21 January 2018

Not raining... yet!

Yesterday when I got up at 5 a.m. it was raining. It rained steadily for 12 hours. That put 15 mm (more than half an inch) of water in our rain gauge, bringing the total rainfall over the past 20 days up to 93 mm. That's nearly two inches. It has fallen gradually, meaning most days have been damp and gray. Meanwhile, it's not raining today — at least not yet. Just give it a few minutes.

The pond out back is overflowing, with the extra water running in a torrent down the tractor path behind our back gate. It's runoff from the vineyard plots and the gravel road that feeds the pond then continues downhill to feed the Cher River. A few months ago, the water level in the pond was about as low as we've seen it in the 15 years we've lived here. Not any more. All the water holes out in the vineyard are full to the brim.

However, Friday morning was glorious, I must say. Being able to take the camera out and snap pictures of a beautiful sunrise reminded me of why we decided to move here in 2003. I took the photos in this post that morning, just before the clouds closed in again.

On another subject, we've managed to find a gîte rural (vacation rental) to stay in for a four-night road trip in March. We've been cooped up too long — cabin fever. The gîte is in a little town near Moulins in the Allier département, just 2½ hours' drive southeast of Saint-Aignan. We'll leave on my birthday in early March and, of course, take Tasha with us. The house we're renting allows dogs to stay for no extra charge.

Besides Moulins (pop. 20,000), other nearby Allier towns we hope to see are Vichy, a famous spa and resort; Saint-Pourçain, a wine village; and Souvigny and Bourbon-l'Archambault, both known for their Romanesque churches and medieval châteaux. The royal House of Bourbon called this area home. And Callie, our recently departed border collie, was born in 2007 on a farm near the town of Montmarault in the same area. The last time we were over that way was when we drove there, first to meet her, and then to bring her home, eleven years ago.

20 January 2018

Que d'eau !

So much rain! That's what my title says in French. It's raining again this morning. We've been in a very wet and windy period since early in December. The rivers are high. Fields are flooded down the road, along the Cher. Rivers to the east of us are also overflowing, and the Seine around Paris is one of them. The ground in the vineyard is squishy.

The Renaudière vineyard, 9 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2018

The rains came a little late this year. I remember that I was dreading them on my blog back in October and November. A month later, we started getting dowsed. If we didn't each have a walk to take with the dog every day, I guess it wouldn't matter so much. Still, all these gray skies when we are living through the shortest days of the year are fairly depressing.

Winter sunrise

The news reported last week that people up in Lille, in the north of France near the Belgian border, had not seen the sun in two months. More rain has fallen in the eastern part of the country than here in the Loire Valley. So we're not the ones suffering the most.

Tasha waiting and watching while I snap a shot

Then, yesterday morning we had sunlight for about two hours. It was amazing. That's when I took these photos. Now that Tasha is well behaved on our walks, and we don't feel like we have to keep her on a leash, my hands are free to hold a camera. It's like we are back to the good old days when we still had Callie.

On the road home after a morning walk

It clouded over yesterday like most days, but it didn't rain. This time of year, we either have warm (for winter), windy, and wet weather. Or we have colder, still, foggy weather. I'm not sure which is worse. Gloomy days, oras the weather forecasters say — "perturbed" days — you don't get to choose. At least it's not cold. We've had very little, if any, freezing weather so far this winter.

19 January 2018

The Maxenceul reliquary at Cunault, part 2

Here's the second batch of photos of the châsse or reliquary chest at the Eglise Notre-Dame de Cunault. I've muted the colors, especially the red and yellows, on these, and I went back and did the same on the photos I posted yesterday.

One photo I didn't take back in 2006 was a full view of the chest itself. You can see it here however. What I'd like to know is its actual dimensions, but I can't find that information and my memory is vague.

On that blog I just linked to for a photo of the chest I read that primitivement the chest, in the form of a church, was covered in thin silver "leaf" with black markings to make it resemble the work of a goldsmith. It was later painted as we see it now.

Here's a link to a site that has a lot more photos of the interiors and artwork at Cunault. In it I read that because there are no representations of St. Maxenceul on the chest, it is assumed that it was named after him long after it was placed in the church, and it may well hold relics of another saint or of the Virgin Mary.

I was happy to find these photos in my archives and I've enjoyed working on them and reading about the châsse at Cunault. P.S. This blog has an even better photo of the reliquary chest.

18 January 2018

Cunault : la châsse de saint Maxenceul

One of the key figures in the history of Christianity in Europe — especially here in the Loire Valley — is the man called saint Martin de Tours. Martin was a Roman soldier born in the early part of the 4th century (316 or 336, depending on who you believe) and deceased at the end of that century. He converted to Christianity in mid-life and then converted a lot of other people in the Loire Valley. One of his disciples was a man named Maxenceul, also a saint, who evangelized the area west of Tours, near Saumur on the Loire, where the Eglise Notre-Dame de Cunault now stands.

Without doubt, one of the most amazing things there is to see at Cunault is a reliquary chest — une châsse in French — that is said to have been carved from a massive piece of walnut wood in the 13th century. The word châsse is etymologically related to "case", "cassette", and French caisse, meaning "trunk" or "crate". One source I read says that the poly-chrome painting is not original but a later "improvement" (no date specified).

Maxenceul lived nearly a thousand years earlier than the 13th century. He founded a monastery in the Cunault area, on the model of Martin's in Tours. Five hundred years after its founding the Normans (Norsemen, Vikings) invaded central France, pushing up the Loire River. The religious community at Cunault had to retreat eastward.

The monks ended up in Burgundy, carrying the "relics" or remains of Maxenceul with them. A few decades later, when calm returned to the Saumur area, a few of the monks from Cunault returned. With the support of the dukes of Anjou, including Foulques Nerra, they founded a new monastery and built the Cunault church, which was built between the 11th and the 13th centuries. Sometime around the time the church was being completed, some artist or group of artists carved a chest to keep the revered "relics" of Maxenceul in.

I read in another account that one of the miracles cited at the time of Maxenceul's beatification was something that happened in the 16th or 17th century, during the wars of religion. The reliquary chest that supposedly contains Maxenceul's relics (there is some doubt about what is actually inside the chest) was thrown into waters of the Loire by Huguenots. Instead of sinking and being lost, it miraculously floated a few miles downstream and washed up on the banks of the river. Wood floating — imagine!

I wonder if the chest was painted after that incident. Anyway, it's a beautiful piece of work. I was lucky to have good light conditions back in July 2006 when I took these pictures. I wasn't using a tripod, and my camera then was vintage 1999. Maybe these photos are another miracle! I have some more that I will post tomorrow.

17 January 2018

Cunault : mère et enfant

Two of the most striking pieces of statuary in the Église Notre-Dame de Cunault are respectively 900 and 500 years old. And one of its most impressive artifacts, a reliquary chest, is 800 years old. The church itself was built over a period of 200 years from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

This Virgin and Child, carved in wood, is from the 12th century. One page I read said it came from or is at least in the style of works done in the Auvergne region of central France.

The work above, also in wood but painted, is from the 13th century. More about it tomorrow.

Finally for today, this Pietà goes back to the French Renaissance of the 16th century, according to what I've read.

Here's a close-up of the Vierge de Pitié, the French term for this kind of statue, or Mater dolorosa (Latin). I assume it was the work of an artist, or artists, in the Loire Valley, but I haven't found much firm information about it.