Following the bizarre evening we had yesterday we decided a more sedate approach to today was called for. We figured a jazz night at an art studio comprising a harmonica player and a pianist struck just the right balance.
But that was our plan for the night, this morning we decided to visit a chateau…except we didn’t make it beyond the terrace overlooking the Dordogne at Limeuil where we had a coffee. This is really one of our new favourite places. So much so that we went back later and had some lunch as well.
However, after our leisurely coffees we headed down the road to St Martin’s chapel. This is renowned throughout the region as a very pretty little chapel or ‘squat’ as one source unkindly put it. It sits in the middle of farmland, a graveyard around it.
It was built on the orders of Richard the Lionheart to atone for the murder of Thomas A’Becket. Seems a small recompense for a man’s life.
We would have loved to have gone inside but the restorers are in and they had the key. We know this because Mirinda’s book claims the key is kept in the house opposite. She went and asked a rather creepy old woman who referred any questions to a farmer of very impressive facial hair with a jolly face to match.
He told Mirinda that the door is just a bit stiff and generally needs a good shove. He followed us back to the chapel door and demonstrated. Except the door still didn’t budge. He shrugged and explained, through French language, gestures and outlandish mime that the key is normally with him but the restorers have it and he didn’t know where they were.
While we didn’t get to see inside, we did walk around and take a lot of photos of the outside. I was rather taken with the gashes in the south exterior wall which seems to indicate that there was another section of building there once upon a time.
We saw as much as we could see then returned to the car, parked rather haphazardly behind a grave tending local who was even more haphazardly parked. Rather than head for the chateau that we’d more or less decided not to visit, we just drove. Mirinda basically let the car take us somewhere we hadn’t been before.
This isn’t as odd as it seems because Linda always shows the breadcrumbs of our journey. In order to go somewhere we haven’t been this trip all we need to do is not follow the breadcrumbs. Easy. And that is how we discovered Paunat or Peanut as Mirinda insists on calling it.
At Peanut there’s not much except a massive church. The church was once part of an impressively large abbey but it was destroyed a number of times (100 Years War, Wars of Religion, French Revolution…the usual suspects) and now there’s little but the land left.
The church is very big though and seems a bit oversized for its place in the valley. Something equally shocking is the majestic scaffolding erected around one part of the church as a hardy team of restorers do their thing.
Mirinda doesn’t like scaffold and when she spotted it, she was not best pleased, almost ready to jump back in the car and drive to something a little less covered up.
She didn’t. But it was a close thing.
No-one really knows (or they’re not telling) when the abbey was originally built at Paunal. The only real evidence they have dates from the 11th century however, there are a few bits of scrappy evidence that indicates that the place was probably built in around 800AD. It was then destroyed by the Normans a few years later. Then built again. This happened a few times over its chequered (and largely unknown) history.
As for good old Saint Martial, for whom the church is named, he was a bishop sent out from Rome by Pope Fabian to bring Christianity to the Gauls (whether they wanted it or not) sometime in the 200’s. Martial was given Limoges to convert so off he trotted. He must have liked Limoges because he never returned but lived then subsequently died there. He was buried and, eventually, sainted. Mind you, he might not have really liked the place because Limoges was swept with a wave of ergot poisoning in 994 which he didn’t bother sorting out for them though they did a lot of praying to him. By the way, ergot is a type of fungus and was once much favoured by witches.
Anyway, back to the church and abbey.
The place was built and destroyed so many times that there are quite a few different levels of floor. A very handy plan and open floor near the altar demonstrates the various depths of tiling. More importantly, there’s a very nice restaurant outside, built somewhere atop the ruined abbey. Sadly it doesn’t open on Wednesdays so we drove back to Limeuil and sat back down by the river for lunch instead.
As we pulled up at the car park we were approached by a French boy scout (we’ve seen quite a few of them) asking if he could use my phone. He wanted to contact his friend but he had no signal. Given he was a boy scout and troop leader of a small troop of younger boys, I figured he’d be fine. I set my phone up and handed it to him to make the call. Which was fine except my signal dropped out as well. We all shrugged our shoulders and went our separate ways.
After a two hour break by the river, we had a choice. Either go back to the gite for a short rest or drive across to Cadouin in preparation for the jazz concert that Madame had told us about (by way of a flyer). We decided there was little point in going back to the gite for so short a break and, instead, drove to Cadouin then on to the Abbey church of Saint Avit Senieur, just down the road.
