Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aucamville Project 8: Saint-Pierre de Merdans

So far in the Aucamville Project we've examined some chapels which all have a connection to water.
  • Notre Dame des Aubets is associated with a sacred spring.
  • Saint Jean-Baptiste de Margestaud was also the site of a sacred spring said to cure various ailments. In addition, it is a stone's throw away from the Margestaud, one of the two streams that traverse the commune of Aucamville.
  • Notre Dame de Boisville overlooks the confluence of these two streams at the point just before they flow into the Garonne.

The second stream is called Saint Pierre de Merdans and here too, a chapel once stood. Now there is nothing but some foundations and a socle adorned with a cross, but this site contains the remains from Aucamville's long history, from Roman times to the present....

According to some sources, the last chapel here was destroyed during the Revolution. But this was just the last in a series of chapels....

As far as I have been told, the site began as a cemetery. According to a guy living near the site, one can still dig up bones without too much trouble at a depth of 10 centimeters; some of these bones were collected into an ossuary at the beginning of the eighties.

A small, square (pagan) temple was at one point located on the spot, traces of which are still visible. Several Gallo-Romain villas were once located around the site; bricks and Roman coins found in the area confirm the antiquity of the place.

The site was Christianized during the Romanesque period and the first chapel was erected. The foundations are still visible. Another neighbor believes this Romanesque structure was destroyed during the 100 Years War.

Within these foundation walls are a smaller set. These apparently belong to a Medieval chapel erected within the ruins of the Romanesque. The current socle and cross seem to sit in what was once the apse of this chapel. Behind this there are other remnants which appear to be circular. I don't know the age of these; one neighbor says they are from the Romanesque church, but the place is so overgrown with brambles it's difficult to get a precise layout of the place. This second chapel, according to the second neighbor, was destroyed during the Wars of Religion. If this is correct, then the chapel destroyed in the Revolution was the third incarnation, at least. The timeline is fuzzy and I'm wondering where to go next for more precise archeological information. How many chapels were there? When were they built? When were they destroyed? Several permutations seem possible.

Internet references are sparse. There's the blurb I've linked to above. I also came across an excerpt from a letter by our old pal abbé Firmin Galabert (Aucacamville Project 5) parish priest and historian of Aucamville.

From the Bulletin archéologique et historique de la Société archéologique de Tarn-et-Garonne, Tome IX:

M. l'abbé Galabert envoi sa lettre mensuelle, datée d'Aucamville:

Le lièvre n'ayant pas autre chose à faire en son gîte qu'à songer j'ai réfléchi souvent pour trouver la destination de cette cuve carrée, de béton, que la Société archéologique visita sur ma paroisse, tout près des ruines de l'église de Saint-Pierre de Merdans, et il me semble qu'on pourrait facilement y voir une cuve ayant servi au baptême par immersion, mode pratiqué jusqu'au XIIIe siècle, et le trou ou piscine pratiqué dans le fond serait le point d'où partait le canal d'écoulement.

Like a hare having nothing other to do in his cottage but muse, I have often thought about the purpose of this square, concrete cistern that the archeological society visited in my parish, just next to the ruins of the church of Saint-Pierre de Merdans; it seems to me that one can easily see in it a cistern used for baptism by immersion, a mode practiced until the 8th century, and the hole or pool in the bottom would be the opening of the drain.

Si on objecte que la profondeur de la cuve qui est d'environ 40 centimètres ne permettait pas de couvrir entièrement d'eau les adultes, je répondrai que à l'époque où remonte cette cuve baptismale, il n'y avait plus d'adultes à baptiser, et que, du reste, alors on aurait ajouté à l'immersion le baptême par infusion.

If one objects that the depth of the cistern, which is about 40 centimeters, would not have entirely covered an adult in water, I would reply that at the time from when this baptismal font dates, there were no longer adults to baptise and that, moreover, in such a case we would have added baptism by infusion to that by immersion.

Je ne suppose pas, en donnant cette antiquité à ladite cuve je ne suppose pas que les ruines de la chapelle actuelle remontent aussi haut dans l'histoire, mais on peut croire qu'une autre église avait déjà précédé celle-là, car je puis dire avec Horace:

Multa renascentur quae jam cecidere
Cadentque quae nunc sunt in honore...

I do not assume, in giving said cistern such antiquity, I do not assume that the ruins of the current chapel go back as far in history, but we can imagine that another church preceded it; to quote Horace:

Multa renascentur quae jam cecidere
Cadentque quae nunc sunt in honore...

(Many things will be reborn that have already fallen, and many will fall that are now honored)

Que si l'on refuse de voir dans ce béton en briques une cuvè baptismale, on peut aussi y voir des restés de bains: romains ou gallo-romains, et l'orifice du fond aurait également débouché dans un tuyau d'apport ou de retour des eaux.

If we refuse to see a baptismal font in this concrete and bricks, we can also see the remains of baths: Roman or Gallo-Roman, and the hole in the bottom would have also flowed into an intake pipe or water return.

Du reste, aux alentours de la chapelle, surtout de l'autre côté du ruisseau, le sous-sol renferme bien des ruines que la charrue soulève quelquefois.

Otherwise, around the chapel, especially on the other side of the stream, the ground covers many ruins sometimes brought to the surface by the plow.


This quote, though sparse and very small in scope, evokes two themes I find fascinating about this place. The first is it's survival over a long period of time as a place of burial and worship; however Christianized, it's origins are surely pagan.

The second is theme of water. Not only is it located near a stream, but Galabert here muses about the Baptismal rite. I cannot help but recall that Aucamville was a Wisigothic village and that the Wisigoths had an important reverence for water; one wonders if there could be some relation between this and the fact that Aucamville's other chapels are associated with water and date from much farther back in time than the current structures.

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