Fifth Day

Today was my final day in Aulnay. It was sad to leave my host family. They were so kind and generous, and I know that my time here could not have been the same without them. I took a final trip to Saint Pierre this morning. My next semester will be consumed with research and writing about the church, and it was strange to know it was the last time I would see it in person. My host family gave me a tour around the farms in their town, and then I drove off to Poitiers.

Navigating by myself was difficult after having such helpful French guides. I drove around Poitiers for an hour longer than I needed to when I attempted to find my hotel. Once I figured out the parking garage, everything went smoothly. I checked into my hotel and walked around the city. I stopped by Poitiers Cathedral. It’s a grand church built between the years 1162 and 1379. As a result, the cathedral has elements of Gothic and Romanesque styles. The cathedral is primarily Gothic however, so it does not have much relevance to my project.

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I spent most of the remainder of the evening in my hotel resting and catching up on blogging because I spent so much time driving during the day. At 10 pm however, I left to see Notre Dame la Grande again. In the evenings during the summer, they project lights onto the cathedral to show what the church may have looked like when it was painted in medieval times. They keep the lights on for a little over an hour. No one can be sure which pigments were used in different parts of the church, so as the hour passes the colors change to show other ways it may have been painted. Unfortunately my camera did not quite capture how spectacular this event is, so I am posting a picture from the tourism website.

Tomorrow is another day of medieval sites. I may go by the Musée Saint-Croix as well. I could never tire of seeing this much art all the time, and I never want it to stop!

Fourth Day

In the mayor's conference room, an old illustration of Saint Pierre

In the mayor’s conference room, an old illustration of Saint Pierre

Today was my final full day in the town of Aulnay. My host family took me to their local market in the morning. Stéphane had work to do in the town, and I was able to look at older maps and illustrations of Saint Pierre that are kept in the town hall. While Stéphane worked, his daughter Isaure and his friend Julien took me to the medieval tower next door. The tower was once a medieval dungeon, but it is now used as a sort of museum for the artifacts found in Roman camps in the area. There was a lot of information on both the medieval dungeon and the Roman camps in the tower.

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Isaure and I then walked to the Aulnay gardens. Everyone who lives in Aulnay knows the history behind each part of the town. At the gardens we saw the old wash stations where women would bring their clothes to the river. With Isaure I was also able to practice my French more. I have been speaking more each day I’m here, but I had more isolated time with Isaure and she helped me with my pronunciation.

The Town Garden

The Town Garden

Later in the afternoon, Marcelle and I drove to more medieval churches. We first went to the small town of Nuailles-sur-Boutonne. The church in Nuailles was interesting because it had a medieval sarcophagus inserted into the facade. Many medieval sarcophagi were placed near churches or in the foundation because people thought they could be closer to heaven when they died. I have never seen one that juts out from the facade the same way the one at Nuailles does. The sculpture on the church was more detailed than most of the other small churches. The detail of the sculpture’s drapery indicates that they were sculpted after Saint Pierre, so I may not use the church for comparison in my work, but it was beautiful to see.

The Sarcophagus

The Sarcophagus

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We then drove to Melle. The city is an art and culture center, and there were numerous art exhibits. We visited three medieval churches in the town: Saint Savenien, Saint Pierre, and Saint Hilaire. When we arrived at the Saint Savenien we were surprised to see the pews and other typical decorations were removed for two large contemporary art pieces. The piece on the floor was made of salt and the one on the wall was created by burning gel. I don’t know how I feel about putting contemporary art in medieval churches. Although I liked both pieces, I didn’t like that they were covering areas of the church I wanted to research. This type of exhibition has taken place all over France, but I think it takes something away from the experience of both the medieval and contemporary work.

