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It's the weekend, and I have some time on my hands because I'm about to start the next edit of my second novel and of course I'll take any excuse to delay the evil hour of commencement, so...

Here's another batch of photographs from the Abbey of Villelangue.  I thought I'd devote today's post to the carved stones, and the carved capitals in particular. 

They're in beautiful condition, with very little sign of weathering (I'm assuming these are the originals, and not replacements, because there's no indication that the masonry's been replaced).  And they keep popping up all over the place, like these examples in the transept:-


And these ones, peeking out from an external wall:-


Clearly, their location hasn't been so favourable to their long term preservation here, and they're looking a bit weathered and miserable.

And here's a third, more grotesque specimen:


So there you have it.  Another glimpse of the lovely details that adorn the place!
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I'm taking a rest from my editing this morning to post a few images of the interior of the abbey church at Villelangue in the Languedoc.  As I mentioned previously, all that survives of the church are the chancel, the crossing and the transepts.  These are sufficiently well preserved us to show the grandeur of the original building.

Because I don't take a photo record when I'm on holiday (for shame!) I can't actually remember how these particular photographs relate to the configuration of the church.  So you'll just have to sit back, and enjoy the faulting, I'm afraid!!





And I leave you with a bit of structural complexity.  We have the original structure of the abbey church, shown by the vaulting, the pillars and the pointed (?transitional) arch.  This is an original opening, which once formed part of the north aisle of the nave.  It has now been completely blocked, by some pretty untidy masonry:-


And now, alas, I must leave you and get back to my edits.
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A closer look at the abbey church at Villelangue now. 

Or what's left of it, at any rate...

Compared with a number of our Scottish abbeys, where the abbey church was often retained at least in part for use as a parish church in the period following the Reformation and the conventual buildings flattened, the converse has happened here at Villelangue.  Here, the conventual buildings have been retained as accomodation, while much of the church has been removed to make way for orchards and gardens,

The only part of the abbey church that survives is the chancel, the crossing and the north and south transepts, with the nave almost completely eradicated:-


Here's a view from inside the east transept, looking out across the crossing towards what appears to be an isolated bay of the nave.  The nave would have had aisles, and it looks as if the level of the wallhead is original, with no evidence of windows at clerestorey level:-


The character of the church can also be established in this view, which shows blocking of the main portion of the nave, with access to the crossing/transepts gained by the open south aisle. The north aisle, visibly as a ghostly outline in the wall fabric, is also blocked:-


So, even though so little of this church survives, we can get a good idea of how it would have looked in its heyday. Archaeological work was been carried out here, so they've established how many bays in length it would originally have been (I'm sorry, I've forgotten...).  And even though a substantial amount of the church has been lost, the portion that remains is in very good condition, with a number of magnificent carved capitals.

Which I'll be sharing with you next weekend, when I get the opportunity!

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Well, I'm in Writers' Limbo while I wait for some edits to come through (gulp!!), so I thought I'd post some more photos of pretty Languedoc architecture.  It's the beautiful gothic abbey of Villelangue now, which though privately owned, is opened up most days for public viewing.

The setting is picturesque, in the grounds of a private house (still occupied) which sits at the edge of a hamlet.  The monument was supposed to open at 10am, but this was actually more like 10.20 the day we visited, so we took the opportunity to go exploring:-


Here's a view of the abbey complex itself: the precinct walls are still upstanding, as are most of the conventual buildings, with the stump of the abbey church visible to the left of the tall tree.  Note, too, the tall doocote at the left of the abbey buildings - we'll be visiting this structure again in a later post:-


And now here's a closer view of the remains of the abbey church, seen from beyond the precinct walls:-


Because the monument's in private hands, information relating to the building's history and architecture is lacking. But over the last couple of centuries, the owners have done a grand job of safeguarding its remains, as we shall see.

[You will note, dear readers, that I am posting in LiveJournal, because despite the ease of crossposting from Dreamwidth, images are still damned impossible to deal with!]
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Some views inside the abbey church at Caunes Minervois now, and once again there's a paucity of information.  It's a strange mix of rounded Romanesque and pointed Transitional or even Gothic arches, which makes me wonder if there's been a bit of rebuilding in the 13th or 14th century:-


Not the best of photos, I fear, but here's another view of the north wall of the church, showing the mixture between the rounded and pointed arches.  I can't help wondering if it was originally cruciform on plan, with the transepts marked by the tall rounded arches near the apsidal east end, and with aisles added at a later date:-


One last photograph of the interior now, showing the lavish altarpiece:-


A magnificent church, despite its apparent austerity!

