Monday, 16 November 2009

Amazing surprises

I'm not sure that I agree it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive, but sometimes it happens that while you're headed off to see a particular thing, you find something en route that's much more interesting.

So it was that we were headed off to Sées (old style, Séez: adjective, Sagien) when I noticed a sign by the road for Tillières-sur-Avre - a town with, according to the sign, a 12-16 century church. Oh, I thought, this might be interesting.

And it was. The signs were not encouraging; we encountered a route barrée sign, and the area outside the church was full of diggers, dumps of building materials, and dug-up bits of road. Still, we persevered. The latch stuck; then, jiggled about a bit, lifted.

A nice church, with a wide nave, rather lame Gothic arcade, and wooden roof. Nice. Not worth the detour. A few fragments of glass (which, to my great delight, included an angel playing a tenor shawm with the fontenelle shown, and another playing a soprano or alto with the reed clear to see - you have to be a Renaissance reed player to understand). A bit better than nice.

It wasn't till we got to the east end that we saw the reason this church is signposted. Back in about 1520, Cardinal Le Veneur, of the family which held the seigneurie of the town, decided to improve the church, and vaulted the choir and side chapel in what is possibly the strangest mix of Renaissance and Gothic I have ever seen. Huge, succulent pendant ornaments, square ribs, cherubs and caryatids everywhere, and among all this, the blasons of the Le Veneurs and their relations, resplendent in gold and heraldic colours. Weirdest of all, it's a flat stone ceiling, with ribs that are no more than ornaments dividing it up into compartments; the Gothic design has parted ways with Gothic structure.

It's almost as flamboyant as the little chapel at Rue, in the Somme - but that's more truly Gothic, while this is Renaissance pretending it isn't.

The main road is all nineteenth century houses in that mixture of engineering brick and rubble I particularly dislike. But we were looking for a boulangerie... and then I caught sight of a timber facade. A huge, long facade in half-timber and brick nogging, with the kind of sagging bressumer that only comes with age, and that you feel could tell a hundred stories (though if it did, it would only do so with a great deal of groaning and creaking).

Sées, on the other hand, I found slightly disappointing, in the way second tier French cathedrals have of disappointing you - no interesting old tombs, a lot of damaged sculptures which hint at what they might have been, and everything given a thorough going-over by 19th century restorers (probably under bishop Trégaro, who seems to be everywhere - his chubby face on a funerary monument, looking just as well fed in the east window of the Sacrament Chapel, which he donated, and in a couple of inscriptions too). And then it rained, too, which put a damper on things.

Don't misunderstand me. Sées cathedral is very nice; it just isn't Chartres.

I'm glad we turned off to Tillières.

No comments:

Post a Comment