Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Contemplations -- a French Abbaye



It's Sunday -- a good day to visit a church in Vertheuil en Médoc, France

Bright, sunny May outside it was, when we visited, a high noonday sun on a Saturday morning, and the streets of this small town were quiet.
 We'd stopped to see if there was anywhere to stop for lunch, having found no one home at the vineyard up the road.

No luck finding an attractive cafe with a terrace in the sun either, but the doors of this lovely church were open, the parishioners all out, an affiche indicated, on a procession of several kilometres, honouring Mary.
 So we had the Abbaye all to ourselves, and we stepped into its cool dark interior, steeped with centuries of prayers and quiet contemplation -- most of it dated, apparently, from the 15th to 17th centuries, but it was built on 12th century foundations.
 In the dark, light becomes more precious, filtered through stained glass, and the gold paint on the wall emphasizes it further, reflecting it in flashes, hearhere a gleam, there a gleam . . .

And no matter how bored the 16th-century worshipper might have been with a sermon, kneeling uncomfortably for long periods, there would have been rewarding beauty all about to study, rich colours and agreeably regular patterns to delight. In days when even books were rare in most homes, centuries before radio or television, movies or the constant stimulation of the internet, what a compendium of aesthetic magnificence!
 To our 21st-century selves, of course, rather than a stimulation by colour and design, the palette seems muted, of a different visual register than that which shouts at us in malls, in magazines, on billboards. Organic, natural tones, splendid yet subtle.  The proportions, as well, seem reassuring even in their grandeur.
 And the smell. Old wood, a hint of dampness, stone, accumulated residues of incense's smoky perfume . . . .while the architecture vaults us upward, the elemental scents draw us to the earth. Placing us clearly here, human, poised between ground and heaven, confronting our reality and our aspirations.
 Glorious.
Whatever your religious beliefs, you might have faith that switching gears on a Sunday, slowing right down to contemplation mode, is a good thing.
May you find peace and quiet today, may you find peace in quiet.
Breathe . . .


13 comments:

  1. Lovely church, and I really enjoy your musings. You've visually captured the special light so well here, especially that second-to-last picture. We so enjoy poking around the old churches on our Europe visits. Even in the most ornate, a sense of history, serenity and spirituality still pervade. And YES, the smell! I can recall it now so well.

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    1. It's a wonderful bank of memories to draw from, isn't it!

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  2. After a week of house guests I am definitely looking for peace today. I think I'll head to my favorite bench at Rathtreaver.

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    1. Ah, so you're very close by! Haven't been to Rathrevor for years -- hope you had a lovely day there!

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  3. These photos are awesome. I can totally feel the damp feel, smell the ancient, incensey smell. I imagine this is a haven from a very hot, dry day outside. Totally love this post.

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    1. Exactly -- the temperature drops at least 5 or 6 degrees (Celsius, that is) at the threshold. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  4. Yes, even the atheists can find peace in churches, arches, and the remnants of gilding. Thank you.

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  5. As a practising Christian, any and every church should be a spiritual locus for me, I suppose. But I do feel differently in a very ancient one, which is deeply rooted in the rhythms of the immediate landscape. My dear friend is being buried in the churchyard of her parish church which was founded in 980 (that is not a typo, yes I do mean pre Norman Conquest!). The notion of 'eternal rest' is made tangible there. I often picnic with my children in churchyards here in England, a serene sense of verdant peace pervades the graves, which lie half hidden amongst cornflowers and poppies seeded from the near-by fields, swifts nest under the church eaves, the wind softly sighs through 500 year old yew trees. Inside the church the history of not just the village (and think how many births, marriages and deaths were solemnised therein over a millenia!) but a nation can be read - memorials to a vicar carried off by the Black Death in 1348, an adventurer who journeyed to the Americas in the 1600s, the Great Wars... Every musty interior is a treasure trove of multi-layered meaning and memories, no village parish church, however tiny, here in the UK has disappointed me yet.
    Hester.

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    1. I love the picture you paint of the type of churchyard your friend is buried in -- I've also enjoyed visiting churchyards, but none so verdant and open. And I appreciate your reminder that not just eons of spiritual life but also a long record of everyday joys and vicissitudes are held in the air of these ancient churches. Thanks for another thoughtful comment.

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  6. i love the feeling of coolness in your photos, and the views of perspective. they would make some wonderful paintings

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    1. I'd love the skill to turn some of my photos into paintings -- I'm planning to take more drawing and painting lessons, so perhaps that may happen someday . . .

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  7. I love these pictures. YOu seem to capture the feel and spirit of the place and it is very awe-inspiring. I can almost imagine it.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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