It has to be said that the town of Saint Avit Senieur is yet another beautiful little place in the heart of the Dordogne countryside, the road leading into the centre lined with an overflowing tsunami of red trumpet flowers. These plants, so reminiscent of bind weed, appear everywhere in the region but it seems the majority are here. And the bees love them.
As we walked by the flowers, the buzzing was almost deafening as each little fur bellied bee took its share of nectar to be turned into honey back at the hive. It was truly a beautiful blast of buzzing, though I reckon Susanne and Rafi would have run away very quickly.
Which reminds me…when I went for a swim the other day, carefully keeping my mouth closed to avoid swallowing any of the thousands of insects adrift on the surface of the pool, a wasp kept bothering my head, the only part of me above water. No matter how many times I dived beneath the surface, it was always there, waiting for me. How do they do that? For creatures of very little brains, they show some incredible feats of thought sometimes.
The abbey at Saint Avit Senieur is another ruin attached to the remaining church. This one had a bit more information available in the form of an English leaflet. To quote the text directly:
“…in 487, a hermit named Avit, born in Lanquais, withdrew into the valley west of the current abbey. Between 1060 and 1065, a small group of monks jived together near Saint Avit’s tomb.”
Ignoring the fact that the jive wasn’t invented until the 1930’s, I’m guessing these facts come from some reliable source rather than on a dance floor.
The leaflet goes on to claim that there were ‘confusing reports’ of fires in the church caused by the Albigensians in the 13th century. For the uninitiated into the ways of the religious ferocity of the 13th century, the Albigensians were the Cathars, particularly despised by the Pope at the time.
Moving on to the 100 Years War, the English destroyed the choir then the Huguenots (French protestants) wrecked the entire abbey in 1577. While the Catholics retook the monastery, it wasn’t much chop anymore so they left it to rot, fixing up the church instead. Eventually most of the abbey buildings collapsed so they were all levelled to the ground. This means there is still a very visible blueprint remaining of the original structure.
Of course, some walls still remain.
The church, on the other hand, is very much there. Although it was extensively restored in the 1980’s, it is pretty much how it always has been (after the Cathars tried to burn it down of course). The inside of the church was, once, completely covered in frescoes. Now there are just faint hints of the glory that once was. Though the painted ceiling is pretty amazing.
The church is huge inside and very cool which is excellent when the outside temperature keeps hovering around the 30 degree mark on the Melty Scale. The fact that there is very little furniture in the church is possibly blamed on the Albigensians but I think it was probably removed by the restorers a little later on. The furniture that remains, however, is more than adequate for sitting and cooling down on.
After a bit of a wander around the ruins, we headed back to Cadouin for a pre-jazz drink at one of the terrace bars. While there, I tried to work out who was going to the jazz as well as where it was. Both tasks were not easy. The address was an artists studio. Fortunately Cadouin is not that big and the only artist’s studio in town is easily found plonked on a hill overlooking the piazza outside the abbey.
It’s not often that I find an artist’s work appealing to the extent that I actually want to buy it but this artist, Isabelle Jacopin, is a dab hand at sketching. She has created some amazing brush stroke pictures of French markets as well as four line nudes. However, the one piece I almost immediately fell in love with was an acrylic picture of Josephine Baker, or so I thought.
The artist confessed that it might have been Josephine Baker but she couldn’t be certain. She did go through a bit of a Josephine Baker phase. The one I bought is predominantly yellow and the singer is wearing a white dress, standing in front of a microphone. I really think it’s quite beautiful. Eventually it will hang in my office.
Speaking of the artist she spends eight months in New Orleans and the other four months in Cadouin. She has studios in both places. Tonight, though, she was in Cadouin and had a special treat in store for customers and visitors alike in her French studio.
Jazz harmonica player Michel Herblin and his piano playing friend, Guillaume Wilmot entertained us all with some pretty amazing music. They describe it as ‘Harmonica Baroque and Piano Jazz.’ Whatever it might be, it was certainly pretty cool. Mirinda counted about 20 harmonicas in Michel’s case for a start. Though there was only the one piano.
There were a lot more people by the end of the gig.
Afterwards we strolled over to the lovely little Restaurant de l’Abbaye, where we dined on delicious smoked duck salad, fish and creme brulee (see my report on the appropriate page).
Another amazing day.