VOL. 8 NO. 4
|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter|
: A Realm of Romanesque
by Arthur Gillette
Ici et Là
Designing an Itinerary
A Mule in
During the French Renaissance and subsequent Age of Reason, the gaudy colors traipsing across the sculpture and window panes of cathedrals and other major medieval churches came to be looked on as pagan, even barbaric – worthy of the Goths! So the term "Gothic architecture" was originally far from a compliment. And the colors were scraped and scrubbed away, leaving today's often ivory-hued pristine stone and clear, or 19th-century-stained, glass.
The pendulum is beginning to swing back, however. Nowhere is the polychrome revival more stunning than in Poitiers. At its Romanesque flowering, Poitevin religious architecture was a riot of color, now returning thanks to ingenious and state-of-the-art light technology.
the esplanade before the western façade of 11th-12th century
Dame la Grande collégiale church of a summer evening.
At 10:30 sharp the meager monochrome diet suddenly bursts into a bright,
rich and varied feast of reds, blues, yellows. Etched against the
dark night sky are "comic strip" renderings of Old and New Testament episodes,
used in the Middle Ages to impress and instruct an almost totally illiterate
And there's a lot to check out. By my count, there is about one officially listed historical monument per thousand inhabitants.
Three itineraries, materialized by color-coded strips on sidewalks, begin at an intersection near Notre Dame la Grande. You can follow them using a map guide available free of charge (in English, too) from the Office de Tourisme just across the esplanade from that church. Explanatory plaques abound, as do, with English summaries, informative lecterns.
Let's first sample the Red Route. It takes you, for example, to the handsome 11th century belfrey-porch of St. Porchaire church, cheek-by-jowl with a wall of its 10th century predecessor.
there, it's just a few minutes’ walk to St. Hilaire, named for Poitiers’
first documented (in the 4th century) bishop, Hilary. Dating from
the 11th and 12th centuries, this church's vast naves still welcome pilgrims
(although they no longer sleep there) on their devout way to the shrine
at Santiago de Compostella – literally " St. James' Star Field" -
in northwestern Spain.
continued on page 4
> to read about the Prehistoric France Tour April 12 -22, 2005, that will not only take in significant sites telling the story of early mankind, but will include visits to medieval villages and bastides, fine regional cuisine and luxury stays in both a classical château and an ancient priory.
> for a sampling of Rob Silverstone's exquisite prose as he takes readers through Upper Normandy in an excerpt from his book, A Mule in Rouen.
hear about the first-hand experiences of Maxine Rose Schur at Lyon's
Festival of Lights ~ just one of the winter delights in France's
[Due to space constraints in this edition, the article on the stonemasons of the Creuse will instead appear in the March issue.]
. . . A Quiz on Your Knowledge of Historic Paris
Question from the last issue: France officially calls the region around Paris 'L'Ile de France'. True, when viewed on a map, the area of Greater Paris does look like something of an oval island. But, that's probably not the 'L'Ile' in question. What is the real etymology?
Answer: When the Vikings started up the Seine from the English Channel to raid France in the mid-9th century, they expected to find a vast kingdom to plunder. So, it was with some disappointment that they discovered the French King's real domain was limited to a few hundred square miles around the capital: in Scandinavian languages lille ('little') France.
Our new question: An 18th century English visitor to the French capital noted, "Why, there are more tennis players in Paris than drunkards in England!" In the Robert French dictionary, 'tennis' is listed as an English-origin word first used in 1836. What is its real etymology?
Arthur Gillette, and take advantage of his amazing knowledge of Paris
[See the answer
to this edition's question in our March issue]
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