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

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