Monday, 16 February 2015

Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne

In May last year, we visited the ruined Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne,  a small town near Angouleme. Bizarrely, some would say outrageously, contraposed only a few metres from a giant Lafarge cement works, the contrasts in building type, construction and  800 years of passing history are stark. You can see this in the fifth photo down, but as this is a blog about the abbey and not the cement works, I have tried to keep the latter out of the pictures! It's not all that easy; as one cannot walk around inside the building, snapping has to be done from the perimeter. Not only is it private property, but I guess the danger from falling stones is quite high! The decision to site the cement works here is not, however, as ridiculous as one might think. I'll reveal how it happened at the end of the blog!

The first stone was laid, it is said, on 12 May 1118, the works proceeded quickly and a monk named Lambert was elected abbot of the first, primitive, church on Easter day 1122.
The abbey proved to be very successful and further building work  proceeded over the next 80 years, the slow pace due to wars and famines, but a second, more elaborate, church was consecrated in 1201. The building and rebuilding went on; cloisters, an infirmary and refectory were added or rebuilt.
There's a distant connection between this abbey and the English royal lineage. Isabelle of Angouleme, the widow of King John (he of  Magna Carta and  lost treasure fame) was buried here, but her son Henry III of England) exhumed the body and had it reburied in the Kings' cemetery at an abbey in the Loire valley.
The monks were dispersed during the 100 Years War but for a brief period after that, more rebuilding was carried out until 1514, when it ceased.
The cement works silo looms over the ancient stonework. 
The wars of religion, lasting 36 years in the late 16th century, badly affected the abbey, parts of which were burnt and pillaged. At this time it was occupied by only eight men of faith, following the Jesuit order.

A last work programme of improvements occupied the years between 1750 and 1778 but following the great upheaval of the French Revolution which took place shortly afterwards, the site became national property and was sold in 1807 as a source of building stone. 
The beautiful stone work and carvings were dismantled, presumably in an uncontrolled fashion, over the next 120 years.

Magnificent  centuries-old abbey gateway, standing now adjacent to a suburban street in this mixed industrial, residential and rather surreal area.
Masonry and carving detail, craftsmanship of the highest order........
And now, the answer to the puzzle of the cement works! In 1928, Lafarge bought the building land for a new plant, but as a consequence of this, it also acquired the abbey, ending all the years of pillaging of stone by the local population. Since then, Lafarge has restored and looked after the building and the park. As part of its social responsibility programme, the company works with the local community to restore life to the abbey through cultural events and to provide the opportunity for the discovery of its historical heritage. So, without the deal between Lafarge and the authorities, there might well be nothing left for us to marvel at today!

Thanks to Nigel for all his research and writing the article to go with my photos.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 11/02/2015

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A visit to Tusson in the Charente and four years of blogging!

On 8 February this year, I will have been blogging about My Life in the Charente for 4 years! At times it seems like I have been doing it forever! My posts have slowed up quite a lot, but I thank all of you who have been consistent followers! Since this blog started, I have set up two more, one about my Life Before Charente, (but digging through old diaries and photos is slow!) and my photo blog, the Daily Diary.

In May last year, Ann from Oxford was visiting us, and one of the many places we visited was Tusson. She has already written about it well here, so I am not going to repeat that - you can just look at her blog! I took a few different photos, so here is the village from my perspective!

The village of Tusson was situated on the old Post-Royal road from Paris to Bordeaux. Until 1950, it was very famous for donkey, horse and mule trading, which provided important prosperity for the town.

The settlement owes its existence to Robert d’Arbissel, who founded an abbey here in ancient times. Ruins of its two churches, which were destroyed during the French Revolution, still remain.

Some of the ruins.

This is the  entirely Gothic designed parish church of Saint-Jacques,  founded in 1227 for the town which had grown up around the abbey.  The supports of the West arch of the nave which date from about 1230 still remain. The church was extended in the 15th century; the steeple shown here was added at the same time. Some time later the whole church was restored. 

The murals in the bay under the steeple are the work of a Dutch painter, Emile Viagers, and were painted  in 1946.

The amazing stone vaulted ceiling. What craftsmanship!

 The Way of the Cross was painted by a Parisian artist, Robert Mantienne, who took refuge in Tusson during the Second World War.

Much older murals demonstrate their complete contrast with the 20th century works.

The monumental statue of Saint Jacques in the entrance is the work of a refugee from the Moselle during the same wartime period. Among other artefacts are a 17th century lectern and a fine 16th – 17th century crucifix which probably came from the great neighbouring abbey!!

Outside the church, life seems to go on as normal.  These are workmen from the Marpen club - see later -  on their way to lunch!

Since 1976, many houses in the village  representing the style of the town's traditional buildings have been restored by the archeological "Club Marpen", using the labour services of an international young peoples organisation.  The club also promotes public awareness of local heritage (See Anne's blog) and performs an important function in the area.

The door into the Robert Farmhouse. This imposing farmhouse was built in the Neo-gothic style, which was so popular in the 19th century. It was in this lodge that the inventor Joseph Alexander ROBERT (1807-1885) is said to have developed several of his inventions, one of which was an entirely new type of artillery rifle.

