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)

Friday, 8 August 2008

dordogne (2) - brantome

Abbey at Brantome
Interesting day out at Brantome and the Grotte de Villars. Brantome is a popular place to start canoeing down the Dronne and it was amusing to watch novices trying to navigate the weirs. The town has a Benedictine abbey built by Charlemagne in 769AD and there is a pleasant mix of renaissance and medieval architecture. I did read it described as the Venice of the Dordogne but I think that is over egging it a bit.

The Grotte de Villars is a stunning cave system discovered in the middle of the last century. The stalactites and stalagmites form fascinating structures and patterns and the caves are still ‘live’ which means they are still being formed by the passage of water. No point hanging around to see the structures develop as it takes 100 years for a stalactite to grow up to 10cm. I was interested to learn that two abbots were involved in discovering the caves and the prehistoric cave paintings on the walls, some almost hidden by ongoing calcification. It reminded me that many clergy have played an important part in discovering and exploring the natural world and ties in with the article by Libby Purvis on Richard Dawkins that Jonathan Evens highlighted on his blog.

Very much enjoying the gite, though feel we are rather unfortunate in having arrived just as the owners, who live next door, have purchased a cockerel. He is much better at crowing early in the morning than his efforts with the hens. Time to dig out the recipe for ‘coq au vin’.
Grotte de Villars

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

dordogne (1) - le nouvelle ferme

(view from bedroom Le Nouvelle Ferme, Gouts Rossignol)
Much to my wife's despair I discovered that our gite in the Dordogne has internet access and I just happened to have the laptop with me! Anyway, I've promised not to spend too much time indulging my addiction to the web. The gite is excellent, in a beautiful setting with a pool and great views. The village, Gouts Rossignol, is small but with a boulangerie across the road and plenty of good local food and wine to hand.

Only one disaster so far. A disc got stuck in our car cd player and I was facing the dual nightmare of days with only Primal Scream to listen to and the kids wrath at not being able to listen to the next instalment of Stephen Fry's excellent reading of Harry Potter 7. (To those of you who ask what a vicar is doing listening to Harry Potter I say 'get a life' or better still come on The Big Picture diocesan Lent & Eastertide school). After much prayer and laying on of hands the disc was released and I was spared from uttering my own primal screams and paying out to the local Renault car dealer.

O.K. time to get back to the pool.

(Le Nouvelle Ferme)