I’ve written several times about the 15th-century church at Teysseroles that we are helping to restore. It was once a parish church and our house falls within its catchment area (if that’s the right expression). Having been glued to my computer rather a lot recently, I decided it was time for some physical effort. So we went along last Friday afternoon to one of our regular work days at the site.
L’association pour la sauvegarde du site de Teysseroles (Association for thePreservation of the Site of Teysseroles) was set up a couple of years ago by a group of local people. The church itself – known as the Chapel of Notre-Dame – has not been in use for years. It’s damp and possibly unsafe and requires a lot of work to restore it. The stained glass windows are broken, plaster is crumbling and there are one or two ominous-looking cracks down the walls.
The cemetery, however, is still in use and the evidence of Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) was still there last Friday. The graves were dotted with pots of chrysanthemum plants, which families had placed there in remembrance. Unfortunately, some of the graves themselves are monstrosities – mausoleums made of polished stone and quite out of keeping with the rural setting. When the architect from Bâtiments de France – which oversees historic monuments – came to inspect the site last year, he was less than complimentary about them.
The present church was built ca.1490 on top of the previous one, which we know existed in 961 AD. No plan exists of the all the graves’ locations but once we have done the work, we hope the cemetery will be a suitable resting place for all the long-dead folk buried there – and, of course, those to come. Let’s move on…
We have focused most of our efforts so far on tidying the cemetery, which was a real mess, and rebuilding the stone walls surrounding it. However, we have now engaged an architect to oversee the church restoration work and he is coming this week to carry out an initial survey. This is a relief to us. We have been taking our members’ subscriptions and making money at our fêtes for two years now, so we feel we need to show some tangible progress.
Last Friday’s tasks included cutting down a tree that was growing into the cemetery wall, continuing to rebuild the wall itself and making a massive bonfire. This is an international team effort. Most of the group are French but there’s a sprinkling of Brits and a Swede (the SF). A nice atmosphere reigns and a lot of bantering goes on. It’s all slightly disorganised but somehow the work gets done.
In between times, I took some photos, including this one of the autumn view in the light of the encroaching evening.
We have already fixed the date of next year’s fête – Sunday 23rd June. It will follow the standard pattern: a mass – which the SF and I had to sit through this year as we had been dragooned into singing in it; not being religious in any sense this was hard work – followed by a sit-down lunch for 200+ people and musical entertainment, games, tombola etc. People are booking their places already!
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The archaeology comment is fascinating! If you decide to pursue a cemetery survey, I’d love to come and observe. Keep up the good work…it will be worth all your efforts in the long run!
I’ll let you know what comes of that suggestion. It would be helpful to know where things are. We might find something interesting as well, as Paul suggests.
If you want to be sure that your restoration work includes all the cemetery and the graves there in, you should contact the archaeology dept at your local university.
They could run a GPR (ground penetrating radar) unit over the area and let you know within a day or two where all the graves lie.
Suggest they run it as a training session for archaeo students.
As graves are usually dug in parallel lines, lie at basically the same depth, and have uniform dimensions, they stand out on a GPR survey like the proverbial sore thumb.
You may well find that some unmarked historic graves lie outside of ‘consecrated’ ground, and maybe were used for tragic suicides, heretics and others unwelcome in consecrated ground.
Also given the age of the site, it is entirely possible you will find plague pits/mass graves from the time of the Black Death.
You may discover hidden tunnels leading from the church dating to the religious wars or even ancient crypts/tombs long buried.
Sorry to sound so morbid, but as an archaeologist myself, this is the sort of stuff I love 😉
Thanks for the suggestion, Paul, which I’ll put to the rest of the team. We don’t have a local university as such but I guess they would do this sort of thing at Toulouse if they have an archaeology faculty there. I’ll look into it.
Beautiful church in a lovely spot. How autumnal it still looks! I can really see you’re that much more southerly. Here everything is winter bleak with all the leaves underfoot. Good luck with the restoration!
It is a lovely view over the woods and hills from the churchyard. I don’t think it will be long before the leaves are down here – especially if the colder weather forecast for the weekend comes to pass. This restoration is certainly a long-term project.
My daughter has many of the same problems with the restoration of the Vieux Chateau du Cros, it’s a case of see what needs doing urgently (and it’s always going to be expensive because Batiments de France are involved) then raise the money, then beg the local artisans, or twist their arms, into providing their work at less than the normal rate. It’s very slow, a true labour of love.
It’s Batiments de France that have held things up for us, to be honest. We could have appointed an architect long ago but for them. At least we have the promise of some EU funding once we have reached a certain level by our own efforts.
It’s good that things are progressing, even if slowly. Our own church restoration.seems to have ground to a halt at the moment. However, I imagine a lot of patience is required in renovation projects like these, and especially in France!
It does seem to take an inexplicably long time to get things done. Since we have to raise money as we go along before we get any funding to match it, this project won’t be finished for years!