I have no idea what Linda’s problem is. For some reason she keeps losing satellite coverage. This makes no sense at all, unless all the satellites have been set to avoid France at the moment.
My best guess is that it’s something to do with the hire car. Either Europcar has decided to jam any device other than their own or it’s something to do with the protective coating on the windscreen. At least I can test for the latter.
Because Linda was not being a good little Satnav today, a lot of our travelling had to be done by guess work. Still, we managed to get where we wanted to go and see what we wanted to see it just might not have been via the most desirable routes.
Our original plan for the day was turned upside down when we found out that the market in Niort was in the morning. Then, we decided to go and see an abbey and forget Niort. Last night, driving back from the restaurant in Fontenay-le-Comte, we spotted a couple of signs pointing off the main road towards a couple of abbeys so we decided to take one of these.
We wound up in the pretty little town of Nieul-sur-l’Autise which contains a royal abbey. The abbey, made royal at the insistence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (she told her first husband, Louis VII to do it), was started in around 1076 and granted royal protection in 1141. It has been through a lot of ups and downs and now is mostly a shell.
Eight years before the abbey, a church was built. This is St Vincent’s and it has the most remarkable columns. They appear to be leaning out to such an extent that I’m amazed the building remains standing.
The photo above doesn’t really show it clearly but you can sort of get the idea. Mind you, it’s been there for almost 1,000 years and had a lot of people leaning up against them (churches didn’t always have pews).
The church was built on land donated by Airaud Gassedenier, Lord of the Vouvant. He was worried about his soul being damned for eternity. I have no idea what he did that made him so certain he’d be pitched into the fiery depths of hell, but I guess paying for a massive great church would help with his salvation.
The abbey, which they insist on called Eleanor’s though there’s no evidence she actually visited, has been beautifully restored for tourists. You wander along thick glass walkways, high up near the ceiling and marvel at strange musical instruments (copied from small statues outside churches in the region) and the fine workmanship around the rafters.
That makes it sound like you can see the ground through it but you can’t. You are not just suspended but also enclosed. You gradually moved downwards until you are in the cloisters and chapter house. It’s all very cool with a style not unlike Falaise where Bill the Bastard was born.
The abbey as I’ve said, had its ups and downs over the centuries. It was at the height of its power at the beginning of the 13th century but during the Wars of Religion (Christians killing Christians because the Catholics didn’t want to lose any power they had over the stupid, the lazy and the peasants) the place suffered a great deal with buildings being damaged. Following the religious plague that swept through, and in the 17th century, Abbot Pierre Brisson decided to make the place great again. He succeeded and the place once more thrived.
Then, in 1698, the bell tolled for the abbey rather than anyone dying in the village. Abbot Balthasar de la Vrilliere (a great name for a baddie) closed the place down. In 1718 the abbey was de-consecrated and everything religious moved to La Rochelle.
It slowly rotted away but then, in 1840 a chap who went by the name of Prosper Merimee decided it should be listed as a historical monument (which it was, in 1862) and by doing so, saved it.
I loved the place (though I don’t think Bob was that keen) and wandered all over it.
Highlights were the kids from a school group enacting what the monks would have done and the strange animations in the library…even if it was in French.
Lunch followed quickly on the heels of the abbey and galletes were consumed with great gusto. We then headed off to Fontenay-le-Comte in order to visit Chateau de Terre Neuve.
If anyone suggests that it’s a good idea to use the latitude and longitude co-ordinates to direct a Garmin Satnav to where you want to go, smile politely then walk away. I put the co-ordinates into Linda and she took us to the back wall, via a tiny little road. This didn’t make Mirinda particularly happy. Still, we managed to find the place eventually.
The chateau was built for a poet, Nicolas Rapin and designed by the architect Jean Morisson. It was built in 1580 and became the place to mix with the best people in society. Clearly you had to be wealthy. Even so, the chateau is not as ostentatious as many we’ve visited before.
These days, the place is more an homage to Octave de Rochebrunne, master engraver and artist. His work is in the final room and is truly amazing. I’ve researched a few engraving plates at the Science Museum but have rarely seen anything quite as brilliant as the one in the workshop of the chateau.
The present owners still live there (they were upstairs while we were taken on a guided tour by a student) and, I assume, pay their bills with the pittance they receive from tourists.
Like most of these places, no photos are allowed and, like ALL of these places, there was a painting that I really, really wanted to photograph. It was an incredible Renaissance depiction of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist to Herod. I scoured the postcards in the gift shop but they hadn’t bothered to copy it. I have also searched the Internet, again without luck.
Tonight is our last night at Lesson – we’re planning to eat in Coulon – so I have included a photo of our wonderful accommodation.
Mr & Mrs Charroud have made us feel very welcome and comfortable. It’s a shame to leave.