Sunday, March 9, 2014

Addenda: St. Jean-Baptiste and Iron flowers.

1. RE: The Vandals of Toulouse

Last week I was at the Église St. Jean-Baptiste in Ondes.  This week it was the 14th-century Église St. Jean-Baptiste in Le Burgaud.  For a guy with no head, John the Baptist gets around.

I happened to be sipping a Trappist ale and looking at the church yesterday, the form of the clock-tower and it's roof coming together in my mind as an obelisk.

I turned to my friend P---- and mentioned the common LoS speculation that church architecture featuring two bell-towers flanking the facade has its roots nourished in the black soil of the Nile Valley.

For an idea of what the Egyptian precedent looked like, check out the image these model makers have, an Egyptian temple entrance on a page for a model called, oddly enough, Temple Entrance (made from mold #98, or so we're informed in sentence one).

The description of the model states, almost in a severe tone it seems to me:

"You will need to cast mold #98 eight times to build the entrance shown here."

Which sounds more like witchcraft ritual than model building.

This picture of the obelisks at Luxor isn't actually the best image with which to make my case, as only one obelisk is pictured.  But the base is still there and we can see where it was located.

This was in my mind as I walked to the church and reflected on what I knew about the history of the village.  Not much.  The Knights Templar had a commandery here and there was a leper colony of sorts, but that's about it.  Even that info was flawed; turns out it was the Hospitallers and I still have no idea where they penned up the lepers.

The obelisk of the bell-tower, alas, was not the ferpect mefathor, as there was only one, The tower is primarily a functional feature of the structure; to hold the clock, of course, but also to make space for the stairs.

If you're not too familiar with the architecture of the Midi, I'm sure that even from afar the thin wall rising up from the facade tickled yer elmo.  This is a clocher-mur ["bell-wall"], or bell gable.

The odd thing thing is that at either side of the base of the pointy isosceles triangle that forms a sort of pediment of the clocher-mur, there are two clear-as-day make-no-mistake-about-it obelisks.  Stumpy, but clearly defined.  A search of Google images France for "mur-clocher Toulousain" has a few other examples where these horn-like obelisks pop up.

French Wickerpodiologe has a section dedicated to the bell gables of the Midi.  No less a personage than Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), popular architect and General Inspector of Diocesan Buildings--churches in other words--noted the use of brick in their construction in his influential architectural dictionary.  Wicketsnoodle suggests that the use of brick accounts for the exceptional development of the bell gable in the Midi.  Makes sense.  Brick is lighter, cheaper, easier to work with, faster and more flexible than working with cut stone. 

The commander of the Hospitallers here lived in a house attached to the church, itself  a part of the town's ramparts.  This accounts for the presence of arrow slits in its walls.  It was the Hospitallers, in fact, who ordered the church built.  I assume their presence here was due to Le Burgaud being a stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela, but the surrounding forest, the Aubets spring and high places were sacred places before their Christianization.

The sheer face of the wall, the small rose window, the massive brick piers that buttress the facade do give the church a somewhat fortified appearance, but the ramparts and city walls that once encircled the village are long gone, dismantled in more peaceful times to be cannibalized for the stone and bricks

The church is undergoing renovations, but one can still see the traces of a graffito that had been tagged on the church:  the anarchist symbol and the phrase "Un pays sans dieu."  A country without God.

On a side note, this Hospitaller church was built to replace a chapel dedicated to Saint Leonard of Noblac, a patron of prisoners.  He was invoked to secure freedom and even during his lifetime, attracted a lot of ex-cons to his abbey, many of whom stayed to work the land he provided for them.  Leonard was strongly associated with the road to Compostela, which probably accounts for the presence of a chapel here.  I wonder if his association with Compostela was bound up with is role as patron of prisoners; presumably criminals would be tempted to go to Compostela for the plenary indulgence offered to those who made it.  Wiping the slate clean of sin would have special appeal for them.

Leonard often was also invoked for assistance in childbirth; this and a special role for prisoners is interesting for those interested in the cult of the Virgin.  Despite having no record of any veneration or church dedications to Leonard since his death in the 6th century, his cult took off in the 11th, just as the cult of the Virgin was in full flower after the influence of St. Bernard.  Obviously, people had the same worries everywhere and the Virgin couldn't handle the caseload alone.  We've seen male saints take on attributes of the Virgin before (e.g. St. Fris).  The cults of many saints exploded at this time, globalized as it were, beyond being obscure local cults (e.g. St. Fris or Stes. Liberata and Quiteria), due to the passage of so many people through the south of France on the way to Compostela.  Of course, the influence of the Troubadours as transmitters and relaters of popular culture cannot be overestimated.

Speaking of culture, in the late-sixties a café was created in Le Burgaud that still exists today, a small beacon of culture in the cornfields featuring theater and music, often very avant-garde stuff which would be not so common even in Paris, let alone a one-Solex town in a poor farming area.  The original idea was to take young people in difficulty, often ex-cons, who would come to the healthier environment of the country and work and live at the café, assisting and performing in its productions.  Today it's more of a cultural association, but on some nights groups of young people from the inner city will be working in the café.  A fascinating continuity with Saint Leonard's project and the musical diffusion of his legend--the café has been a stop for numerous poor musicians, who play in exchange for a meal, a carafe of wine, a place to crash and gas money for the next tavern or music hall.  It reminds me of when I learned Toulouse had a reputation as a tolerant and cosmopolitan city, known for its large number of students and vagabonds, since the early middle ages.  This, too, is still true today.

