We have joined a local French leisure club, to try to improve our French. It seems to operate year-round except for summer, and they play scrabble and belote, the latter being a 32 card whist-type game, the precise rules of which are currently a mystery! Scrabble in French is also an acquired skill and we are presently limited to 2-4 letter words, although the other players are keen to assist us!
Other activities are short visits and short tours; one of the former had been arranged recently, and although rain threatened and Nigel was starting a dose of flu, we decided to go along, as the property to be visited was on private land - a rare opportunity for a look around.
We drove toCherves-Châtelars where we met everyone at the communal hall. The destination was not, at first, at all clear, as we all roared off in cars in pursuit of a leader, coming before long to a halt on a roadside verge near a dilapidated farmstead. We then abandoned the vehicles and ambled along a lane, across the delightful, undulating and unspoilt countryside, towards our goal - as yet out of view.
I'm sorry that there are more photos than I normally put on a post, but it was difficult to pick the best!
No this is not what it looks like! One of the knowledgeable locals (most of them have lived in the area all their lives) has pointed out a natural spring bubbling away at the side of the road.
We then came across this lovely stone house, which had some gorgeous windows; we were told this was the original residence for the monks who operated the priory next door
Note the tall figure at the front of the group; who says I can never find Nigel in a crowd :-)
We then saw the 'surprise' just around the corner, the remains of this stunning old priory
It is on private property, but we had the kind permission of the landowner to take a look around. As we walked, one of our companions explained that the priory was thought to have been built around the time of William the Conqueror, nearly 1000 years ago! – it was founded by Benedictine monks, in this now very Catholic country. We were told that a number of protestant churches still exist in France, chiefly in the south and towards the west coast.
The following photos of the nave are taken from the now demolished transept
How did it get ruined like this? Well, there is a heady sense of history involved with this place over the last 1000 years. Some 400 years after it was built, the priory was ruined in the fighting during what the French call the “ wars of religion”, a period of Protestant/Catholic wars, which started in 1562 and were ended by the Treaty of Nantes in 1598. But that isn't the end of the history witnessed by these walls............ see later
Walking around the side to other buildings
and from the back, what remains of the apse
beautifully carved capitols (thought to be 12th century), above and below, on each side of the nave
ancient floor slabs
Would this be an old altar ?
and more recent history, just up the road.....
This small sign tells us that some 3 kilometres down this little track (too muddy to walk this day) was a concealed hut, where many of the local WW2 French Resistance fighters (Maquis) used to operate from. (see my blog 55 for more details).
Maquis bush covers large areas of France
We then came across this sign which says the tree behind it was planted in 1978 by the children of Cherves-Châtelars, in memory of the local Maquis group (named Bir Hacheim), who operated in this area in 1943-44, sabotaging German military activities. As part of this work, we were told they built an observation platform high up in the priory walls, to carry out surveillance of troop movements in the valley below.
Luckily we managed to see all this in dry conditions, but the walk back to the cars was a in very damp cold drizzle, which did not help Nigel's ailment!
I hope that you enjoyed this surprise tour as much as we did. I was completely dumbfounded to see all this; I cycle all these roads regularly, but this was one very interesting little road I had missed!
My thanks to Nigel for all the research he did for this post.