In the centre of Quillan, a small town of 3,591 inhabitants, stands a modest 12th-century church, l'Église Notre-Dame-de-Quillan. We visited very briefly on Ascension Thursday, arriving long after Mass had been celebrated. The small church was open but quite dark, though the side chapels were each illuminated with a different colour. Most tourists only get to wander through three or four of the most majestic cathedrals in France, but the small rural churches are also fascinating, reflecting the simple honesty of local life rather than the presumptuous grandeur of the nation's most wealthy and competitive aristocrats.
As I approached the front door, I stopped to see this little book on which villagers were writing condolences to a grieving family. The funeral was to be held in the church the next day. This suggests that many people in Quillan know each other and that the community is quite close.
The next thing that my Mennonite eye noticed was a sort of price list--suggested "offerings" for various services offered by the church. Presumably this is to remind parishioners that it takes money to keep any church open and operating, that some services require considerably more time than others, and that private events in particular can take up quite a bit of the officiant's limited time, for these days a lone priest is too often responsible for multiple parishes.
Although the sanctuary itself was not lit, spotlights in the side chapels provided enough light for one to enter and pray--or possibly even take photographs under challenging lighting conditions. In the following photos, we are looking from the front toward the back of the sanctuary.
Now we are looking directly across the altar rail and the steps leading up to the altar. Across the way we see the small side chapel with its own altar, a single line of chairs, and a confessional.
The following black and white photo shows another small chapel with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The marble tablets flanking the statue give the names of the men of the parish who were killed during the two European wars in the 20th century. These lists are omnipresent throughout rural France, poignant testimony to the useless destruction and impossible costs of war everywhere. Every time I see these lists, I wonder, "What might have become of these lads, had there been no war?"
The high altar at the front of the church is back lit by a skylight above the Baroque statue of the Virgin Mary. This dramatic use of natural lighting was practical, requiring careful construction, but then no candles or artificial lighting would be needed for centuries to come.
Another small source of natural light was the half circle above the main entrance door at the side of the sanctuary. I am also intrigued by light entering from underneath church doors, particularly as many feet slowly wear down thresholds over the centuries.
Chandeliers are always beautiful, even when not illuminated. Natural light from a distant window lets us appreciate the central chandelier in a new way. The "IHS" stands for Jesus (J did not appear in the Latin alphabet for a long time; the vowels are traditionally omitted in this type of art).