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To France, now...

Now, I don't know about you guys, but whenever anyone mentions 'Minervois', I always think red wine...

But there's more too it than that, though unfortunately I don't have a guidebook to this one...

It's another extremely well-preserved medieval abbey in the town of Caunes-Minervois (Minervois being the district...).  Unfortunately, I missed taking a shot from its best angle - it's got a glorious apsidal-ended church with Romanesque carving around its windows, and I clean forgot to take a picture, possibly because it was just so gorgeous...

Anyway, it's firmly Romanesque in character, which puts it in the 11th/12th century period, if I remember right.  Here's the bell tower:-


And a view of the nave.  Those lancet windows next to the south door look slightly later - I suspect this part of the building has been extended outwards:-


You will note that there are no windows - this is a very chunky, austere structure typical of Romanesque style churches.

And a close-up of the doorway, with its carving, which just shows that this place isn't quite as austere as it pretends to be.  The windows on the apsidal east end were really beautifully carved, but I can't share that with you, unfortunately, because I didn't take a picture.  Sorry...


 The conventual buildings, which I'll share with you tomorrow, have now found a secondary use as a small museum and arts centre .
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It's been several centuries since the Collegiate Church of Castle Semple fell into disuse - it was no doubt a casualty of the Reformation, which was a shame, since it must have performed a valuable secondary function of educating the locals. Lord John's determination to support education perhaps explains why a number of late 16th century Sempills were renowned for their skills in writing poetry.  Arguably the most famous of these was Robert Semple, who penned the original version of the Robert Burns classic, Auld Lang Syne - his poetry is featured in the collected works of the Sempill poets, which can be viewed on-line here:-


The Semples eventually sold their estate to the McDowall family, who were nouveau riche family who made their money from the trading of sugar and slaves.  Thankfully, the church was retained as a landscape feature - indeed it was still in use recently as a mausoleum for some of the local gentry.

This view of the church clearly shows how it was originally subdivided into two storeys - I wonder if this would have functioned as a laird's loft, where the Sempill lords could attend services without having to mingle with their estate workers:-


Perhaps the most remarkable part of the church is, however, John, 1st Lord Sempill's tomb:-


It marks the resting place of Lord John and his second wife, Margaret Crichton of Ruthvendeny, but whether Lord John actually made it here is open to question.  He died in battle, and the chances are that his body wound up dumped in a mass grave somewhere in Northumberland.  The presence of the tomb also causes much head-scratching.  The assumption is that it postdates his death in 1513, but the chances are he started making plans for it and perhaps even constructing it before he died.  He lost his first wife while the church was being built, and this may have sparked off an acknowledgement of his own mortality.

There is no effigy - instead, the shelf within the tomb (which is located in the north wall of the chancel, near the altar) would have functioned as an Easter Sepulchre.  The consecrated host would be placed within this space in Good Friday, representing the body of Christ waiting for the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This meant that the incumbents within the tomb would be granted maximum spiritual brownie points.

It's not wearing well, unfortunately.  19th century drawings show the inscriptions and the sculpture very clear, but even over the last decade or so we've seen a deterioration in the quality.  It clearly isn't deemed sufficiently high in quality to merit protection, which is unfortunate, because it's an unusual survival round here, and a focus of local interest and affection.

Even today, the tomb can be a curious focus of attention.  I've seen it stashed with the empty cans and bottles of someone's 'cairry-oot', but on the day J visited it to try and take photos for the website, he found this:-


If you look closely, you'll find that it's dedicated to animal victims of war.

I don't know if it was meant to be there, and I'm not even sure that Lord John would approve, but I find it rather poignant and lovely.

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And now an introduction to a personal favourite of mine.  It's one of my local monuments, built in 1504 by John, 1st Lord Sempill, who just so happens to be the hero of my forthcoming novel Fire And Sword which will be hitting the shelves in the summer of 2013 (not too long to wait now, woo hoo!!!).

