Galen Broeker and the Counts of Auvergne

First picture of the mountains

First picture of the mountains

I left Paris this morning with my parents stuffed into the rental car along with my camera, far too many books and enough clothes for a longer voyage.  The drive down was rainy the whole way, obscuring the myriad medieval castles and churches that litter the landscape of northern France.  Once we passed the sign officially welcoming us to the Auvergne, however, the rain slowly started to fade and the hilly, forested landscape opened up.  We had a pretty light itinerary today, in order to accommodate the driving, checking into hotel and shopping for supplies.  Thus, only four medieval churches and a castle.

First, we stopped in Thuret, to see Notre Dame/Saint Martin de Thuret, a lovely little church in the middle of nowhere.  One of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen awaited inside: today was Pentecost, one of the few Christian holidays I recognize, and the priest of the town was inside, performing mass. Alone.  I know the French are proud of their secular society, but there is something lost in discarding Catholicism so entirely.  And I say this as someone well outside of the faith.

That aside, the church is fascinating.  Yesterday, I linked John Tchalenko‘s article of the earliest wild-men in monumental art in Europe. Today, I went to the site of half of the article, and saw the wild-man in person:

Tchalenko’s article does a pretty good job of showing how this column works with the other columns to instill fear of sin into the populace; that being said, given my child-like fascination with dragons and monsters and what-not in the Middle Ages, I love that there are woodwose being used as part of a clerical program of communication with the populi. The church itself was lovely:

It had a number of other features I thought were worth noting, and thus photographed–the church itself is 11th-12th century, right within the time period I’m interested in.  My dad, a medieval art historian (as I’ve mentioned), said that this was the first time he’d seen a rooster displayed prominently on the capitols of the entryway to a church:

The church also has a Black Virgin, the first one I’ve seen (as far as I remember–in a complete side note, one of my parents recurring jokes so far has been how much crap I gave them as a kid for taking me to apparently many of the sites of this itinerary.  Apparently my common refrain was “Not another 11th century church!”  What a little @#$% I was):

We had lunch at an absolutely fantastic restaurant half-way down the block from the church, which I highly recommend if you are anywhere within an hours drive of Thuret.  Seriously.  The restaurant is called La Marmite, and the chef apparently worked in Paris for 20-some years before getting sick of it, moving south and opening up a beautiful, tiny, perfect little place.  The food was exquisite.  Probably my new favorite restaurant in France, finally pushing Sud-Ouest et Cie in Paris down the list. Even more importantly for an academic blog, the hostess helped us find the second church of the day, Saint-Andre-le-Coq, which wasn’t appearing on GPS or any of our maps.  The church itself was closed, unfortunately, despite it being Pentecost:

We’ll have to go back; it’s an eleventh-century church, though the community was first recorded in 909 in the hands of the monks of Mozac.  It’s one of only two 11th century sites named for Saint Andrew in Puy-de-Dome, so I’m eager to see the inside.  From Saint-Andre-le-Coq we drove to Riom, once the seat of the Counts of Auvergne.  The center of the city is still very clearly a medieval town, and the main basilica in the center, Saint Amable, was originally founded under the name Saint-Beningne by Saint Amable in the 5th century, became an abbey in 1072, and in the twelfth century was torn down to build the current structure:

Inside, the relics of Saint Amable still sit in the back in a place of honor:

Apologies for the protective fence.

The basilica is mostly 12th-13th century, so later than the period I work on, but I have to say the inside was spectacular.  The stained glass in particular was beautiful, featuring the apostles along the sides but particularly Auvergnois saints at the back:

Almost done with this entry, I know I’m throwing up a lot of pictures.  After St. Amable de Riom, we went to the Abbey of Mozac, a Merovingian foundation that was eventually associated with the Cluniac Order and was a favorite of the Counts of Auvergne:

In the interest of time and space, let me just say, rather than show, that the Mozac bestiary, on the capitols inside, is INCREDIBLE.  It also includes a monkey and his trainer, which, according to Tchalenko, is part of the same sort of narrative that the woodwose was used in.  The resurrection of Jesus column sitting at the back of the church was particular interesting for its depiction of Roman soldiers:

No comment needed, methinks?

It also has dual reliquaries of St. Calminius and St. Austremonius, though the reliquary of St. Calminius is currently undergoing repairs and was not visible, and Austremonius was, once again, behind a protective grate:

I stuck my camera through the grate to get this picture.

I bought a little pamphlet on the history and art of the abbey that should make fruitful reading in the future.  Finally, we went to my lone castle of the day, and managed to get there after it closed.  The place is called Chateau d’Opme, and despite being closed it was in the most charming tiny, narrow-roaded commune I’ve seen in a long time.  The place was 11th century, owned by the Counts of Auvergne and looked over the road from Clermont to Le Puy.  I think it is fitting that I leave you with the view from outside the castle walls:

I am pleased to say that all images here are my own.

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas Lecaque

Thomas W. Lecaque (History) is a PhD student in Medieval Europe. His research interests include the Crusades and Crusader States, Occitanian literature, music and history, the cult of saints, the Peace of God, vernacular literature, and Latin-Greek-Syriac Christian relations. His current research focuses on the Toulousain experience in the First and Second Crusades and the socioreligious background to the founding of the County of Tripoli.

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