Sunday 26 August 2012

Demons & Angels

Last weekend we had a bit of a nose around the river Cher area to the east of Chenonceau. One of the buildings we thought we'd have a look at was the church of Saint-Aginan-sur-Cher. Blog friends of ours, Ken and Walt live close by and Walt had written about the church having frescos and that triggered our interest.

Romanesque bell tower, Saint-Aignan Church
In addition, last weekend it was exremely hot -- we were in the throes of a canicule, or heatwave, and churches are nice and cool and therefore a good place to visit. The main style of the church at Saint-Aignan is Romanesque, which you can clearly see in the bell tower, with its rounded arches. A plaque outside the church informs visitors that the church has around 250 11th and 12th century capitals depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament as well as a crypt with frescos from the 11th to 15th centuries. Both the numerous capitals and the crypt are superb and well worth seeing. However, our interest was drawn by a side chapel.

When we walked in we noticed there was a lovely draft running through the church. The south transept door was open to create the breeze.  Right next to it was a chapel which received barely a mention anywhere. It was covered with dark jewel-coloured paintings on the vaulted ceilings and walls. The paintings looked to be late 14th/early 15th century which pretty much ties in with the style of the vaulting. Among the most interesting were two paintings depicting demons and angels and the struggle for souls. Both radiated a feeling of life and energy.

Archangel Michael attacking a demon while souls cling to his legs
In one, the Archangel Michael, in a full suit of late 14th century armour, and equipped with a sword and shield, battles with a bear-like devil who is trying to run off with a soul which is desperately clinging onto one of the Archangel's legs. A second soul clings to his other leg. The Archangel Michael is ramming his sword down between the devil's eyes.

One of the Archangel Michael's functions was to protect the souls of the newly dead from the devil. His other duty was to weigh up the souls at the Last Judgement, which is shown in the other painting.
souls being weighed
The souls are being weighed in a golden set of scales. Here the Archangel Michael is dressed in robes, not armour. A devil is trying very hard to steal one of the souls out of one of the pans. You can just make out that the soul is hanging on the chains of the scales for dear life. The demon is being fended off by the Archangel using a long thin poker.

In both, as was normal for the times, the souls are depicted as small naked child-like figures.

The collegiate church of Saint-Aignan certainly did not disappoint, even though it left us with cricks in our respective necks! Apologies for the quality of the photos, but the paintings are fairly dark and not that easy to photograph. As always if you click on the photographs you can enlarge them to see more detail.


Diane said...

Great post and yes you are right the churches were a good place to visit during the very hot spell. It is amazing how they are always so cool inside. No apologies needed for the photos they are excellent. Diane

the fly in the web said...

And, as usual, you find more to see than the guide books suggest.

Perpetua said...

Super photos and post - you know how I love mediaeval art and architecture and your area seems to have so much of it. :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - you could tell it was hot people visitng the crypt exclaimed in pleasure at the temperature and lingered :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - you know us, always poking in corners ;-)
Just odd as it was in good use --plenty of votive candles-- that there was no mention of it on the modern board outside the church.
The quality was just as good as the capitals and crypt.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - thanks; so do we. In fact, we're probably addicted [in the nicest possible way]!! :-)

Leon Sims said...

The town has a very good restaurant that we tried a few years back - Walt can recommend it to you if you haven't been before.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Leon & Sue - thanks, we'll ask him.