Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Beautiful Abbey at St. Hillaire

Today, we paid a visit to the Abbey at St. Hillaire over near Limoux. The first time the abbey is mentioned in any written records was in the year 825, when the body of St. Hillaire was buried here. Monks lived here for about a thousand years until 1758. Every time I learn a small factioid like that, it causes my new world mind to marvel at the span of history in France.
One or more monks are thought to be buried here. Twenty years ago bones were found, but it's not known whether they are from one or a number of persons. In any case, it's spooky.

The cloisters are very beautiful, with a lovely little fountain in the center. The monks would have taken a vow of silence, so I imagine they spent a fair amount of time listening to the fountain's waters tinkle and splash.

I might mention here that you can click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

This photo is of the wall inside the Abbot's apartment. The coat of arms of each of the successive abbots was painted on the wall, this one being from good old Bertrand, from 1369. The ceiling and rafters bear a remarkable paint job from the 16th century.

Between the pillars of the cloister, was a checkerboard carved into the rock for the purpose of playing chess. I can easily see a monk at each end, one leg on each side, leaning back against the pillars, spending hours playing chess. Before scholars decided that it was a checkerboard, it was thought to be some kind of calculation system, like an abbacus. I can understand that church officials had a hard time thinking that the monks would want or need some kind of diversion like chess. Frankly, I can't imagine the monks sitting around and doing addition and subtraction problems here.

Light from the stained glass windows makes a beautiful pattern on the floor of the church. I took a picture of the window as well, but the un-intended design on the floor is more charming to me, and it changes by the second with the movement of the sun and clouds.

The masterpiece of the abbey is the sculpture by an artist whose name is not known and goes by the moniker "The Master of Cabestany". Its called the sarcophagus of Saint Sernin. However, it's not a sarcophagus (it's too small). The master's name comes from the village of Cabestany, in the department of Pyrenees Orientales where he is thought to have carved another work of art. There are works attributed to him in Spain, Catalonia and Navarre, in France, and in Italy in Tuscany. His signature style features triangular faces, low foreheads, high ears, stretched eyes, hands with long fingers and many pleats on the clothes and many details around the characters. One thing is for sure; the master, or someone, must have spent an amazing aamount of time working on this sculpture.


Anonymous said...

C'est tres belle, ca. Leslie

Anonymous said...

The Abbey seems so lovely and tranquil..just looking at your pictures makes me relax a little. I especially love the reflection of the stained glass on the floor.

Thanks for letting me share your adventure. Luke