Friday, 10 August 2012

Monsters at St Savin

Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is justly famous for its frescos which we've written about before here. Certainly the first time we visited in March 2011 we had eyes only for the frescos which had just undergone a meticulous restoration/conservation. However, there are other gems which can easily be over-looked as the frescos are so superb.

polychrome capital: monsters having their feet eaten
Last week we were there with Antoinette's friend Andrea. In addition to looking at the frescos --Noah's Ark is a favourite-- we pottered around some of the nooks and crannies of the former abbey church and spotted some lovely monsters and an angel as well!

more monster feet being eaten by smaller monsters
We found these 11th century monsters lurking at the top of three of the pillars which support the apsidal choir. Although very similar, each is slightly different in its detail. All show monsters being consumed, creating a continuum which reflects the cycle of life. Two of the capitals show the legs of the large monsters being eaten by smaller ones and the third shows the monsters eating their own tails. 

tail-eating monsters
The angel, who perhaps looks slightly grumpy, was found when we tipped up some choir stall seats which had been placed in the southern transept. Often when you tip these seats up they have these little ledges. They were there so that you could rest your bottom during long periods of the service when you had to stand. They're called 'misericords'  -- taken from the Latin word for pity.

grumpy angel [prob 17th cent]
English cathedrals and medieval churches often have superb misericords carved during the middle ages; Beverly Minster in Yorkshire has fabulous examples. Frequently they depict humorous scenes as an 'in joke' for the clergy, as the misericords were never seen by members of the congregation.

16 comments:

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Some great photos here and an interesting post. Have a good weekend Diane

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - thanks we shall! we have friends [with 3 kids] coming to stay so it will be lively!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
The little monsters really are rather ferocious and a tiny bit frightening when one considers them in the course of eating one another!

One of the joys of visiting English cathedrals is to look in the choir stalls for the misericords - some can be absolutely enchanting.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - absolutely! We spent many a happy hour at Beverley--all the misericords there are musicians/on a musical theme.
They are one of the first things we have a look for in any church in the UK -- after the stained glass [if present].

the fly in the web said...

I had the luck to live for a while near Trunch in Norfolk which had not only the hammer beam roof often found in East Anglian churches, but misericords, a medieval rood screen and a font canopy....

And at that time churches weren't locked...

Those monsters look somewhat like the Moomins to me....

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - Nice! Especially having the rood screen. When we lived not far from Woodbridge in Suffolk we used to pop into the Church at Ufford which had a super roof.

the fly in the web said...

Indeed it did!
I sailed from Woodbridge for many years.
Though my boat was not fast enough to be called Scandal...

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - :-) Watching the boats sail the river was always a favourite pastime at The Maybush [1/2 way down the river]

Vera said...

Do you think that the person who created those sculptures had a sense of humour, because they are funny in a sort of dark way. Lovely post as usual.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@vera - most probably! :-)

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Fascinating, love the gargoyles.

Niall & Antoinette said...

The monsters at the top of the capitals are great aren't they? [gargoyles are monsters/grotesques which have a spout to carry water away from the roof; so you find them on the outside of a building]

John Gray said...

the tail eaters are quite magnificent..... I have one english gargoyle sat in the living room.... most can be incredibly cute

Niall & Antoinette said...

@John - yup they sure can :-)

Perpetua said...

Fascinating, and the photos are super. I enjoyed following up the links to your earlier posts from before I discovered your blog.

If you like misericords there's a lovely set in Saint Lawrence's church in Ludlow and we also enjoy those in the Collegiale in Mortain not far from here, which miraculously survived the town's near destruction in the war.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - glad you enjoyed the older posts :-)
Think we did, many years ago, see the misericords in Ludlow on a flying visit en-route somewhere else.