Romanesque Church Hunt Looking for churches and other France adventures.

March 31, 2008

Eglise Saint-Martin-de-Vion

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches,Church Previews — Karen @ 12:48 am

Church Preview

I’ve been trying to find some photos on the web of churches in Ardeche within driving distance and it’s quite difficult.  Many of the communes only have rudimentary sites listing services and not much on their fabulous Romanesque landmarks.

Saint-Martin-de-VionSt Martin’s is a Romanesque era church and Benedictine priory that was rebuilt in the 19th century.  Located on the National 86 north of TOURNON, it is located on a promontory that can be seened for miles. The layout from the Romanesque era has been retained, but much of the decoration is from the 19th century.

One of most fascinating parts of the church is the crypt, quite rare.  The only other example in the Vivarais is the cathedrale at Cruas.  Also of note is the monumental baptismal font of sandstone.

March 23, 2008

Black Madonnas

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches,Ardeche - Other Points of Interest — Karen @ 8:58 pm

One of our group reports that a colleague will be spending time in France this summer looking for ‘Black Madonnas’.

Black Madonna of LimouxMy curiosity was piqued, since we had seen several of these Black Madonnas on our travels. I wondered the most basic of questions: What are the Black Madonnas? Why are they black? And are there any in Ardeche near where we will be staying? The one at left is from Limoux and southwest France.

My initial research seems to indicate that the Black Madonna phenomenon as mostly European from the 11th to 15th century with more that 500 examples still viewable (and 180 of those in France.)

But here’s the intriguing part–no one is absolutely sure why they are black. Some say it is just a reaction of varnish on wooden sculpture or perhaps centuries of candle soot. Or that some were sculpted of naturally occuring dark stone. There are many, many theories out there. Others maintain that many of the statues were black from the beginning. I referred to our “Bible” of Ardeche Romanesque lore, “Eglises Romanes Oubilees du Vivarais” by Claudia Fabre-Martin. This would be “Forgotten Romanesque Churches of the Vivarais”. This book is so comprehensive and so dense that it will take us a lifetime of trips to get through it. But every page has a precious nugget of information.

I checked to see what “Forgotten Churches” had to say about the black madonnas and it seems its a very complicated issue. Another issue brought up here was the possibility that the black virgins were in tune with the earlier pagan goddess representations. Also of importance for Ardeche is its location on the way to the Black Madonna of all time, Notre-Dame de Puy.

There are several “vierges noires” in Ardeche, but the closest that I could find was one listed as being at Cornas, which is somewhat north of where we will be staying. But the Black Madonna seems like a worthy Romanesque destination.

cornas_notre_dame_de_la_mure-2-1.jpgThe black virgin of Cornas, called Notre-Dame de La Mure, is about 60 centimeters high and carries a baby, both of them looking at us. She is thought to be of the 13th century. She has a definite relationship to the Vierge de La Puy. The statue disappeared during the wars of religion and the French Revolution, hidden by the lords. I was not able to find a photo of the lady herself, but the santuary is at left.

The chapel was restored in the 20th century and Monsignor Roncalli (future Pope John 23) came to crown the Virgin & Child in 1946. The restoration was not finished and today another restoration has begun again.

While we are on the hunt for the Black Madonna, perhaps we might be able to stop and sample the wines of Cornas, well known among aficianados and reviewed here by Tim Teichgraber of the San Francisco Chonicle, Feb. 9, 2007

Wines from Cornas, when you can find them, sell for less than those from Cote Rotie or Hermitage but often rival them in quality. That doesn’t mean these bottles come cheap, though. Expect a bottle of Cornas to set you back between $35 and $90. Today’s wines from Cornas are still loaded with minerality and tannin, but they’re more polished and cleaner than they once were.

Cornas vintageI tasted 12 bottles from seven producers and four different vintages and these were my favorites. All were remarkably sound, well-made wines with genuine regional flair. I’d be impressed to see that kind of consistency from any region, and it just goes to show that the rising tide of quality in Cornas has raised all ships.

