Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Hallows, and no entry for the Dance of Death.

I had other plans for a Halloween post, though Jack o'Lanterns did quite nicely really.

The danse macabre at Kermaria an Iskuit is one of the most famous and intact frescos of the subject in existence; it's 15th century, internationally famous, and was the inspration behind the Saint-Saens' piece of the same name. It's been waiting for me to go and visit it for about eleven years now, and is less than an hour's drive away.

However, the photo of it above is from Wikimedia commons. Because, although I finally made a plan to go, Tom happily complied (bribed with a possibility of lunch out at Binic), we got in the car and drove, when we got there, although it was a pretty place indeed,

leafy and peaceful,

the light lovely on the old stones

and through the turning leaves

it was closed.

We were shut out,

barred from entry.

It seemed the gardien, the person who had the key,

was absent.

I was really rather cross.

I had thought, you see, that the week leading up to All Souls, the time when the spirits and souls walk abroad, would be a good time to go to such a place. What I had forgotten was, it is also the time when good French secular citizens make pilgrimages home to their families and elders, and perform their own ritual processions to the cemeteries, armed with votive chrysanthemums for the dead (never give chrysanths here as an offering to the living, it is bad form and bad luck), for the feast of Toussaint, All Saints, All Hallows, the day after All Hallows' Evening - Halloween.

Hence, presumably, the absence of the caretakers, who had left a soulfully howling dog at their house and a message on the answering machine.

So, I wandered around the outside of the building,

(while Tom stayed in the car with a book)

and looked for any interesting details I could find.

and acquainted myself with other guardians of the place,

some of whom had wings.

In the porch, which was a remarkably grand structure, with an upper storey from which, from the 15th century, justice and decrees would be announced to the populace below,

I encountered the Twelve Apostles, of which here are some.

In their faded, later, chalky polychrome, their distant, rough-carved stares seem to say: we are an afterthought to the Dance of Death, a softening of its message, or maybe a denial.
So for this year, I'll content myself with Saints not Souls. Perhaps in another eleven years I'll go back to see inside.
There was far too much soup from Jack for us to eat alone (I've never had much luck with the roasted seeds, so threw them away, but he has some brothers coming along, and perhaps I'll try again), so I proposed sharing it with friends. It's been cold and wet and miserable all day today, so I've had the oven on most of the day and found things to cook and bake to keep cosy. In honour of the festival, I've listened to Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices singing Hildegard of Bingen's music, and Loreena singing St John of the Cross' Dark Night, among other things. I'd love to know where the translation she uses comes from, it's not the Roy Campbell one she actually cites on the notes, but a very lovely one. (Sorry, not time for links now.)
Today is also the first day of Nablopomo, when one has an excuse to blog everyday without seeming to be a crashing bore or a sad obsessive. I'll see how I get on...


Catalyst said...

"...when one has an excuse to blog everyday without simply being a crashing bore or a sad obsessive. I'll see how I get on..."

Well, Sweet Lucy, you're off to a great start. That was a fascinating post and great pictures (as usual).

Unknown said...

Perhaps if the gardien had been on duty you and we would have missed these photographs of the outside. I assume the pun/caption about being cross was intentional.

Julia said...

Thanks for the Loreena McKennit reminder, I found a link and read your post again while she sang, the two seemed to go hand in hand.

Zhoen said...

I wouldn't feel disappointed, you may have seen the most lovely parts.

Go back on a nice gloomy day for the inside...

Oh, and Anonymous 4 does wonders with the Hildegard of Bingen music.

Granny J said...

Another lovely visit, Lucy -- and, I guess I have to use the word, educational. Sorry about that. Now to pull myself together to visit the museum for the Day of the Dead celebration, Azteco-Mexican style.

herhimnbryn said...

Dear Gardien,
Thankyou for shutting Lucy out!

Your eye, as ever is marvelous.

Pam said...

Ah, when I retire, I too will blog every day...

I don't much like your idea of removing the brains of your lantern... ugh! This, as we say in Scotland, gars me grue.

