Oct. 19th, 2012

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Apologies for the photographs, which are nowhere near the usual standard, but I really, really, really had to share these!

During our 2012 visit to Carcassone and Languedoc, we visited a whole lot of sites, all of which had much to recommend them.  But if I was asked to pick a personal favourite, it wouldn't be the majestic city of Carcassone, or the dramatic towers of Lastours, or indeed any of the castles and abbeys that we visited (and I'll be introducing you to more of these over the winter!) 

No, I think it would have to be the painted ceiling of Lagrasse, a hidden gem which lay completely off the tourist trail and which caught us completely by surprise.

The clues were right there from the beginning.  Here's a 'faux' set of pictures painted onto the exterior of a medieval house in Lagrasse itself.  You can spot a reference to that inevitable medieval cliche, the Lady and the Unicorn, amongst other motifs:-


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"Oooh!" thought I.  "How interesting!" But I didn't realise just how interesting, until we found ourselves with half an hour to kill while we were waiting for the church to open.  The church was itself accessed from a tiny lane, surrounded by roughly contemporary buildings.  One of them was advertising 'Les plafonds peintures' or similar (please pardon my french!) so, since it was open and we had nothing better to do, we went inside.


282Lagrasse



It was then that we discovered that the images we'd spotted earlier were based on originals:-

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Sorry about the quality, folks - the camera hated focussing on these.  In case you're wondering why these blew me away, please bear in mind that they're c.700 years old.  Some of the images were heraldic, but others depicted morality tales, some of which were positively bawdy in flavour.  I think this particular picture shows one of these inversion type scenarios of which the medieval folks were very fond - here we have a farmer harnessed to the plough while the donkey goads him on:-

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It was only when I visited a temporary exhibition in Carcassone that I found out that these painted ceilings are discovered in prolific numbers throughout the region, with several having been unearthed in the Bastide de Saint Joseph (at the foot of La Cite) in recent years. 

Over the last couple of hundred years, householders made these plain timber ceilings more ornate through the addition of decorative plasterwork.  To do this, they left the existing structure in place, tacking on a new ceiling with all the pretty plaster mouldings that were the height of fashion,.  Now, as these old properties get restored and renovated, the later plasterwork - considered too over the top for our modern tastes -  gets ripped out (sob!!) leaving these little beauties behind.

Ah, if only developer-funded building surveys in my neck of the woods revealed such treasures as these!!!

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