It was built in 1504, and as well as providing a place of worship for Lord John and his family, it also functioned as a 'sang schule' (or song school) for the sons of local families, who would learn basic skills in reading, writing (presumably in Scots and Latin) and also in music. Particular reference is given to polyphony, which was coming into vogue at the time as epitomised by the work of the wonderful Robert Carver, who was active in the court of King James IV:-


The foundation charters of this church still survive, giving a detailed insight into the duties of the resident clergy and giving strict guidelines regarding their moral behaviour. A clergyman would be dismissed, for example, for frasternising with prositutes...

The church itself is very much an example of local vernacular architecture.  It gets a very bad write-up from the esteemed building historian Professor Richard Fawcett, who implied that it was architecturally illiterate.  Okay, so maybe it's not exactly splendid late Gothic with elaborate tracery and carving to-diefor?  Well, it's ours, so please don't knock it.  And hey, for a humble lord who wasn't exactly in the same league as the Douglases and the Sinclairs and the other wealthy donors who funded the building of elaborate churches at this time, it's not a bad effort.  Considering Renfrewshire and Ayrshire were pretty much like the Wild West when it was built, it was a brave attempt by Lord John to even try and shine the light of civilisation in a world where feuding and violence was still rife.


It's unclear whether the apsidal east end was part of the original build, or added after the death of Lord John, whose memorial tomb we''ll see later in the week.  The windows are all built to slightly different designs, which is odd, and which adds to the general impression of architectural chaos.  I like to imagine that the patron, faced with the terrible choice of deciding which form of window to use, couldn't decide and just opted for one of each!  


The other puzzle is why such a minor lord chose to build such an edifice in the first place. A former colleague once said that collegiate churches were built for one of three reasons: 1) the patron was particularly devout; 2) the patron had done something dubious and feared he'd p****d off either God, or the church, or 3) the patron was trying to appear wealthy and powerful by showing his neighbours he had the financial ability to construct and run such an instituion.

In this case?  Local legend has it that Lord John managed to offend the Bishop of Glasgow, the beautifully and appropriately named Bishop Blacader (who managed to die on board ship in the Mediterranean while travelling on a pilgrimage to the middle east). 

As for the truth?  Who knows?  Though I've found plenty of possible explanations in the course of writing this novel, I must admit!
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More from Crookston Castle now.  It's not particularly photogenic, I suppose.  It is a stubbornly defensive structure, and unfortunately I don't have much information about it architecturally, as it's insufficiently well-known to have a guide book dedicated to it, and it being Friday, I really don't have the energy to go and research it.  Someday I will revisit it, and do it justice!

It has early association with the Cruiks of Cruikston (probably from the de Croc family...) but it eventually passed into the hands of the notorious Stewart family.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, because it was besieged in 1489 by allies of King James IV. During this siege, its structures were subject to a bit of a battering when two large bombards (including the famous Mons Meg) were put into action here.  At least, that's the theory. In reality, the garrison might have surrended just as soon as the guns appeared at the base of the hill, though it's been suggested that one of the towers was wrecked in the attack:-


Here's another view, showing the surviving tower, with its epic twentieth century handrail around the parapet:-


  And that's it, I fear.  It's Friday night, and I've had enough heritage for the week, I think!!  
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Tucked away in the middle of a council scheme on the outskirts of the City of Glasgow, there is a castle.  It lies a wee bit off the tourist trail - when we tracked it down yesterday, we were surprised to see that its presence was still advertised by some old Ministry of Works signs, which pre-date the advent of Historic Scotland... 

It's a shame Crookston Castle isn't better known, because it lies just a short hop away from Pollok House and the Burrell Collection, which are 'must see' destinations on any tourist itinerary of Glasgow.  It hasn't played a monumental role in the history of Scotland, but as a bit player, it's seen its fair share of action.

It cuts quite a dash from a distance - apart from the naff handrail at the top of the tower, which looks horribly intrusive, but with the chances of falling from the top (or getting pushed!!) relatively high, I suppose it's a necessary requirement for visitors:-


Eagle-eyed blog followers will, I hope spot the earthworks at the base of the tower - now planted by mature trees.  No, the castle is not built upon the site of an earlier Iron Age hillfort. Nor are the earthworks contemporary with the stone tower, which itself represents the remnants of a much larger stronghold.