Below the farm, on the way to the fountain there is a well and a lavoir, both supplied with spring water.  I am sure that my followers are now more than aware that a lavoir is where the ladies used to meet to do their washing!

Library of old books.

The publishers Lérot, fairly recently founded by Jean-Paul Louis in Tusson (in 1982), are installed in a set of three old buildings separated by courtyards and gardens. These three buildings house an antiquarian bookstore with offices upstairs, an offset printing workshop and a finishing department respectively.

The Lodge of Marguerite

This lodge, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, was situated outside the abbey wall and close to the convent. Marguerite de Valois (1492-1549), the sister of King Francois 1, stayed there several times with the rest of her household when travelling between the kingdoms of France and Navarre (an ancient kingdom in the Pyrannean region), of which she was queen.

The buildings now house the museum of regional antiquities, the monastery garden with its medieval herbs, and plants arranged according to medieval designs and the regional heritage training centre.

The House of Heritage is an institution run by the  Marpen club, which consists essentially of a museum of arts and popular traditions and a monastery garden behind. 

Apologies for the odd spacing, Google has a mind of its own!!

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente New scanner - New post 11/02/2015

Monday, 12 January 2015

A visit to Nanteuil-en-Vallée.

The town of Nanteuil-en-Vallée is located in the north of the Charente department. The population fell quite sharply after the losses suffered in the First World War, but subsequently recovered and in 2012 numbered 1452. It has a mixture of house styles, mostly of stone and some half-timbered, all very traditional - dating back at least to the 12th century. A historic and popular area for all kinds of outdoor pursuits!

The maps shows the topography and suggestions for rambles and view points.

The village lavoir, a subject on which I have often written, where in years gone by, the ladies used to meet to do  their washing and exchange gossip.

The thirteenth century Church of St. Jean the Baptist  is open to the public again after ten months of closure. The roof was seriously threatened with collapse and much work has been done. There is still a lot of restoration needed, but costs are high and it will take time. Meanwhile the church is back in use while work continues.
It boasts some wonderful stained glass windows and stone vaulted ceilings.
and this lovely carved entrance door.
The Auberge Le Saint Jean, which was a highly recommended and popular restaurant, has sadly since closed down.  You can see part of the church in the background. Happily, another hostelry still survives in the town, a blessing when so many country restaurants have closed down due to the economic crisis.
Fontaine Saint-Jean.  There are steps inside leading down to the water source, which runs through the town. It is piped from the abbey and appears here and a couple of other places nearby. 
Anne walking through the streets of Nanteuil-en-Vallee, when she visited with us in May last year.
I loved this old picture on one of the walls.
The remains of the 12th century Benedictine Abbey of Notre-Dame de Nanteuil are the main tourist attraction in the village.

Unfortunately it was closed that day and we could not go in to see it!
A narrow village street leading to the Treasury
The plaque recording that this present abbey was built on the site of an earlier, 8th century abbey founded by Charlemagne. At one time a very large abbey, you can now only see the sturdy Treasury building, its walls inset with high arches. Although given this specific name, its use is not actually known!
Little remains of the other main abbey buildings, but there are enough ruins to give one an idea of the original layout, so we are told!

Our last part of the visit was to the arboretum, created by the local authorities for the benefit of residents and visitors. I could have spent more time walking around there, but our schedule didn't permit it!
Ann taking photos in the well-kept gardens.
 The river here is named L'Argentor, a  30km long tributary of the Charente river, formed by the separate streams called L'Argent and L'Or (silver and gold), no doubt a reference to their perceived colours in the sunshine!

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente New scanner - New post 20/01/2015

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the best for 2015!

We will be away in a few days time to celebrate Christmas in England with my father-in-law. As we are flying, our computers will be staying at home; only the Nexus will be with us for emails, and maybe the odd single photo on the photodiary.  I find  that blogging on this tablet is beyond me, so I will resume early in the New Year!

I have reviewed my diary photos for 2014 and picked a favourite for each month, for this post.  All photos, except a couple which are taken nearby, were taken in our garden.  
18/01/14 Mrs Blackbird taking a bath.

17/02/14 Snowdrops.

08/03/14 Early lamb

12/04/14 La Rochefoucauld château and its reflection in the river.

12/05/14 Iris.

01/06/14 Humming bird hawk moth.

15/07/14 Common swallowtail.

17/08/14 Cat sitting for our neighbour

17/09/14 Black kite.

26/10/14 Cotoneaster and spider web.

11/11/14 Peacock butterfly

08/12/14 Great tit at the window asking for food!

Happy Christmas 

Gesëende Kersfees

Nginifisela inhlanhla ne mpumelelo e nyakeni

Nadolig Llawen

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur

Buone Feste Natalizie

Feliz Natal

Feliz Navidad!

God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt Ar

Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan

 Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun

 Kung Ho Hsin Hsi. Ching Chi Shen Tan

Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Sawadee Pee Mai

Gajan Kristnaskon

Froehliche Weihnachten

Kala Christouyenna!

Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova.
Keep well everyone and I will be back in 2015!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 30 October 2014)