forced Diane to swap houses. Catherine then went about running the country as Regent for her son Francois II and imposing her mark on Chenonceau. One can almost feel the battle of wills between Catherine and Diane in every aspect of the house and grounds.




The gallery

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Catherine built a huge gallery atop Diane’s bridge. Catherine’s monogram is placed to obscure Diane’s in many of the rooms. Both were apparently remarkable women (as opposed to Henry II, who seemed pretty random to me).




Boar-ed with dinner?

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Got to hand it to Catherine. Although an incredibly wealthy Italian, she was still a commoner. Snagging the future King of France was quite a catch, although of course arranged. Furthermore, she brought a great deal of Renaissance Italian culture to France, including teaching the French to cook! In viewing the kitchens of Chenonceau, we imagine the introduction of the first Nouvelle Cuisine, including exciting ingredients from the New World.

Did I say that there were a lot of people? Did I mention that it was hot? It was difficult to keep up with the comprehensive audio guide, what with the Avogadro number of tourists crowding the passages between rooms. But the furnishings and decor are interesting, the history is welcome, and the personalities of the women (not just Diane and Catherine) who owned the chateau are compelling.

We come away with the feeling that the French monarchy was even more of a soap opera than the English crown (which we encountered yesterday at Fontevraud)