The earthworks are, instead, the remains of an earlier medieval ringwork - a circular rampart which would once have enclosed a timber defensive structure.  Ringworks are akin to the Irish cashels, and they're quite rare in Scotland, though there are a couple in the west.  I guess they fell out of favour when the motte-and-bailey castle became fashionable amongst the followers of David I, who brought all sort of novelties to Scotland, like planned burghs, and parishes, and a feudal system of land tenure.

The earthworks at Crookston are very well preserved.  In fact, the weather being what it is, the castle might even be called a moated settlement, in places:-




And at the heart of the ringwork is the castle proper, an imposing structure which has seen its fair share of wear and tear throughout the centuries.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, though it never actually makes an appearance, and that of course is why I paid it a visit yesterday.  I was renewing my acquaintance, because I'd already had a good look round it when I was researching the novel:-


Sadly, it was all locked up and the interior inaccesible to visitors. Hopefully this is because it's been mothballed for the winter season, rather than because Historic Scotland can no longer afford to keep it open on account of the recession.  It's not exactly in the Premier League as far as Guardianship Monuments are concerned, but it's one that should really be better appreciated by the locals!!

I'll give you a closer look at the castle later on in the week.
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Huzzah!  We have photographs! 

I gave up on the beta version of Photobucket, which seems to hate me, and opted for the good old original version, which itself seems more like the beta version, so please don't ask me what's going on 'cos I DON'T KNOW AND I'M CONFUSED AND LIFE'S TOO SHORT!!!


My last photos of Villerouge-Termenes, now, and for this I'm taking you beyond the castle, to some of the other historic buildings which litter (if that's the right word!) the place.

The church, first of all:-


Dedicated to Saint Stephen, the church's fabric dates back to the 13th century.  It has a 16th century retable behind the altar, a 12th century font and a 15th century bronze bell, but alas, it was closed the day we visited and we could not get inside to explore.

Another little treasure that survived in the town was this early gateway. Named Saint John's Gate, it has a portcullis slot and bears the arms of Pierre de la Jugie, a 14th century archbishop of Narbonne who - if you'll remember back to our earlier posts - held the lands during this period:-

And that is that.  Today we took an executive decision not to go cycling because of the risk of ice on the roads and the cycle track, so I had an entertaining little sojourn to a castle a bit closer to home  instead: Crookston Castle, a rare survivor which sits in splendid isolation in the midst of a council estate on the outskirts of Glasgow.  It was locked up for the winter, but I'll share some pictures with you next week, all being well.

Be warned - I'll be undertaking a few castle odysseys over the next few months, so you'll soon be getting introduced to a lot of Scots castles, some more obscure than others!
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Another post dedicated to Villerouge-Termenes now, but this time we're going to go inside the massive curtain wall to an equally well-preserved interior which has, however, been subject to quite a bit of alteration:-


A substantial portion of the building is now dedicated to an exhibition detailing the life and death of the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste. However, the castle also plays host, on an occasional basis, to medieval feasts, faithfully recreated for visitors.  The ticket prices were exorbitant, but I think I'd have given it a go, if I'd had the opportunity!


Another view taken from within the courtyard, this time looking towards the entrance, which was evidently subject to alteration at a later date, with - I presume - the addition of this slightly strange superstructure:-


 And I don't have much more information about this site, I'm afraid.  Other than the fact that archaeological works carried out here previously have revealed that this is the second phase of castellated architecture to occupy the site. 
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Another castle from Cathar Country now, and something which really, really, REALLY reminds me of the Ninth Gate!!

This is the castle of Villerouge-Termenes, which probably fits everyone's idea of what an archetypal castle should look like - full stop.  It's incredibly well preserved, with its intact enciente wall and angle towers, and it dominates the town.


The castle was in the hands of the Bishops of Narbonne from 1110, when it was handed over to them by the Lords of Termes (not altogether willingly, by the sounds of things...) and it remained with them until the French Revolution. Obviously they kept it in good order - it now earns its keep as the home to an exhibition about the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste, who was burned here as a heretic in

Here's a view from just outside the village, showing its location from a distance.  Note how it seems to nestle quite low in the landscape, rather than perching at the top of hills as is more usual round these parts:-


This of course means it wouldn't have been much use against artillery, but obviously no-one tried to take it by force, or I doubt it would still be here to impress us today.

