Thursday 28 April 2011

Beaulieu mystery

A little while ago friends of ours, Susan & Simon came round to have a look at our kitchen as part of their kitchen reconnaissance and to have lunch:- lemon and rosemary roast chicken, salad, baked potatoes and a strawberry tart from the patissier to finish. At one point the conversation drifted towards historical places to visit and we got talking about Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou and the abbey in Beaulieu sur Loches.

Abbey's ruined nave with new facade
Now we have a confession to make. Despite having holidayed several years in a row in a gite in the area, and knowing Loches pretty well, we have never visited Beaulieu sur Loches properly. We have just always driven through it on the way to somewhere else. 

By now we should know better--never judge a place by it's dusty streets and poorly maintained facades....

corbel with heraldic shield
 We knew about Fulk III Nerra, byname Fulk the Black, French: Foulques le Noir  (born c. 970—died 1040 in Metz, Fr.), Count of Anjou (987–1040); but we didn't know he was buried in Beaulieu. 

Given that he was quite a ruthless warrior--he burned and pillaged many a monastery in his day-- it's apposite, in a way, that the Abbey he founded is located in a place which is now called by a French derivative of the Latin 'Belli-Locus'. In other words, the enclosed fields where the seigneurial class fought and practised their combat skills. 

Simon and Susan have been to Beaulieu often enough. They run Loire Valley Time Travel a bespoke touring service to sights in the region. As they point out, Fulk is signposted neatly enough. His unadorned stone coffin is simply lit from below and a thick glass window set into the floor of the abbey allows you to look down on it. Fulk is located in the south transept.

However, the mystery has nothing to do with Fulk Nerra. But with a plaster figure in a glass coffin. The mystery effigy/body is underneath an altar in the north transept and this is what started the whole conversation off. Here there is no helpful information plaque, nor is there lighting to help you see what's there. In fact there's nothing, nada, niente, rien....

mystery effigy
Simon and Susan wondered if we'd seen it and had any idea who it was. Our curiosity was well and truly whetted so cue time for a visit to have a look.

The effigy is dressed in clothes resembling those you might wear to a Roman fancy dress. Tunic to the knee in sliver and gold thread and cross-gartered sandals. It has a 'pudding basin' haircut.

papal label
Not much the wiser we got down on our hands and knees to have a closer look; as far as we could tell it is seemingly made from paster of paris, not wax. Round the corner on the left we found an old label which gave us some information. The label is from the Papal See in Rome. We tracked down the papal coat of arms and it belongs to Pope Gregory XVI, Bartolomeo Cappellani, so the label was issued between  1831 - 1846, the dates of his papacy. It seems to be a sort of standard label on which you can fill in specific information. The handwritten section is extrememly faded. Amidst the faded writing you can just--with a bit of guesswork-- pick out the odd word and the date 1833. Sadly no name so after all that we are still none the wiser....!


Craig said...

But what fun you had trying to discover who it was. Almost like a treasure hunt!

Tim said...

Isn't he meant to be a warrior figure, with the feet on a sheild?

Susan said...

It's very weird, with not even a sign that says 'we're very sorry, but we've forgotten who this is supposed to be'. Like Antionette, I suspect is a representation of St Martin. We'll probably all be really disappointed if we do ever find out.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Craig: it is indeed fun :-)!

@Tim: if there ever was a stone figure carved on Fulk's coffin it is long gone.

@Susan: we're having real second thoughts about this, if only because St Martin's iconography is so well known [the halved cloak he gives to the beggar] so why an effigy without a ref to that?

Anyway we'll no doubt have another look in future--we need a better camera to photograph the label so that we can decipher the written text in more detail.

Carolyn said...

According to wikipedia, relics of Saints Chrysanthus and Daria were given to the abbey. There's a slim chance the guy with the sandals might be meant to represent him, but if so, where is she?

What's the material of his tunic? It looks like cellophane, but it can't be (can it?).

Niall & Antoinette said...

Hi Carolyn! Welcome to the blog :-)
Good question! If it is St Chrysanthus he is always linked with St Daria so as you say very unlikely to have one without the other. Also any relics Fulk may have brought back with him will almost certainly have been destroyed during the French Revolution, if not earlier.

As to the clothing-- looks to be cheap-ish silver and gold cloth. Rather shiny and a bit garish.