|remains of the apsidal choir
It is a small site and it's free to enter. Typical longere style houses ring the area. Fortunately, there's an informative panel at the entrance, sketching a brief outline of what's known about the priory. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it's not much and perhaps wonder why the whole of what remains has been covered with a protective roof.
That is until you walk in through the small gate, stand in front of the remains, and look up at the apsidal choir with its 2 tiers of rounded blind arcading and see the early Romanesque capitals on top of the pillars which support the curve.
They were 're-discovered' in 1997, having been blocked up and are stunning: the mediaeval equivalent of a superb graphic novel. In an age where many were not literate the Bible was told through pictures in stained glass, frescos and/or carvings. There are six of these pillars, the capitals of four depict scenes from the Gospels; the other two are decorated with mythical beasts and serpents.
The capitals are deeply carved, more like tableaux you would find carved into a flat-sided wall. Each side of the four captials shows a scene from the life of Christ. The figures are slightly dumpy and are certainly naive, but the expressions, the drapery of the clothes, and above all, the amount of detail makes the figures have character.
|first capital of the four **
On the front side the angel Gabriel, who is looking very pleased with himself, is on the left with beautifully carved wings showing the overlay of feathers. He's barefoot with little fat toes which hang over the edge. He also has the words "Anges Gabriel" carved on the edge above him, just in case you were in any doubt! In the middle is Mary, shod, with her hands facing palms outward. On the right are Mary & Joseph embracing face to face.
The left side of the capital shows the Adoration of the Magi. Mary is seated on the extreme corner and her chair has maned lion-heads as armrests. She's wearing a crown of fleur de lys -- as are all three kings -- and is holding the baby Jesus on her knee. Above them is the nativity star looking more like a daisy. All three kings are bearing gifts and have very prominent cheekbones and slanted eyes to make them seem exotic and foreign.
|second capital of the four**
On the left corner is an angel, again barefoot, whose hand is pointing to the right [as we view it]. He's come to warn Joseph to fly [flight into Egypt]. You can just see a mustachioed and bearded Joseph next to the angel holding a rope halter of a donkey.
Just past the corner on the right is a soldier--you can see his booted and spurred foot. He's part of the depiction of the massacre of the Innocents which is on right side.
|third capital of the four**
On the right you can just see the Last Supper with the disciples sat at the table. One or two of them have the most excellent mustaches and the perspective of the figures seated at the table, given the limitations of carving on a capital, really showcases the skill of the carver.
|fourth capital of the four**
On the right side you can just see a bit of a scene from the Temptation of Christ. Satan is tempting Jesus with a round stone; taunting him that if he's hungry he should turn the stone into bread.
We didn't photograph every side of each capital, hope that these four photos give a good impression of how amazing the carvings were.
It just goes to show that if you follow a battered old sign you never know what you'll find! During our visit there wasn't a soul there, and we spent an enjoyable time 'reading' the capitals and imagining that if the service was especially boring and attention was wandering, the images would certainly entertain!!
** all photos can be enlarged so you can see the detail more clearly.