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Later in the evening Marcelle and I returned to the house. They had friends coming over for dinner. I helped them prepare the meal and learned a few new recipes. While their children cleaned, Marcelle and Stéphane helped me complete more research. The two have access to French university databases and helped me find more recent information published on Saint Pierre and other French Romanesque churches. Many of the resources I have been using are from 1970-1995. While these sources are still relevant, I may not have known what work French art historians and archeologists have completed recently without the help of Marcelle and Stéphane.

Tomorrow will be difficult and exciting. I will be leaving this family that has helped me in so many ways, but I will be leaving so I can return to Poitiers and spend more time exploring medieval sites on my own. Without Marcelle as my navigator, we’ll see how this goes!

 

 

Third Day

Today I learned more than I thought was possible in one day. I woke up early with Marcelle, and we left at 7 am on a medieval site road trip. We began by traveling to Surgères to see what she called “Aulnay’s sister church”. The church had a large, ornately carved facade, that is similar to others in the region.

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Notre Dame de Surgères

The church was in the process of being restored, and it was interesting to see the construction along the apse. Unfortunately, the interior of the church was closed, so I only had the sculptures of the façade for comparison to Aulnay. I was also able to see the site of the previous medieval castle. The building has since changed, but it was interesting to see its proximity to the church.

After Surgères we returned to Aulnay. On our way, we stopped at a few other smaller churches. At Aulnay, I was able to climb to the bell tower of Saint Pierre. I am fortun

ate enough to stay with the Minister of Culture, and he holds to keys to all of the churches and all of their doors. We also climbed the towers of Saint Pierre’s facade, but there were too many pigeons flying and occasionally landing on our heads.

 

The small space we crawled through after climbing the stairs of the tower

The small space we crawled through after climbing the stairs of the tower

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One of the bells at Saint Pierre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then drove to two other churches close to Aulnay. One of the earlier churches, Eglise Saint-Brice of Saint Mande Sur Bredoire, had one sculpted portal that had many similar images to Aulnay. The portal on the facade was covered over, and a house was built next to the church along the north, but the south portal was in fairly good condition. The figures, such as images of sirens, are more simplistic stylistically than Aulnay. The smaller church likely had less money and was sculpted earlier than Saint Pierre, which accounts for the stylistic simplicity.

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Eglise Saint-Brice of Saint Mande Sur Bredoire

South Portal

South Portal

We took a break to have lunch, but soon after we were on the road again headed towards Saintes. The churches were beautiful, but there were fewer similarities to Saint Pierre d’Aulnay. Here are a few of the pictures from the two churches we visited.

Capitals in the Interior of Saint Eutrope in Saintes

Capitals in the Interior of Saint Eutrope in Saintes

The Gothic Tower at Saint Eutrope

The Gothic Tower at Saint Eutrope

The combination of the old Romanesque church and the newer Gothic construction at Saint Eutrope

The combination of the old Romanesque church and the newer Gothic construction at Saint Eutrope

Ancient Roman Theater in Saintes

Ancient Roman Theater in Saintes

L'abbaye aux Dames in Saintes

L’abbaye aux Dames in Saintes

West Facade at L'abbaye aux Dames

West Facade at L’abbaye aux Dames

After Saintes we left for the small town of Fenioux. On our way, we happened upon another small, medieval church in a town named Annepont. It is not a church that I will use for comparison to Saint Pierre, but it was a nice surprise find.

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We then drove to Fenioux. It is a very small town, but the church is large and fairly ornate. Marcelle likes to describe the church of Fenioux as “one church for one person”.

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Lanterns, such as the one at Fenioux, were used to mark cemetaries

Lanterns, such as the one at Fenioux, were used to mark cemeteries

The day ended with a dinner in a medieval house. Two friends of the Chedouteaud’s bought the home and renovated it. The entire house was a “Cabinet of Curiosities”. They had antiques from as far back as the 14th century. Philippe is a history teacher and his wife Anne is a doctor. Both are passionate about history and antiquing. We talked about museums and the difference between French and American art museums. It has been so helpful to be around people who care about art and history, and who are open to discussing it. It was an art filled day, and the “Cabinet of Curiosities” was the perfect way to end it.

