We spent a terrific, if exhausting, day yesterday, helping with the clearing-up operation at the Chapelle de Teysseroles. This 15th-century chapel and the surrounding graveyard are in a very poor condition. Local people have set up an association to raise money and oversee/carry out the restoration work. Yesterday was one of several programmed volunteer work-days at the site.
The chapel is on the site of an even earlier church, dating back to the 10th century. I wrote earlier about the association’s summer fête, its first fund-raising event.
Our house is in the parish of Teysseroles. Although neither of us is religious, we are very attached to the French patrimoine (cultural heritage). We wanted to do our bit to help rescue a small part of it. So we turned up at the appointed hour yesterday bearing rakes, pickaxes, spades, loppers etc. It was probably a coincidence, but this weekend France celebrates Les Journées du Patrimoine. Hundreds of monuments, museums and cultural events are open, many for free.
Yesterday’s volunteers were mostly French with a smattering of Brits. For a while everyone wandered about wondering what to do. There was no plan or list of priorities, which seems to be par for the course here. Eventually, people just got on with what they thought needed doing. The SF joined a team rebuilding sections of the boundary wall encircling the graveyard. He was in his element, dry stone-walling being one of his favourite pastimes.
I joined some others who were raking up a load of rubble and broken roof tiles prior to seeding the soil with grass seed this autumn. This was very hard work and used muscles I didn’t know I had. It was baking hot and terribly dusty, since we’ve had no rain to speak of for weeks. Fortunately, one of our local doctors who lives close by was there helping. He would be able to administer first aid to anyone who had a malaise. However, at the rate he was going with the rake and shovel, I was afraid he would succumb first.
Representatives of church and state, Monsieur le Curé and Monsieur le Maire de Parisot – père et maire – also turned up and lent a hand. The work went on until the departmental architect from Bâtiments de France, responsible for inspecting and conserving protected sites in Tarn-et-Garonne, arrived with a colleague.
He will be instrumental in getting funding for and monitoring the major works, so everyone downed tools and followed him around the site. Fortunately, he was very enthusiastic and full of good ideas. This being France, his visit is merely the first of many in a chain of bureaucracy. But we felt that we had achieved an important first step.
Among other things, the architect’s colleague wondered if there might be wall paintings lurking beneath the plaster. Since it’s in a poor state, the plaster will have to come off anyway, but it would be fantastic if paintings were behind it. He also advised that the 19th-century altar should go and made suggestions for restoring the broken stained-glass windows.
The chapel has some interesting features, including a number of carved stone culs-de-lampe (see comment below. Originally I described them as gargoyles, which is incorrect). I would love to know who these two characters were:
After this it was, of course, lunch. No British workmen’s warm beer and sandwiches here, though. This was a proper sit-down lunch for 19 – including the architect and colleague – at a long trestle table in the shade, preceded by apéritifs and canapés. Françoise set up a portable barbecue and produced a couple of metres of sausage which was soon sizzling away merrily.
Everyone had brought something. We tucked into salads, sausages, Saint-Nectaire and Brillat Savarin cheeses, four kinds of cake and apples, washed down with red wine and finished off with coffee and plums in eau de vie. My protests were smilingly ignored as yet another piece of sausage was plonked on my plate.
After this, there was some discussion about future fund-raising events and work-days. Then it was back to work with a vengeance. It was even hotter in the afternoon but there was no flagging. Around 5 pm, people started peeling away to other commitments. When we looked around and saw what we had achieved, we felt tired but satisfied. Just one day’s work had made a huge difference.
And I can report that we were able to get out of bed this morning.
Copyright © 2011 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved
Just a pedantic note : the cul-de-lampe figures are not gargoyles, which are of later date, fantastic, high up and often water-spouts. These carvings are typically 13th century (or copies thereof, like the much smaller ones opposite the AXA office in Saint-Antonin) and best described as ‘personnages symboliques’, though their symbolism remains obscure.
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Thank you for the correction. I’m amazed at your going back so far in my blog, since this post dates from 2011! However, this has given me the opportunity to make some other corrections in the post, notably the images, which have been rotated for some reason. A recent article in Le Villefranchois talks in some detail about the features in the church, including the cul-de-lampe figures.
Well, I discovered this chapel only on my way to the saintly vet Huguette, and googled it. This page of your site came up; I wasn’t delving back.
Do you know about the Merovingian cross-fragment in Saint-Antonin ? Almost no-one else does,
but it was pointed out to me some years ago by the late, sweet Henri de Lastic de Saint-Jal.
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Ah, that would be more logical. I can’t expect people to trawl through some 550 posts that I’ve written over seven years!
I didn’t know about the Merovingian relic but I shall have a look when I have a moment and follow up the other links you have given.
I look foward to seeing to seeing how this project progresses, especially with the possibly hidden paintings. As an archaeologist myself, I love discovering old and hidden secrets 😉
Perhaps one day I will be able to assist you with the project.
I will certainly be posting up more about it as the work progresses. It’s particularly exciting to think that there might be paintings hidden there. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
I didn’t know you are an archaeologist. But you obviously share my passion for digging around and finding things out. I’m sure any offers of help – especially of the expert variety – will be gratefully received.
What a satisfying day’s work. It really is a beautiful chapel and well worth all your hard toil. Good luck with all the fundraising. Ours is going slowly. One more concert in a series to go, and then I’m not sure what’s planned next.
It is a lovely chapel and it’s such a shame that it has been allowed to deteriorate so much. I can’t imagine when we’ll be able to hold any concerts in it – the restoration is going to take years. In the meantime, we have to rely on fêtes, vide-greniers etc. I’m glad it’s not me that has to battle with bureaucracy to get the funding. I’m just a foot-soldier!
I’ve worked quite a bit in restoration here in Italy, using only natural materials and mostly with painted walls. If you want to see (and are allowed to do this) if there are paintings underneath the white paint, you can take a small area and soak the surface with water and then very gently scrape the top paint surface off … it should come off very easily. The apse should be a good place to start. However, if the plaster is more recent and on top of original plaster, it should all come very easily exposing the early stuff, because luckily workmen have never been very good at putting the next layer on and it very rarely bonds with the original, thus comes away quite easily. It would be wonderful if you found the early decoration, as there must have been centuries ago.
Thanks for this very helpful suggestion, which I will pass on to the association’s organisers. I can’t see any harm in trying it with a small area. The architect also suggested taking soundings, I presume with some kind of ultra-sound probe, to see if there might be something underneath. It would be terrific if we did find something. French churches are often very bare, many of them having been desecrated during the Revolution, so it’s not often that one finds the original decoration.