Wednesday 27 February 2013

Scallops & St Peter

The town of L'Île-Bouchard straddles the river Vienne and we've written about the capitals of the ruined Prieuré de Saint-Léonard there before. On the south side of the Vienne river, just before you reach it, is a small village called Parçay-sur-Vienne.  
West front
We decided to have a quick look to see if the village church was of interest before heading on towards L'Île-Bouchard and Chinon: it was a another case of one of those slightly battered and faded 'monument historique' signs which intrigued us.

We weren't disappointed. The village church boasted a beautifully ornamented 12th century west facade. We weren't able to find out a great deal, but it seems that originally it was a monastery which then was turned into a priory linked with L'Île-Bouchard. The church is dedicated to St Peter.

Scallop shell motief in the stonework
The most well known image associated with St Peter is keys. However, Peter was a fisherman and the information panel next to the mairie informed us that this was the reason that there are so many images associated with fishing and the sea on the west facade.

What makes the west facade more interesting is the fact that the scallop shell motief is heavily used. The scallop is the symbol of St James, not St Peter. Pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela would wear a scallop shell badge. In the early church [5th - 6th cent] the scallop shell was also used as an image of the resurrection as the upturned shell looked similar to the rising sun.

One of the major medieval pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela ran via Tours and Poitiers. Parçay-sur-Vienne is about 1/3 of the way between Tours and Poitiers which could explain the use of the scallop shell motief; however this is an educated guess on our part.
Mermaid capital
Cockerels on the left. Mad merman on the right?
The capitals are all richly carved and the one above shows a mermaid clutching a fish in one hand and her tail in the other. Others show various grotesques, many of which have a marine theme. We noticed one which seemed to depict a mad merman wielding a club!
A carnivore chasing its prey
At the bottom of one of the three arches surrounding the central door [left-hand side] there's a wonderful bit of carving. It shows a wolf chasing an animal which looks a little like a Schnauzer dog, but is probably a deer. They are both certainly running at full tilt!

Bearded faces
The outer of the three arches surrounding the door is made up of little bearded faces, each one is different and clearly shows off the carver's skill. They certainly made us smile!

The church facade was restored in 1991. Sadly, on the day it was locked, so we don't know if there were more carved treasures inside. Hopefully, during the tourist season it will be unlocked and when next we're over this way we can find out.


Susan said...

The wolf chasing the 'deer' (goat?) around the corner is just fabulous!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - Fun isn't it? Goat's a good candidate too!

the fly in the web said...

Mad merman...or Mr. Punch?

Aussie in France said...

I remember going there. It's beautiful isn't it? And thank you for the commentary. I'll have to go back now!

Leon Sims said...

I also remember your previous post on L'le Bouchard.
While staying in Chinon, I would ride to L'le Bouchard on one side of the river and return on the other.
Thanks for a flush of memories.

Leon Sims said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - who knows :-)!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Aussie - It really is. And as the church isn't too big you can get close to the carvings, unlike at a cathedral where everything is on a grander/larger scale.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Leon & Sue - you're very welcome :-)

Tim said...

Both... have you seen this about the Santa Eulalia church in l'Hospitalet, near Barcelona... Pauline and I thought you'd be interested when we saw it on Auntie Beeb.
It is about graffiti artists painting the domw above the altar in Romanesque style... it looks fabulous!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Tim and Pauline - Sounds good! Thanks for the tip we'll have a look. Great place Barcelona!

Perpetua said...

oh, goody, another of your gorgeous architectural history posts. :-) You have so many beautiful buildings in your area and your local stone is glorious. Sadly, Normandy granite doesn't lend itself to any but the plainest of carving.....

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - we aim to please :-)
Only problem with the stone is that it's soft so very susceptible to weathering.