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Report 2029: France 2012 Part 1 - The Loire Valley

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2012

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Page 30 of 33: To the South - Churches of the Gartempe Valley

photo by MAW

Last Judgement, Antigny

This area does not feature in the guide books although the local tourist board is promoting it in an attempt to encourage visitors. At the moment few tourists get here.

From St Savin, it is a nice drive along the valley through woodland and arable land which was very dry and dusty after the harvest, to Antigny. This is a pleasant small village with a central square on the site of the old cemetery with a double row of poplar trees round the edge. There is a pump and 12thC Death Lantern Post. This is a tall square stone monument with a pointed tower which was typical of west and central France and was used as a funerary beacon. The Marie and post office are on one side. On the other sides are old stone houses and a very closed, old garage.

Église Notre-Dame is a small, very simple 11thC building with a stumpy spire and 15thC funerary chapel built onto the south wall. The eaves were extended in the 18thC to cover the south porch forming a cocquetoire or balc (cacklehouse) where the parishioners gathered for public meetings.

By the side of the west door is a stone slab supported by columns with carved tops, which is probably where a coffin was laid before entering the church. Rounded topped arches surround the wooden doorway and a single round topped window sits above.

Steps lead down into the nave. There are two old stone fonts at the back of the church. The nave has small round topped windows. Those in the chancel are later; in the Gothic style. The wall separating nave and chancel has a large central arch with smaller arches on either side. Massive internal buttresses on the wall help support the tower. The nave roof is made up of wooden slats with structural wooden cross beams. There is a crucifix on the south wall and a memorial to the dead of World War One with 26 names and World War Two with just five names.

Fourteenth century frescoes, mainly in shades of yellows and reds, cover the tops of the walls round the nave. These had been covered with several coats of whitewash with false red joints and had been forgotten until flaking paint revealed traces of frescoes. They have been cleaned and restored. There are two panels of frescoes along the walls. On the south wall is the Last Supper, which extends round the window recess to fit in the twelve apostles, and the arrest of Christ. There are also scenes of the Passion of Christ and the Last Judgement. The lower panels depict scenes of saints including St George killing the dragon and St Christopher carrying the Christ Child.

The chancel ceiling is painted blue and covers older frescoes. The walls are divided into squares by red lines which have a red flower motif in the center and again may cover more frescoes. The high altar is made of stone with carvings of the Annunciation on the base. There is a wooden altar rail and the remains of wooden choir stalls. Statues on the east end wall include Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. The stained glass window in the chancel has pictures of St Savin, St Hilary, St Ragegonde and St Cyprien with two angels above and God the Father and God the Son at the top.

A small wooden doorway leads into the Chapelle Ste-Catherine which was built onto the south wall at the beginning of the 15thC as a family vault for the Lord of Mauléon. This is unusual as the altar has been moved to the west end. The walls and ceilings are covered with frescoes which include the nativity, the murder of the innocents, the Passion of Christ (including scourging, carrying the cross, crucifixion) and the judgement of the dead with the dead rising out of their coffins and scenes with the devil. There is also an illustration of the Three Living and the Three Dead. On the ceiling is God the Father.

The next village up the valley is Jouhet. A bridge with flowers leads into the village. It is a nice village with a lot of old stone houses. The church is on one side of the road at the start of the village with the funerary Chapelle Ste-Catherine across the road on what used to be the old cemetery. The chapel is kept locked but the key can be got from Le Val de Gartempe restaurant, just up the street, which is closed on Mondays.

From the outside, the chapel is a very plain stone building with a slate roof. Above the door is a carved cross and a small niche which had bright red geraniums in when we visited. The chapel was used for holding services for the deceased and for housing sepulchres.

Steps lead down into the Chapel which is empty apart from a modern table and chair and a notice about guided tours in the summer months. There are the remains of old tombstones on the floor. It has a barrel ceiling. There is a 15thC stone altar with a low stone retable. The two long thin windows at the east end provide the only light.

There is a shelf round the wall about seven foot above the ground which is painted in bands of red and orange with a narrow white line separating them. This color scheme extends to the walls of the recessed windows.

The 15thC frescoes are painted above this in shades of yellows, reds and blacks and are some of the best preserved in the area. There are scenes of the creation, with Eve getting the apple from the serpent. There is a depiction of the Annunciation. There is a lovely scene of the nativity with a cow and horse looking through the window of the stable. There are scenes of the angels telling the shepherds about the birth of the Saviour and the adoration of the Magi.

On the roof is a painting of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists. There is a large picture of the Three Living and the Three Dead, here represented as three men on horseback hunting hare with speech bubbles above but the writing has gone. One has a hawk. Below are the hounds chasing rabbits. The three young huntsmen suddenly meet three corpses who warn them of the fragility of life and the vanity of material things and advise them to be converted. The message is simple "what you are, we once were and what we are, you will be.”

There is little information about Église Notre Dame de Jouhet on the web. It is a plain rectangular stone building with small offset tower in the northeast corner and a small sacristy on the south wall. The outside walls are heavily buttressed. Entry is through the west door. Inside it is a simple 11thC Romanesque building with no side aisle and very long thin windows. The nave has a barrel ceiling with no ribs. The chancel has a vaulted stone ceiling. There are two small stone altars built onto the north and south walls.

The north altar has a statue of the Virgin and Child, the south Joseph and the young Jesus. There is a wooden free standing mass altar with a stone high altar behind with stone reredos and host box topped with a spire and cross. There are statues of St Savin and St Ragegonde on either side. 

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