One last view now, showing at close quarters how it dominates the village:-




Nov. 8th, 2012 10:12 pm
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Um, WWI Tunnels of Death is on Channel 5, not Channel 4, and it's actually a series. 

And on a Thursday evenings, it's followed by Hatfields and McCoys, which seems to me to represent a perfect insight into human history throughout much of its past - it certainly reflects late medieval Scotland perfectly, anyway, even though the settings post-Civil War America. 

Funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself...
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I'm currently watching a fascinating programme on Channel 4 called 'WWI Tunnels of Death: The Big Dig'.

I thought it'd be your standard run-up to Remembrance Day fare of history combined with film footage, etc. but as a piece of archaeological film-making  it has proved fascinating.  The work was carried out in advance of a pipeline, and the upstanding archaeology has in many cases been wrecked by shells, though I suppose these shell holes themselves now count as archaeology so you have to assign them context numbers and excavate them in the same way that you excavate a post-hole.

They've just uncovered a messed up bit of German fighting trench, which has been hit by a British shell and which I suspect may have bodies in it (I remember a Facebook feature referring to the recovery of some in situ corpses in a WWI trench and I can't help wondering if this is the same dig...)

Great archaeology, but oh so miserable (horse jawbone uncovered, too...) and a reminder that the past can be so very, very brutal... 

Well worth catching up with, I must admit!
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I'm delighted to report that my feeling of general no-wellness has now become an evil lurgie of doom, so my brain isn't much good for anything much at all today.  I haven't really got much to say, either. I'm writing a little bit, and the words seem to be translating themselves down onto paper okay, but I'm going to give logical reporting and discussion a miss today, I think.

So it's time for pretty pictures instead!

What I noticed about the historic buildings of Languedoc was how the authorities had taken great care to theme the presentations at each different site.  If they were given enough dry, warm exhibition space, they created a small museum, dedicated to different aspects of the area's medieval past.

The claustral buildings at Lagrasse had found a secondary use as a museum dedicated to Romanesque sculpture.  The sculptures themselves were breathtaking, and they really couldn't have found a better setting.  So I thought today I'd treat you to a sample.

Two carved capitals, first of all:-



Now, I've seen a few bits of Romanesque scupture in my time, but I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as fine as this.  Perhaps it's because most of the stuff I encounter is weathered to within an inch of its life, or perhaps it's because in situ sculpture is impossible to view in any detail because it's always located way above head heigh.  Anyway, these pieces were really delightful.

Here's a rather fine lion:-


Onto human subjects now.  I'm not entirely sure what's going on here - it looks military in character, but since it derives from an ecclesiastical building, I suppose it may be Herod giving orders to begin the Slaugher of the Innocents:-


It is, of course, a fine depiction of chainmail hauberks and kite-shaped shields, and the Ivery small!) horses look quite jolly, though the same can't really be said of the 'spur-clanking boneheads' (thanks to Simon Schama for the quote!) who bestride them!!

Carrying on the religious theme, we have here a relief featuring the dismemberment of a saint by a bull.  I think I featured a reproduction of this relief previously - this is the original, and - I think - a better photograph:-


If you ask me, the bull's looking even more traumatised by the whole affair than the unfortunate saint...

Now, I'm not much of an art historian, but when I see carvings like this I can see similarities between the Norman French style of carving and the Norse sculpture of the north and west Atlantic seaboard.  This is perhaps not surprising, considering the 'Viking' origins of both groups, though it's not something I've really given much thought to, mainly because all things Norse have long left me cold (I did, however, watch Neil Oliver's recent series, and thoroughly enjoyed it, too...).

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Lagrasse.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed exploring it in the first place!  And if I can persuade any of you to go and visit it next time you go to Carcassone, so much the better! 

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Here, as promised, are some more images of the wonderful abbey at Lagrasse.  I know I previously waxed lyrical about the painted ceilings which proliferate throughout the medieval houses of Languedoc - well, here's another bit of medieval interior decorating which left me a bit gobsmacked.

