WARNING! THIS POST CONTAINS QUITE A BIT ABOUT AN ABBEY, FRESCOES AND LITERAL BIBLE BASHING
Today we managed to tick off another UNESCO World Heritage site. This time it was an Abbey; the Abbey of Saint-Savin to be exact. It lies in the Vienne/Poitou-Charentes area of France, along the bank of the La Gartempe river.
(Actually, and of extreme interest, the river was the power behind the first elevator to be installed in this place. The story goes (and it’s true) that Leon Edoux (1827-1910) who was born in Saint-Savin, was working as an engineer on the Eiffel Tower. He suddenly thought of an elevator, powered by water, that could be installed at the Abbey to allow visitors the opportunity to rise to the higher floors above the refectory without having to mount the stairs. This he did, in 1892, twice. One of these lifts was still working in 1984. And all powered by the river. Extraordinary.)
The drive to Saint-Savin was nice and meandering, through the countryside, along narrow roads which are only an inconvenience to driving when someone else wants to do the same but from the opposite direction. We drove through little towns and villages, all intriguing, all driven through.
One thing that we had to find was an ATM. The chateau where we are staying requires payment in cash and our Euros were running dry. I spotted one in the bustling ex-limeburning town of Chauvigny. From what I’ve managed to find out, Chauvigny is most well known because it’s on the way to other places, most notably the curious bone-cavern of Jioux. Not that we saw it or the bones. Though we did see one of the famous churches.
Something that Chauvigny does have, however, is a wonderful boulangerie that sells Mirinda’s favourite French treat, the religieuse. They’ve been hard to find in France of late so when one is discovered, it is important to buy and devour it as soon as possible…which she did. I had a French vanilla slice.
We also had a coffee (beer) while Mirinda applied her sunscreen. She feels, as an Australian, that she should be as public as possible in her suncream application. If nothing else, it provides the locals with something to talk about over dinner with the family.
We were not long in Chauvigny. We collected the car and headed further on, towards the little village of Saint-Savin, and the massive spire of the Abbey church. We arrived and drove around the one-way square, before finding the parking area in front of the abbey. Mimicking the only other driver to do it, Mirinda parked abreast the dividing line between the alleys, declaring her bipartisanism, and we headed for the church.
My first impression was that Saint-Savin appears to be the sort of town where the locals pour out of the tabac because they think they recognise you from the previous edition of Crimewatch but I could be wrong. It seemed that way when we drove in but a little while later I figured the visitor figures must be so high that they would be up and down and in and out more times than their waistlines indicated.
We entered the signposted entrance and were greeted by a young man who was not fooled by my French one bit. In English he explained that the audio guides were only in French and he would give us a brochure (which he did) and then explained the route we should take. The church and the frescoes (the reasons we were there) came last.
Obediently we headed into the refectory then the garden (a bit scrappy, it has to be said) then upstairs to look at the tiny rooms once occupied by the monks, then the gendamerie then various other people who required fireplaces and extra leg room. This all became a bit much when we started to be pursued by a couple who were a bit smelly.
We left the Hall of Little Cells and rose once more, this time to the 30 minute dramatisation of how the ceiling was painted. Obviously it was in French and had the audience gripped. We were not gripped and, when Mirinda asked me if I’d had enough, I suggested that perhaps we could now see the actual frescoes. We did.
And what an amazing place. So light and airy, so colourful and bright. The frescoes are very high up but even so, the strength and beauty of them shines down.
A few of them have gone. Through the years various wars and revolutions and just plain stupidity have seen bits and pieces destroyed but, essentially, they tell the story of the Bible. Or bits of the Bible at least.
This nicely leads me on to trying to understand how people can possibly believe that the Bible is the word of God…unless God is a complete arse.
The single biggest example has to be the destruction of the giants. It seems that when Noah filled his ark with two of everything, he included a couple of giants. Male giants to be specific. They are pictured on the ceiling ark fresco, clinging on for dear life.
The next we see of the giants is a single one helping to build the Tower of Babel which God is cursing because, I suppose, all people were working together to create something really, really worthwhile like a way for everyone to communicate more effectively.
Leaving aside the poor giants and their fate at the hands of an uncaring God, I feel I have to speak of the 19th century restorers. It would appear that whoever repainted Eve gave her whiskers. The fresco representing God, Adam and Eve is more likely to be God, Adam and Adam. Perhaps the restorer was well ahead of time and advocating of gay marriage before gay was even a thing.
Anyway, reason aside, the whole place is utterly beautiful and evidence of what human beings are truly capable of if they try. Or are forced by a superstition beyond any reasonable logic.
We spent quite a while admiring the frescoes but eventually, even monocular viewing had limits and we visited a terrace tabac outside for a couple of wines (beers) before, eventually, heading back to the chateau.
Back at the chateau we had a long, long rest before heading back to La Table de Bellefois for a delicious final meal (I had the duck in order to save my insides from another raw beef onslaught), our final meal in this part of France for now.
On the drive back we discussed the fact that it feels like we’ve already had two holidays (St Malo & Poitiers) and now we’re about to head off for the third. Tremolat here we come…tomorrow. After a sleep in. And a long drive punctuated with a few stops.
And just as an aside…Brazil was knocked out of the World Cup tonight by Belgium. France beat Uruguay earlier in the day which means there are now no more South American teams in the World Cup. How often has that happened?