Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Beaujolais

The Beaujolais is outside France well known for its wines, in particular for its Beaujolais Nouveau which is promoted abroad each year with vigour.

Double identity
Beaujolais is also well known in France, however, I think that many Frenchmen will associate the Beaujolais area first with the book Clochemerle, and only in second instance with the wine region. Clochemerle is the title of a book by Gabriel Chevallier set in the fictive village of the same name in the Beaujolais. But is it really fictive?
Rumour has it that Chevallier had modelled Clochemerle after the real village Vaux-en-Beaujolais. He not only used the lay-out of the village, but he also used the characters of some of the villagers. Another rumour had it that in some cases he did not even bother to change the names of the villagers!

Urinal with trompe l'oeil in the background
Since I have read the book (with pleasure) at least 3 times, in English, Dutch and French, it seemed like a good idea to combine a visit to some Romanesque churches in the area with a pilgrimage to Vaux-en-Beaujolais. On entering the village it becomes very clear that the rumours are not really rumours. This impression was reinforced when we saw the village square. In the middle of it a public urinal had been erected as an homage to Chevallier, similar to the one that played a main role in the book and the building of which split the village into two camps. Overlooking the square stands a building on which a trompe l'oeil has been painted showing scenes from the book.

The fine bell tower of Vaux-en-Beaaujolais
In a word, Vaux-en-Beaujolais ís Clochemerle, and obviously the village does not mind to use the similarity between the two villages to attract some tourists.
Although this blog is more about reality and fiction than about Romanesque architecture (which should be the subject of the blogs), even in Vaux-en-Beaujolais one can find traces of the Romanesque period. The local church has a fine bell tower, an interesting portal that gives the impression to have been re-employed when the facade was renewed and two (not very common in this area) passages berrichons.

A re-employed portal?
During our round trip we also visited Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins, Salles-Arbuissonnas-en-Beaujolais and Belleville.
Certainly the last village boasts a beautiful church, not in the least because of the stunning sculpted columns.
The semicircular engaged columns adorning the nave appeared to have, halfway between the column base and the capital, strange reliefs, showing human or animal figures. The apse also has some beautifully carved pilasters.

View on choir, apse and passages berrichons
For a detailed map showing some of the churches in the Beaujolais, click here.

Even though we did not drink one sip of local wine during our trip, this particular visit appeared to leave an excellent impression of the area.
The Beaujolais lies at less than an hour's drive from La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Old, older, ancient

This spring the population of Cluny and other people interested were given the opportunity to have a look at the most recent discoveries in Cluny's former abbey church. A huge team of archaeologists works there, day in day out, year in, year out, discovering more and more of the remains of Cluny III, this immense building demolished around the year 1800.

Grand portail - Musée Ochier Cluny
Although not part of this year's tour, trying to fit together the tiny bits and pieces left over from the "Grand Portail" was one of the chores of previous years. This portail was one of the highlights of Romanesque architecture and sculpture, until an explosion blew the portail to smithereens in 1810. Whatever has been saved and could be located can now be admired in the Musée Ochier in Cluny.

This year's tour emphasized heavily on the discovery and restoration of the lavabo (a covered area with hand wash basins in use by the monks - they utilized them before a service), and of the pedestal of the altar of Cluny II, the predecessor of its much bigger sister Cluny III.

Petit cloître - Ensam Cluny
The picture shows a corridor, known as the "petit cloître". This is the former 18th century chapter house, at the side of which a number of columns of the medieval chapter house were found (the recesses on the right hand side). Behind the low gate lies the sanctuary of Cluny II.

This sanctuary once possessed some relics of the apostles Peter and Paul, of whom the church carried the names. The remains of these apostles, who play a major role in the perception of the Roman-Catholics, is the reason why Cluny became a very important place of pilgrimage.

Sanctuaire Cluny II
The conductor of the tour, the administrateur or head of the archaeologists, put quite a bit of emphasis on the friction that exists between the National Monument Body on one hand and the town council of Cluny, the Haras (National Stud) and the Ensam (a very prestigious university) on the other hand, and how the skirmishes between those parties are solved by giving and taking a little. Each of those bodies either owns or uses a certain part of the area occupied by Cluny III. If only North Korea and the USA could follow their example....

Lavabo - Cluny