Now, experts in medieval architecture often wax lyrical about our colourful medieval past, always going out of their way to remind us that the cold austere stonework we see in modern churches is nothing like the original medieval decor.  But it's a bit difficult to envisage what actually would have been going on, and I find that usually, when I stumble across real examples of medieval interior paintwork, it's nothing like how I would have imagined it.

Take this wall, for example.  I hadn't a clue what was going on here, until I actually found a display in the room which revealed that this incredible painted stonework is original medieval painting:-


The photograph has actually come out rather well, giving a true impression of what is a very strange but not altogether unpleasant decorating scheme.

No sooner had I got my head round this, than I realised that this little room was the antechamber to a small chapel which could not unfortunately be accessed, because it still had its original medieval paintwork surviving on all four walls, and an original in situ medieval tiled floor, too.


Thankfully, the authorities have provided visitors with shuttered hatches through which they can view the interior.  The These do not do much to assist photography, but I did my best.  The east wall shows the Tree of Life, and is still inlaid with some of its original precious stones:-


I've left these photographs at an unusually large size so you can get a better look...

Here's a view of the tiled floor now, which doesn't do it justice, I'm afraid, but believe me, it was impressive:-


One last view of the interior now.  This magnificent fireplace is much later than the medieval paintings and tiling featured above, but if I remember aright, it was earlier than I'd expected.  I'd opted for a late 16th or early 17th century date, but I think it was much earlier in the 16th, a sign no doubt that Scotland (and England!!) were the tail end Charlies as far as renaissance fashions were concerned:-


Again, it's really worth a close look because the details were incredible.

And as far as Lagrasse is concerned, that's still not everything...
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This is the first of a series of posts devoted to the Abbey of Lagrasse, which is one of several extremely well-preserved abbeys in Languedoc.  It's currently undergoing a massive programme of renovation, which will hopefully ensure that the building will survive well into the future.

The church, unfortunately, was not accessible, so I can't show you any pretty pictures of the interior.  But the conventual buildings are all extremely well preserved, and the structures have now found a new life as a museum of Romanesque sculpture.

Here's a distant view, showing its magnificent Romanesque bell-tower:-


Clearly, the building programme here was pretty much completed during the Romanesque period, as there's few traces of Gothic to be seen.  Unlike the nearby church in the town which we visited yesterday, which has seen a substantial amount of remodelling.


Here's a view of the cloisters, with its lovely Romanesque capitals.  The classical influences are certainly evident here:-


But the regional traditions are also clearly visible.  This is a view of the refectory, which has the massive diaphragm arches which are so commonly seen in the local churches.  At the time of our visit, some restoration works were underway here - you can see the fenced-areas where archaeologically-monitored works have been taking place.  The roof has been replaced recently, but the buildings were still in use until at least the eighteenth or nineteenth century, which probably explains why the fabric hasn't been brutally pillaged the way our own abbeys have been in the UK.


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Time for some ecclesiastical architecture now...

There's an abbey at Lagrasse, and a very splendid one, too.  But there's also a church, right in the middle of the town and hemmed in by buildings (the painted ceilings, incidentally, were in a residential building attached to the church - not exactly a Bishop's Palace, but still representing quite a comfortable residence, thank you very much!)


As usual, the church architecture showed plenty of complexity.  I was particularly struck by this doorway, which had previously been much larger.  I suspect though, from the ogival shape of the larger archway, that this didn't mark the original entrance - it looks a bit fifteenth century to me, while the church itself is earlier...


Inside, we have another example of these apsidal ended churches which proliferate throughout the area (comparable with the church of St Vincent in the Bastide de Saint Joseph, Carcassone...):-

I'm not sure if the lop-sided character of the vault is real, or a trick of the camera angle.  The Narbonne church which now houses the carved stone repository certainly features a lop-sided vault, so I wouldn't be at all surprised.  I don't recollect spotting such weirdness in this church at the time of our visit, though, so it could be purely an illusion.  Or else I was still in such a daze and a dither after gazing upon the painted ceilings that I didn't even notice...
This isn't another example of the meridional gothic form which is so commonly found throughout this part of France.  Instead, we see quite a complex arrangement of vaulting, as opposed to the plain barrel-vaulted form with its hefty diaphragm arches which I've featured previously:-

The painted walls are, of course, much much later than the medieval ceilings I featured yesterday, too!

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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:-


"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.


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


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:-


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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