2003 Domaine Clape Renaissance ($50) The venerable Clape family is keeping pace with the young guns of Cornas. This wine has sweet plum, cherry, raspberry aromas laced with pepper, mint, violets and coffee. It’s richer tasting than the nose suggests, more so with time. Juicy but nimble, with a peppery, minerally finish.

2004 Jean-Luc Columbo La Louvee ($85) A very dynamic wine with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, gunpowder, licorice and mint, and rich but focused fruit flavors that finish with grainy granite tones, a touch of alcoholic heat and gentle, surprisingly tame tannins.

2004 Jean-Luc Columbo Terres Brulees ($78) Lucid deep scarlet in color with lavish plum, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, bacon, pepper, mint, leather and black licorice aromas and flavors. A massive, mouth-coating wine with spicy red fruit, soft oaky tones and sturdy tannins.

2000 Noel Verset ($50) An elegant, subtle Cornas from a veteran grower with pronounced black pepper, violet, cherry and plum aromas, edgy cherry and plum fruit flavors and hints of licorice and grilled meat on the stony, firm finish.

2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Grandes Terrasses ($42) Full-bodied and mouth-filling with sweet raspberry, coffee and blackberry flavors giving way to taut mineral notes and sturdy tannins, toast and chocolate flavors. A solid value.

2002 Robert Michel La Geynale ($50) An enjoyable but more sinewy wine from a cooler vintage with pretty violet, black pepper and anise aromas, and stony cherry and plum flavors, finishing with meaty notes and tightly wound tannin.

2003 Thierry Allemand ($85) This cuvee from the tricky, hot 2003 vintage is stunning right out of the gate, with intense blackberry, clove, pepper, coriander, licorice, blueberry aromas and concentrated black fruit flavors finishing with more licorice and vanilla oak notes and stony, granite flavors. Truly exceptional.

2004 Vincent Paris Granit 60 Vielles Vignes ($35) Closed at first, then unwinds to reveal pretty rose petal, black pepper, black cherry, cranberry and blackberry aromas, compact dark fruit flavors and tight mineral notes on the finish. Subtly oaked and impeccably balanced, a great value and certain to improve with age

March 8, 2008

Le Figuier • The Fig Tree

The Fig Tree - rental house in ardeche, France
For several years, we have visited with our friend Martine in the tiny village of St. Andeol de Berg which is just a few kilometers from the town of Villeneuve de Berg in Ardeche, France. She has made available her wonderful rental house to us and these stays have been a highlight of our trips. We have loved our evenings sitting at the white wooden table under the fig tree and looking out to the sunset while drinking delicious wine of the Rhone. And Romanesque churches! It will take a lifetime for us to visit them all in Ardeche.Google Map Ardeche

Click on the map icon to see the Ardeche Google church map with “Le Figuier” marked.

Click on the photos or below to visit Martine’s website for more information on booking “Le Figuier.”

 We have grown to love the Ardeche and St Andeol de Berg where the house is located. Martine is a mile away at her own house at the other end of the village and is a caring and knowledgeable hostess, offering the warm hospitality that will be one of your best memories of France. You will need to book early to reserve the house for summer, but spring and autumn should have some availability. I have not had the privilege of staying in this region in the fall, but my guess is that it would be magnificent.

The house is on one of the GR (grande randonee) walking routes and is quite large and would be perfect for a family or group. To find out more about Le Figuier, click on this link or on any of the photos below.

Sunset in St. Andeol

house in Ardeche


House in Ardeche

Zazie, the dog, is not included in the rental–but she may visit to say “Bonjour!”

March 4, 2008

It’s a beautiful morning in St. Andeol de Berg

Filed under: Ardeche - Other Points of Interest — Karen @ 12:35 pm

When I checked my email this morning there was a lovely photo from Martine, our good friend in Ardeche.  St. Andeol is a small village on a ridge near Villeneuve de Berg in the central-eastern part of the region. Enjoy!

St Andeol in the morning

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