Romanesque Church Hunt Looking for churches and other France adventures.

April 14, 2008

Cruas Capitals

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches — Karen @ 11:39 am

One of the most astonishing adventures we have had on the Romanesque Church Hunt has been an unforgettable tour of the Cathedral of Cruas in 2007. Befriended by a erudite retired professer and a tourism office employee, we receive a magnificent tour of the edifice when we thought we had arrived too late to even go inside (we had–but these generous people allowed us a full tour after the official closing time). I will go into this memorable adventure in my next post, but for now, here are some capitals from Cruas.

Cruas Column


Cruas Column


Cruas Column

April 5, 2008

Excursion to the region of Les Vans

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches,Church Previews — Karen @ 5:22 pm

Church Preview

Southwest of our location in Ardeche is Les Vans, a village at the center of a region with some quite interesting churches. Here is where the land becomes mountain and valley. The gem of this region of interesting churches is Thines, whose magnificent Romanesque church is considered to combine perfectly the elements of Romanesque architecture, sculpture and decoration.

Summaries are courtesy of the Vans tourism office.

Naves - Romanesque church near village of Naves

Nestling in the village which has retained its character, the Romanesque church is one of the oldest in the Pays des Vans , and is dedicated to St James the Elder. It is typical of primitive Romanesque art, and has been been destroyed many times, a victim of many historical events over the centuries, and especially of the instable ground. Side chapels were added in the 19 th century, partly to act as buttresses. Like the village as a whole, it is built on a rocky outcrop made up of various strata of hard limestone and soft marl.

Romanesque church at Gravieres, Ardeche


This village at the foot of the Serre de Barre , is right in the middle of an transition area between the Vivarais and the mountain. The church presents a unique and original mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It dates from the 12 th century and was listed in 1907. The buttress bellfry reaches a height of 27 m, and dates from the second half of the 16 th century. Impacts from the Protestants’ arquebuses are still visible. The doorway, with its ogee arches is flamboyant, and similar to that of the church in Les Salelles. Inside, the nave has two barrel vaulted bays. The columns are supported by historiated capitals and reach up to 9.40 m. In the centre of the choir is the Tree of Jesse, sculpted in stone and representing the genealogical tree of Christ starting with Jesse, King David’s father. The walls surrounding the gold-plated altar are decorated with fresques and illuminations. The fine houses in the village and hamlets, are evidence of the once prosperous times of silk-worm breeding.

Thines, Romanesque church, ArdecheTHINES

This grandiose site in the heart of the Cevennes has a wild beauty of its own. The village with its schist houses perched on a rocky outcrop dominates the valley of the river Thine. The church dates from the 12 th century and is dedicated to Our Lady of Thines. It is a jewel of architecture, sculpture and decoration. Built in light granite and red and beige sandstone, it brings together all the elements which typify the beauty of Romanesque art. It is difficult to find another church combining elements that are usually separate, in such a way as to create an architectural master-piece.


The village has kept many traces of the past. You come to it over a 12 th century bridge probably built by the monks of St Giles Abbey in the Gard. The church dates from the 13 th century, and contains a rich variety of remarkable pictoral modillions. It nestles against the castle, famous for its French gardens designed by students of Le Nôtre (who designed Vaux-le-Vicomte). The architecture of the castle, the small village squares and narrow twisting lanes give character to this well-preserved place.

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

February 3, 2008

Mystery churches revealed!

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches — Karen @ 5:18 am

Church ReportAfter a bit of research, I was able to pinpoint this lovely Romanesque ensemble that we saw two years ago that I mentioned in yesterday’s post. The group is located in the village of Saint-Thomé. There is a wonderful website by the village of Saint-Thome at

The two churches, located in this charming village, are the Church of Saint Thomas and the Chapelle of Saint-Sebastien. Here is a photo that I mentioned in my last post, the fence of the churchyard with the old grave markers making up part of the stonework.

Church yard of Saint-Thome



Click here to see a map showing the location.

Here is a rough translation from the Saint-Thome site on the origins of the churches.

“Situated at the confluence of three rivers, Saint-Thome is a good example of a perched village of central Ardeche. At the summit of a large rock, the houses are grouped around the Church of Saint Thomas and the Chapelle of Saint-Sebastien.

The Romanesque church of Saint Thomas dates from the 10th century and has given the village its name. The Chapelle Saint Sebastien, located just across from the church, is without doubt much older, dating from the 7th or 8th century. There is an inscription from the epoque Gallo-Romain on a rock under the entry. Dating from 487, it is an epitaph of the bishop of Viviers, who lived during the reign of Alain II, a Visigoth king. ”

February 2, 2008

Mystery double church of Ardeche

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches — Tags: , , — Karen @ 3:54 pm

This beautiful church below is accompanied by a small chapel less than 50 yards away. I took this photo 2 years ago and it’s a mystery only because I have not remembered the name of this dynamic duo of Romanesque landmarks.

Double church

What I do remember–the day was sunny, but cool. The type of day when the sun goes under the clouds a chill seems to descend, but as the cloud passes, the warmth returns. This remarkable assemblage had a churchyard with a shimmering layer of soft wheat-like grass. No longer used as a cemetery, there were ancient gravestones build into the retaining wall that faced out toward a marvelous valley view. The whole effect was magical.

More tomorrow–I’m sure with a little research I can identify this lovely church and its companion. And I have a few more photos as well that I will post.

January 31, 2008

An adventure in Rochecolombe

Filed under: Ardeche - Churches — Tags: , , — Karen @ 10:32 pm

I mentioned earlier that our destination this June will be the beautiful and wild Ardeche region of France. We have visited there twice before and the number of Romanesque churches to be explored is endless.

This post will go back to our trip in 2006 going to the perched ancient village of Rochecolombe in central Ardeche. Our friend had told us about this village and as we approached we could see the tip-top of the church, but no apparent means of getting there.

So what to do with a church in tantalizing proximity? Why, follow the signs that say “Eglise romane XIIieme” of course. In fact, a whole chapter could be written on the adventure of following “eglise romane” signs.

The road led up a steep hill and past a residence to a place where we could look down at the church.

Chapelle du Vieux Rochecolombe

We spied a weed-strewn and overgrown path and of course, the “eglise romane” sign and followed it for quite a while.

The path to Roche-Colombe

This path led us to the back of the church which while closed, was viewable through a grate. A very great discovery! It’s often complicated to try and get in to see the interiors, so we are always thrilled when we can see inside or can get a key.

Interior of Roche-colombe.

Here’s a detail of the wall painting:

Detail of wall painting

May 16, 2007

La Pègue

This little town seems to have two Romanesque structures, a chapel and a church. There’s also an archeological museum.

Local archeological museums can be very interesting places to visit. Besides the ‘finds’ from the area, they often contain town folkloric articles, history of the village items, science projects and stuffed animals and who knows what else. Fascinating!

Church at La Pegue

From “Pays de Grignan” website:

Situated at the foot of the mountain La Lance. Le Pègue has a rich History dating back 6000 years. Important meeting place for Celts and Greeks. Its museum houses an important archeological collection which includes some rare “pseudonian” ceramics found during local excavation. The visit of the village will lead you to the chapel Ste Anne built in the 12th century, and to the Romanesque church remodeled in the 18th century which shelters thirteen polychrome statues.

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