But I do like the snub-nosed gargoyle chappie with the - what - footballs? grapefruit? - under his arms.

Lee said...

Wow! When you visit, you visit with STYLE! Thank you.

tristan said...

great pictures .... thank you, thank you, thank you for taking us all with you

Roderick Robinson said...

The Church of the Holy Patina, in effect. Difficult to say whether the original artisans or the natural process of weathering is making the greater aesthetic contribution.

Our French house was en route to the village cemetery. On days when it was doing good business we slid open our ground floor window and granddaughter Ysabelle sat on the ledge to wish the flower-carrying pilgrims Bonjour. A Human Resources expert (surely a contradiction in terms) would have described this as bonding. The villagers, mercifully unaware of this disgusting term, appeared surprised and then delighted and thereafter Ysabelle was known and greeted in the wider world.

Dave King said...

I guess your bad luck - or miscalculation - is our good luck: thanks for the stunning images, especially those of the porch and its occupants. You have really made the place live. Great post.

Lucy said...

Thank you for turning out to read, and for such a good variety of responses! In fact the inside probably wouldn't have been so easy to photograph anyway, but I'd like to have seen it. We still had lunch out in Binic, which was OK, though loses something when you can't have clams with garlic, which is one of the many things Tom's not allowed.

Cat - cheers!

Plutarch - yes; St Andrew's cross too...

Julia - very pleased you like Loreena M. too; I'm going to do some searching about that particular track.

Z - thanks for the lead on Anonymous 4, I'd not heard of them; I'll find out more.

GJ - the Day of the Dead is another interesting variant, it always sounds a bit more cheerful and creative than the Day of Chrysanthemums here...

HHB - thanks, I felt sorry for the dog though.

Isabelle - I love 'gars me grue'! Blogging every day could just be a sign of nothing better to do, on the other hand, just one photo and a caption? 31 days in the life of Cassie and Sirius? I think the funny man actually has his knees under his arms! He was a sconce(?) supporting a statue in the porch.

Lee - thanks, I don't get out much y'know so I have to make the most!

Tristan - always nice to see you, glad you enjoyed.

BB - charming story. She probably cheered up their lugubrious observances. I like very much the spelling of her name with a 'Y'. It's interesting seeing what's presumably the original polychrome all weathered, and vestiges of it remaining on some of the stone too.

Dave - it's an ill-wind! I probably could have learned about the closure with a bit more research, but it all turned out OK. I didn't stay miffed for long!

leslee said...

Wonderful photos, Lucy. And good luck with NaBloPoMo! I'm trying it out for the first time, too. We'll see...

jzr said...

Your delightful post shows how one can make something wonderful from a disappointing situation!

Bee said...

You gathered so many good things from your shut-out . . . but it was rather sad, as you had "waited" so many years to see it.

I was a bit startled to realize that the French actually observe All Soul's Day . . . but then I realized that they are mostly Catholic. England is so . . . secular. Cultural perspective is such a funny thing! We can be so guided and blinded by it, without realizing. I think of All Soul's Day as being Mexican in flavor. I didn't realize that chrysanthemums are a mourning flower, as the marigolds are for the Day of the Dead. Perhaps this is why I dislike both flowers, (as much as I can dislike a flower, that is).

BTW, I have good luck roasting pumpkin seeds in a bit of olive oil at about 200 degrees until light brown. Then sprinkle liberally with salt!

Elizabeth said...

Your essay was just beautiful!
I would love to be able to visit such a place. Your eye was, as usual, impecable! I love the Saints...they are a wonderful observation for the Holy Days.

I love chrysanthemums...used them for my wedding...glad I didn't know the French connection to mourning. Here in the US, it is Gladiolas that show up at every Aunt couldn't stand them for that reason...I like them though.
Blessings for All Soul's Day!
Pax Christi, E

Anonymous said...

"Really rather cross." Nothing like a pun.

Nablopomo! Good luck--I shan't join you.