Early in the Great War the poet Rupert Brooke recorded a private soldier in his battalion grumbling "What I don't like about this 'ere Bloody Europe is all these Bloody pictures of Jesus Christ an' 'is Relatives, be'ind Bloody bits of glawss". Then, as now, such roadside calvaries come as a surprise to northern European Protestants, not least because there is nothing like them on rural roads at home. It is often assumed that these structures, usually found at road junctions, crossroads or natural viewpoints, were placed there centuries ago, but often they prove to be far more recent.
The oldest surviving calvaries, such as the fifteenth century one at Le Louroux which we wrote about [here], were sited in the centre of village cemeteries and depicted not only the crucified Christ, but also the smaller figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John. In later centuries these were often moved as the village cemetery was re-sited away from the church to the outskirts. Here they retained their original medieval purpose as the focal point of the local site of remembrance. We've also seen a lovely example of a, much later, 19th century calvary with the figures of St John and the Virgin at a crossroads in Lureuil.
However, most of the calvaries seen by roadsides today, which date from the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, have a different history and purpose. Following the endemic iconoclasm that accompanied the French Revolution the French bishops launched a series of 'missions evangeliques' to re-christianise rural communities. Where this was successfully accomplished large crosses would be erected depicting the crucified Christ as concrete memorial proof that the area had been 're-conquered' by the church. A good local example stands outside the nearby village of St. Flovier, the base recording the success of 'Mission 1895'.
The same Mission must also have turned its evangelical fervour on Charnizay, as the village has not one, but two, such calvaries – perhaps revolutionary iconoclasm was especially virulent among earlier inhabitants! One of them stands quite near us, high on the hill overlooking the village on the road to Azay-le-Ferron. It is a welcome resting place when one walks back from the village and affords the best view, one we have photographed several times.
Smaller metallic crosses, often of elaborate design, are found beside road junctions and footpaths. Marked on local maps they are useful for orientation and were perhaps used in the past as meeting points. For whatever original purpose, someone took the trouble to erect these structures and somehow our local landscape would be a little emptier without their friendly presence.