 

 

 

 

Second Day

Notre-Dame-la-Grande

Notre-Dame-la-Grande

It is the end of my first full day of research, and I already feel as though I don’t have enough time here. There is so much history and art to see, that I don’t know how I’ll be able to fit it all in to six more days. I began my day in Poitiers, and before I left for Aulnay de Saintonge, I had to see the famous Notre-Dame-la-Grande. It was more spectacular in person than I could have imagined. Numerous sculptures adorn the façade, and I spent most of the early afternoon attempting to photograph each image. The interior is painted, but the it was painted in the nineteenth century. The church plan is located just inside the church, and it outlines which areas are 12th century and which are newer construction. Having the plan was helpful, and I will share some of the photos from the 12th century areas later.

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After I had lunch in Poitiers, I made my way to Aulnay de Saintonge. I am staying with a family in the small town, and Stéphane Chedouteaud, the father, was there to greet me when I arrived. He is the Minister of Culture for Aulnay and is passionate about all things history. Before I did anything else, he gave me a tour of Saint Pierre de la Tour. After researching this church for months, it was rewarding to see it in person. Once we had seen the church, I followed M. Chedouteaud to the house. I then met his wife Marcelle, and his two children. We had tea, and M. Chedouteaud left for a meeting. Marcelle then took me back to Saint Pierre, and she gave me another tour of the church. I met the local tour guides and heard many local legends about the church. It is interesting to compare the research I’ve done reading German and French authors with the local opinions and stories. Marcelle used to be an archeologist, and she specialized in antiquity, so after our tour of Saint Pierre, she showed me ancient Roman camps and places of sacrifice. I came here to learn about Saint Pierre d’Aulnay, and I have already learned so much more.

This evening I had dinner with the family, and we planned tomorrow’s travels. Marcelle will drive me to the other churches in Aulnay, a church in Surgères, the churches of Saintes, and other small towns with Romanesque sculptures. We are going to see so much in one day, I can hardly wait.

The End of the First Day

I am sitting in my hotel at the end of my first day in Europe. After arriving in London around 6 am, and continuing to travel through Europe until almost 10 pm, it has been a long and exhausting day of travel. Traveling for long periods of time can be tiring, but it has allowed me more time to anticipate the exciting journey ahead. Although I was in planes, trains, and taxis for the majority of my day, I was able to look out windows at the beautiful landscape and architecture throughout France and remember how fortunate I am to be in this place. Knowing that tomorrow I will spend the morning at Notre Dame la Grande, and then drive to Aulnay de Saintonge and begin my real research, today’s journey was well worth it.

Once I have begun my research on Saint Pierre, I will be able to write more about my progress and post some pictures. A bientôt!

 

Beginning the Journey

With this blog, I hope to keep track of my travels and research as I begin working on my individual study for the Fall 2013 semester. For my project, I am researching the medieval church Saint Pierre de la Tour in Aulnay de Saintonge. Thanks to UMW, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant and see the church in person. Although I completed preliminary work for the project, I cannot wait to see what directions my research takes once I am abroad.

I am now in the Heathrow Airport in London at the beginning of my travels. In a few short hours I will be on a plane to Paris. From Paris I will take a train to Poitiers. By August 6th, I will be in Aulnay de Saintonge. This will be my first time in central and  southwestern France, and my first time traveling alone abroad, so I hope to make the most of the experience.

For those working in art history, it is important to see the objects of our research in person. Digital images of paintings, sculpture, and architecture are readily available with today’s technology. Anyone interested in art may benefit from the increased availability; however, nothing compares to viewing a work for oneself. For my project I am researching the meanings of Saint Pierre de la Tour’s sculpture and how together they may form an overarching sculptural program. With the opportunity to view the church in person, I hope to better understand the scale and placement of the sculptures, and as a result I will have a more complete analysis of Saint Pierre de la Tour.