A colleague of mine informed me in late November that the Jewish community of Palermo was observing Hanukkah together for the first time in over 500 years since the expulsion of Jews from Sicily in 1492. So for those nights, I was invited as a friend to join a group of about thirty faithful and friends gathered in one of the former prison cells used during the Inquisition. The barracks are recently restored and open to the public, and they form a later part of the fourteenth-century Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri complex. Lo Steri, as the palace is locally called, served as the baronial residence of the Chiaramonte family, which held considerable power in Palermo throughout the fourteenth century. The palace later fell into the hands of the Sant’Ufficio, or Roman Inquisition, which built several multi-storied barracks used between 1605 and 1782 for the containment, torture, and execution of perceived enemies of the Catholic Church. The selection of the ex-carcere for the celebration of Hanukkah in Palermo invited commemoration and reflection of and upon the trials of those victims, and in a city without a synagogue, this particular Hanukkah introduced members of a fragmented community to each other for the first time.
I left Auvergne long enough ago that I am now in the reflecting and annotating phase when it comes to those pictures (all of the pictures are finally on my computer; my output should increase). I have all kinds of ideas how the various sites/sights and texts that I’ve seen could work in my dissertation, I have come up with a couple of article ideas, I’ve started laying out an outline for a chapter of the dissertation—all very, very profitable.
Admittedly, I have been a bad blogger and haven’t updated in far too long. That being said, internet connections have not been as excellent as I had hoped, and combined with massive data loads of pictures… well, I’ll just try to make up for it.
Auvergne was incredible. Imposing mountains:
…in the middle ages a large marsh to the north, and to the south, east, and west, the Massif Central keeps going.
The thin valley going down from Clermont-Ferrand towards Le Puy is the only zone of “civilization” available, and consequently driving down the highway takes you past one medieval church or fortress after another. Everything big is pretty packed together, even if you have to mosey off of the highway to get to them—it only takes a small drive to get to any of the big Romanesque churches.
There are, in theory, five Major Romanesque Churches of the Auvergne, and they are all spectacular. They’re 12th century constructions by and large, and so I hadn’t originally planned on going. Thankfully, the designation caused me to change my mind, for which I am incredibly grateful. Most of the sites were originally older, and in any case all of them are remarkably beautiful and ornate churches.
We’ll do them in geographical order, rather than the order I did them.
First, Notre-Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand, a little bit lower down the slope from the cathedral of Notre-Dame on top of the hill, where Urban II preached the First Crusade (well, or would have if it were still the original church, rather than a 13th century Gothic construction):
It’s undergoing some repairs, in addition to all of the roads that lead to it, which was very unpleasant access-wise, but it is set into a lovely little indention in the city, so you can get some nice shots of the side of the church:
I personally thought this was one of the less impressive ones, which may be due to the fact that it was the earliest of them. It did have a lovely interior, but… the other four were better.
The next one is off the beaten path a bit, that being Orcival, which, despite being incredibly pretty, is really in the middle of nowhere. You drive over the Puy-de-Dome to get to it, and end up in what was (at nearly freezing-rain temperatures) starting to look like the beginning of a horror film. The church itself was austere but lovely:
Inside, it wasn’t particularly spectacular. Perhaps the most interesting part was actually the door, where the metal framing was supposedly a reflection of the Apocalypse. I’ll have to take the brochures word for it, but maybe you can help me see it:
From there, the next was Saint Nectaire which, by the way, is also an incredibly delicious French cheese that I discovered I LOVE. You should try it. Saint Nectaire was my favorite of the big churches, and I think it should get more respect than it does… not that it isn’t one of the five. It’s austere, on a rocky hill in a relatively secluded valley, but I think the nice parts of it stick out more as a result—like the fact that it had the best capitals inside.
There were two more to go. The next was Saint Saturnin, which was I thought interesting because of the saintly link to Toulouse, but the church itself was… well, only ok.
The real treat, though not my favorite, was Saint Austremoine of Issoire, the city on the river in the middle of the little valley between Clermont and Le Puy, in the most open area I saw in the Massif Central.
The church is the prettiest of them from the outside and the inside, as a result of excellent maintenance and long-standing use.
The problem with restoration and maintenance, especially of the painting, is that it looks fake to someone used to the modern appearance of no paint, no frescoes, no color.
Those of the five major romanesque churches, with a hint of the pictures taken. I think I may be taking too many pictures at this point—we’ve put on a lot of miles, and I’ve taken over 5,000 photos. In any case, this trip is going exceptionally well.