Monday, 11 August 2008

dordogne (3) - two churches

Yesterday we spent the day celebrating my daughter's 10th birthday. In the morning we went to church in Bertric-Buree (left) an Anglican church, part of the Aquitaine chaplaincy, just down the road from where we are staying. The church was full with about 80 worshippers, a mixture of ex-pats and tourists. It was a normal Common Worship Holy Communion with hymns from Songs of Fellowship and a good straighforward sermon based on the lectionary readings. We felt very much at home, though we did wonder whether we should have tried something a bit more authentically French, however with two young children our options were limited. Anyway, it was good to worship with part of the wider Anglican Communion post Lambeth. This was also the Sunday when the church introduced a healing ministry to their HC services.

We then attended a medieval festival in the lovely village of Lusignac before returning to the gite for a bar-b-q and a large strawberry tart for a birthday cake, followed by a swimming party with our hosts' children and the family from the neighbouring gite.

It was raining quite heavily this morning so we headed off for lunch at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne. The highlight of the trip, apart from a very reasonably priced lunch, was a visit to the Eglise Monolithe the Church of Saint-Jean.

(Saint-Jean of Aubeterre)
The church is carved into the cliff face and is an amazing structure. It is believed that there was a church at this site in the 5th or 6th century, however, the structure was developed in the 12th century by Benedictines. It is only once inside that one begins to appreciate just what must have been involved in developing the building with none of the tools or resources at our disposal today.

I was struck by the experience of the living worshipping community at the church we visited yesterday and the dedication of the faithful from the past who carved out their place of worship to the glory of God at Aubeterre.

Here are a few of the photos I took inside Saint-Jean. The first (right) is a view from the circular gallery and the two main structures visible are the baptismal font carved in the floor and the reliquary housed in the apse at the far end.

The font is believed to date back to the 5th/6th century and in its base is a Greek cross.

The reliquary is carved from the solid rock and is thought to be an interpretation of the Constantinian style of the tomb of Joseph of Arimethia to be found under the cupola of the church of Saint-Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is 6 metres high and 3 metres in diameter.

The picture below was taken from the apse and shows the two 20 metre hexagonal pillars which were again carved out of the rock.

In the upper part of the nave is the gallery with a suspended ambulatory. In former times a castle stood above the church and there was a hidden stair case linking the gallery to the castle and providing easy access for the lords to spy on the congregation and attend services.

Other features of the church include a burial chamber and a subterranean crypt. The crypt, only discovered in 1961 following the collapse of a roadway, is thought by many to date back to the Roman period and to have been used to celebrate baptism according to the rites of Mithras. This involved baptism with bull's blood and the cult was declared illegal in 395AD. The crypt was then altered over time and stalls were hollowed out in the walls on each side and used by monks.

The church is now used for concerts as well as occasional services including Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

(the crypt, Saint-Jean, Aubeterre)


David said...

It looks like you are having a great time. Just a short note to wish Kristen a very Happy 10th Birthday. Also, love to my Godson, Daniel and also to Phil and Kate. Look forward to catching up with you when you get back.

Toby said...

Phil - enjoyed happening upon your blog. Fascinating travelogue material with great pictures as well. Am anxious to hear/read what you think about U2 and other rock music. Do you see such art as prophetic? Sacred? Secular? Visit my website when you get a chance at I'd be curious about how you think this book I've written about rock music and spirituality would fly in your neck of the woods. I also do some blogging about the future of the Church at
Grace, Peace, and Safe Travels - toby Jones

Philip Ritchie said...

Many thanks for the comment and questions about music. There are a couple of courses I run with my colleagues Jonathan Evens ( & Paul Trathen ( on Theology and Popular Culture which includes reflections on U2 and other rock music. Some of this material has been posted by Jonathan Evens at the following

Our basic exploration is the disctinction between artists writing about Christ and those writing in the light of Christ. I think U2 fall into both categories. I certainly feel there is a prophetic element to some of their writing though occasionally Bono gets too preachy. For me some of U2's most interesting work is from the early to mid 90's where they are exploring the tensions rather than the more overt proclamations. Other artists we have blogged about include Emmylou Harris and T Bone Burnett.

Overall the approach we take on our courses is to reject the usual is it good/is it bad questions and to try and explore the what issues, themes and challenges does this raise questions. We apply this to film, music, books and T.V.

Thanks for the links to your website and blog and it would be good to continue the conversation / explore the issues. Go well - Phil Ritchie