After our walk on the beach at Jospinet we stopped off at the little church at Morieux - opposite which is a bar with an outside terrace where in the season you can also eat moules frites, with cream added to the poaching liquor and really good frites made from real potoatoes with the skin left on, though this time it was late and we didn't stop to eat.
I wondered whether to post about this church in another post, alongside my other favourite little painted church which is inland at Langast, because they seem to me to be to be filled with summer and winter respectively. Instead I shall post about the Langast one another time, in it's own season, and show you Morieux now.
The church and its frescos date from the 12th century up to the 17th. I don't know exactly which are the oldest of the paintings, though in some the draperies and features depicted are more elaborate and realistic, and the linework is finer, clearly later work. These photographed less well than the bolder, simpler pictures with their blocks of colour. They were almost all whitewashed over from about 18th century, which of course preserved them, and restored during the last century.
It looks at its best in the light from these main, west-facing doors, which opens out towards the sea and the green fields between, on a summer afternoon. Today they are closed, perhaps because the frescos are fragile and sensitive to light ( flash photography is forbidden ) and we enter by a smaller side door.
It is a smiling, sunny place, the earth pigments on the walls retain strong russet and gold hues, and between the storytelling pictures and in the window recesses are dolly mixture florals, lazy daisies and polka dots,
and bold geometrics that look like Turkish kelims.
and the thick, roughly sculpted walls and the ochres and limewash and the light falling on it give a much more southerly, Mediterranean feeling to the place.
The paintings themselves, while illustrating the standard mediaeval Christian staples of death in general and martyrdom in particular, also elicit smiles, and feature many smiling faces.
See how the virgin saint ( who? I don't know, Saint Foy perhaps, this could have been on a remote capillary of the Camino... I'll find out sometime), seraphically undergoes her very gruesome end,
while these characters (below) have perhaps better reason to be jolly. This fresco shows the celebrated resurrection from the dead by St Nicholas of the poor little Pickled, or Salty, Boys. This episode in the saint's life is one reason why he became the patron saint of children ( the other being that he saved three young girls without dowries from being sold into prostitution by their father... a far cry from the sanitised version of dear old Santa Claus as we now know him, and indeed of childhood generally,) and forms part of Benjamin Britten's 'St Nicholas' (the link is to Amazon where you can listen to a bit of it):
'See! Three boys spring back to life
Who, slaughtered by the butcher's knife
lay salted down!
And, entering hand in hand they stand and sing
"Alleluia" to their king!'
My sister was especially pleased with this one, as she has a friend who is fond of that particular work by Britten, and it has become a refrain between them on Christmas cards to ask 'Got any pickled boys in this year?'
The dead seen below rising from their graves on the Day of Judgement are as merry as jack-in-the-boxes or singing telegrams, as indeed perhaps they should be.
This angel's long bumble-bee striped nightgown ( again, the exact story being illustrated eludes me)
and the cartoonish toes of this Grim Reaper - or Ankou, as he is known hereabouts -
cannot fail to raise a smile. But perhaps the prize for the most rumbustiously gleeful depiction of something frightful must go to that of the Mouth of Hell, yawning wide to yield up the previously damned souls in the triumph of The Harrowing, the Devil small, puny and weaponless in the wings.
It is perhaps glib and facetious to laugh at these works, when one cannot really comprehend, at this distance, the workings of the minds that executed or beheld them. But it does not seem fanciful to perceive in them a strong current of robust joy, an energy and vitality and humour which is not lost in translation from then to now. They seem to me 'a beakerful of the warm south' in these wet, windy northwesterly fringes, and a glowing treasure still to be relished.