For more about Le Burgaud, see:  Notre Dame des Aubets.

2. RE:  Aucamville Project 11: Mary on the Cross (redux)

Basically, this is just another example of a cemetery marker in wrought-iron, also typical of the Midi, with a floral motif.  We would suppose this plant metaphor refers to the death and resurrection of Christ, reborn like the plant world in Spring.  Jesus as vegetal god!

The details on some of these crosses show that the cross isn't being overrun by flora, but is itself a tree, possibility the Tree of Life....

The French often have a family tomb with a plaque for each member therein interred.  The grieving, instead of laying a new stone after each death, merely add the plaque and then leave small votive plaques, porcelain flowers, religious icons:  "Dearest Mother and Wife", "Our beloved Uncle", etc.  Thus the cemetery is a cluttered place.  France being France, the religious usually honor Toussaint by going to a special mass.  Everybody goes to the cemetery to lay flowers, but only chrysanthemums.  More restrained than Todos Santos, or Dia de los Muertos, and without the macabre joys of Halloween aka All Hallows Even.

OK, sorry for the beleaguered tone of this post; it's my second go-round after the fist version, longer than this, got sucked away into a Blogger bug black hole and I ended up working on this version until long after the midnight oil burned itself out.  Anyway, there are scores of bell gables in the region, I'll try to snap photos of the surrounding villages, almost all of which have a parish church like that at Le Burgaud.  I'll leave you with a photo of Aucamville's church for a comparison.

Photo by Didier Descouens:


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    Bouillac: Église Notre-Dame

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    Savenès: L'église de l'Assomption

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    Saint-Cézert: Eglise Saint-Orens, refurbished 19th century.

    1. C'est amusant ;) it's our house !

    2. Difficile à réculer assez pour prendre un photo du loin -- et sans mettre votre maison dans le cadre! J'habite en Aucamville à côté chez vous, devant the traiteur et cie.

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    Bouillac. The church is usually closed because of safety concerns. This is not a trick of they eye angle-wise....the bell gable is actually leaning like that. Which is a testament I suppose of the wisdom of this method. The general state of decay of a lot of these churches is a pity, but there are just so many of them and I think it's up to the local mairie to pay for upkeep. In Bouillac, with only 453 inhabitants, this isn't so easy. The abbey near Bouillac was destroyed during the Revolution, depriving today's residents of what would have been an important tourist destination....the abbey church was bigger than St. Sernin, by a meter or two, and St. Sernin now counts as the largest Romanesque church still standing. Some of the abbey's reliquaries and objects can still be seen in this church.

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    This is a nifty little use of forains. I imagine this is a later replacement of either a stained-glass window or an open wind hole....

  8. I'm not sure what "forains" means, but would be interested in learning more.

    Interesting how these bell towers seem like facades. Do you know if the original intent of these churches was to have to these bell towers, or were they added later?

    It's no surprise to see them lean. The 2d concept seems like a poor choice from an engineering perspective ... just waiting for a big wind to blow the whole thing away. Guess that the bells at least vented the structures.

    1. I think some of these bell towers are later additions, but to be honest, I've seen scores of them and this is the only leaning one I've seen. And it's been leaning a long time and has withstood several hurricane-force storms. So it's engineered pretty well despite appearances.

      "Forains" are the local brick....I mentioned this in the last post, I need to add a note to this one for clarification....

    2. Brique de Toulouse (appelée également brique foraine): 42 × 28 × 4,5

    3. Which means "Toulouse brick, also called a foraine brick: etc." They're large and heavy, usually shades of pink to dark red, but never beige like the other local brick called a "tomette," which can have various dimensions but are thinner, square and principally used for floors. They come in the same shades as the foraines, but also in beige-ish hues as well....

  9. Brick is definitely a Toulouse regional thing; Toulouse is called "la Ville Rose" (Pink City) due to the brick. Go an hour or less in any direction though and the brick -- either fired or an uncooked adobe version -- is no longer used. Instead houses are made with stones, sometimes cut, sometimes not. In some areas you'll see both materials used for different parts of the same structure as the Toulousain style blends into the neighboring regions.

    Wood houses are rare but some but a minority of new homes use a wood frame. Usually wood is reserved for barns, but not as frequently as adobe. New houses still use locally-made bricks and cinder blocks, and foraines and tomettes are still made for renovation and new construction as well.

    There's also this stuff called Siporex, a brand name for blocks of "autoclaved aerated concrete," very light and stuck together with a special glue. Apparently very good for insulation so you don't need to use rock wool or fiber glass insulation inside. The blocks are very large. I have mixed feelings because they're very soft and crumbly. You could dig thru one with a pocket knife, if so inclined. A little Googling shows they've been used for 70+ years, so they must be ok; also, up to 80% of an AAC block is air!

    I have a couple of half-blocks of Siporex supporting a veerrry heavy cast-iron plate in my fireplace, soon to be renovated (finally) to include a bread oven; I'm really looking forward to doing the work with my pal David. Hardest part will prolly be finding a reasonably-priced door for the oven. The hearth is over 2 meters long! I can stand erect inside it. People actually used to sit inside their fireplaces on especially cold days. In mine, a pair of people could easily chat face to face over a fire and still have room for people to have a seat behind them....


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