Tuesday 31 December 2013

Hogmanay 2013

We couldn't finish 2013 without something mediaeval, so here are three super Early English Gothic roof bosses from Dore Abbey in Herefordshire. We visited this former Cistercian abbey - now the village of Abbey Dore's parish church in October while in the UK. Thought to originally be from the abbey's Chapter house, they are now displayed on the floor of the ambulatory and side aisles.

Smiling face; probably of a young man
Coronation of the Virgin

Adoration of the Virgin and child by an abbot
Dore Abbey was founded in 1147 by a small group of monks and an abbot from the abbey of Morimond [Champagne-Ardenne region], one of the most important Cistercian houses in France. Most of what is left today is from a rebuilding which began in 1180.


We'd like to wish everyone who has visited or commented on our blog in 2013 peace, health and happiness in 2014. Thank you for taking the time to stop by!

photo: wikimedia commons

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Season's Greetings!

Wishing all our blog readers a
Very Merry Christmas!

 Our cats have their own decorations :-)

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Grange de Meslay

Quite close to Tours, just to the north-east, lies the commune of Parçay-Meslay, a mix of wine producers and Tours commuters. Earlier this month we'd been up to Vouvray to pick up some wine for Christmas. Along the road which leads from Rochecorbon to Vouvray there is a sign pointing the way to the "Grange de Meslay", which we'd noticed on previous visits. This time we decided that, having bought our wine, we'd go and have a look. The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies so good, we hoped, for some lovely photographs.

This is what we found:

the gatehouse
A beautiful 13th century gatehouse which is the entrance to what was once a priory complex originally belonging to the Abbey of Marmoutier [Tours]. 

The scale is huge -- originally the walls encircled a complex 2 hectares in size [about 5 acres]. It was the heart of a large agricultural estate as well as the place where tithes and 'terrage' [dues paid in kind] were brought to the monks. According to the Marmoutier Abbey chronicles the barn, portico, dovecote and walls were built between 1220 and 1227. However, there already had been a priory on the site from the 11th century.

delicate finials on the gatehouse roof
The tithe barn as it stands today is a 15th century re-build. It was burnt down by Scottish soldiers in September 1422 according to the Marmoutier chronicles. These Scots formed a major contingent of the Dauphin Charles' [future Charles VII] regular army and, poorly paid, they took to pillaging on their way back from a military engagement in the north. Ten years later, once Charles had regained the throne [with some help from Joan of Arc] it was re-built.

We have yet to see the tithe barn. The complex, still in private hands, is closed to the public out of season. From Easter to the end of October you can visit it at weekends [afternoons only]. If the barn and rest of the complex is anything as good as the gatehouse it will be superb and we're looking forward to seeing it!

To the left of the gatehouse, mounted on the wall was a silhouette portrait made of metal.
Up close it looks rather like Marlon Brando don't you think?
It is, however, a portrait of Sviatoslav Richter, a 20th century concert pianist [1915-97] who founded an annual music festival at Meslay. The festival, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year is held every June. You can check out the 2014 program here.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Reiver country

Back in late October, on leaving Edinburgh, we headed for Chester to see an old university friend. We took the A702 via Biggar to link up with the M74. This road takes you through the more northerly end of the Scottish Borders, or 'reiver country'. It is stunning countryside and hopefully you can get an impression from the photographs below.
From about the late 13th to the early 17th century it was a pretty lawless place. Families raided on both sides of the border and as long as you didn't endanger family or alliances anything was acceptable. Due to their 'skills' border reivers were quite highly regarded as soldiers, although their allegiance could be suspect. Families would have relatives on both sides of the border and changing sides in conflicts between England and Scotland was [often] not an issue.
Sheep and cattle spent much of their time trotting backwards and forwards along the hills as they were rustled hither and thither. Houses were torched and it was frequently quite bloody. Along with the rustling, blackmail flourished as an enterprise and many became rich. Feuds between families, both across, as well as on the same side of the border, abounded.
For the common folk this 'reiving' was a nightmare and they often constructed simple homes made from turf as they were so frequently destroyed that it made no sense to construct them from anything more durable. Richer families built 'bastle houses' or peel towers. Both were made of thick stone walls with a minimum of wood so they could withstand being torched [laying siege took too much time]. Livestock would be kept safe on the ground floor and the inhabitants would barricade themselves on the floor above. Rides [as raids were called] could vary greatly in size, sometimes the group was small, at other times it was huge with 1,000 or so taking part.
With all this raiding going on they did set up a framework for law and order.  There were Lords, or Wardens of the Marches [East, Middle & West] on both sides of the border tasked with keeping the peace, but as the very families who were Wardens were also from reiver clans or families the system varied in its efficacy. Peculiarly Border Laws were created to deal with the raiding. For example, under these laws a person who had been raided had the right to mount a counter-raid within six days, even across the border, to recover his goods. This was known as a 'Hot Trod'. It had to proceed with "hound and horne, hew and cry", so that it openly announced its purpose, to distinguish it from unlawful raids proceeding covertly.

I [Antoinette] first encountered border reiving in Dorothy Dunnett's six-part 'Lymond Chronicles' set in the late 1540s/1550s. Dunnett expertly blends historical accuracy, real historical characters with great fictional characters. Events sprawl across Europe from Scotland, England, France and Russia to Malta and Istanbul. I found them a brilliant read and have, from time to time, re-read all six books.

Monday 2 December 2013

Once more with feeling!

This weekend Charnizay had another 'big day'. It was the official opening of our new Salle de Spectacles. Last January the mairie had held the traditional New Year's reception in the Salle but at that time it wasn't quite finished. You can read about that and the history - it was originally a 'grange aux dîmes' [tithe barn] - here.

On Saturday things were a little more formal. Marisol Touraine, our most important local big-wig, was the guest of honour; she's currently Minister of Social Affairs and Health. Two children stretched out a ribbon in front of the entrance doors and Marisol dutifully cut the red, white & blue ribbon with a pair of scissors [kitchen variety - large orange handles :-)] which were offered on a cushion.
Beautifully serried glasses and finger food with attentive listeners behind
The minute it was done the inhabitants of Charnizay surged forward to get inside as a cold wind was blowing and nobody felt like hanging around. Even the greetings with the traditional 2 kisses amongst friends and family were peremptory as everyone hurried in.
Inside a trio of good young musicians played 50's style jazz on the stage and the tables bore glasses of pink or white fizz and beautifully presented canapes.
Musicians played 50's style jazz [phone camera; apologies for the quality]
The kitchen has now been kitted out, the stage has curtains and the final finishing touches to the exterior, including a bit of landscaping, are complete so all is now done. The maire, Claude Villaret gave a full accounting of the costs and subsidies in his speech. That done the local big-wigs of the Communauté de Communes de la Touraine du Sud and Conseil Général had their say before Marisol Touraine closed the speechifying. All fervently expressed the hope that the salle [which is large] will form a focal point for larger events to be held by the communes in the area. We really hope so, as the whole has been tastefully done and is, in all honesty, far too large a venue for a village of just 500 odd inhabitants.

Once the speeches were over and people were busy chatting and enjoying the food & drink, the children who had held the ribbon came round and gave each person a tiny snippet as a charming little memento.