Thursday, December 19, 2013

Provins, Église St Quiriace, France

The upper mediæval town of Provins has a wonderful collegiate church, the Église St Quiriace.  Saint Quiriace was closely connected with one of St Helena's most important achievements--discovering the True Cross.  According to the legend, when St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the hiding place of the three crosses used for the crucifixion of Jesus and the two criminals was revealed to her, and, again miraculously, she was able to discern which of the three was Christ's cross, or the True Cross. 

A collegiate church is operated by a college of non-monastic canons.  Typically it is funded by benefices (land grants) and the aristocracy.  The first collegiate church in Provins was founded by Count Eudes II of Blois between 1019 and 1032.  Sometime around 1160, Count Henry the Liberal of Champagne decided to rebuild the church when it could no longer accommodate the growing number of canons.  Setting his goals quite high, he began building a choir large enough to accommodate 100 canons; unfortunately it never had more than 40.  After Henry's death in 1181, the undertaking proved far too ambitious for his successor and the small community's resources.  The church, although beautifully begun, was never finished.  Only two of the planned eight vaults were constructed for the nave. 

Provins had suffered some American bomb damage during the Second World War.  The present zinc dome was the result of the reconstruction in the 1950's.  To my eyes, neither the interior or exterior of the dome is in harmony with the 12th-c. structure.

The Church of St Quiriace
Built in 1160
by Henry the Liberal, Count of Champagne and Brie.
In 1662 a fire destroyed
the central portion.
The King of France, Philippe Auguste
here held Thibault the Great
over the Baptismal Font (1201)
On August 3, 1429, Joan of Arc and Charles VII
heard Mass here.

The church was never completed, but (below) you can almost see a little park (fine stones, not grass) with trees in front of the church's utterly plain facade.  Toward our end of that park are square steps which lead up to an iron cross (not visible to us as we stand at the top of the Tour Céasar).  That cross marks where the front of the church would have been, if only money had been available to complete the construction.  I am pleased that the citizens of Provins have outlined the rest of the (missing) nave in this manner.

The north wall once had an enormous window, but this so challenged the structural integrity that the glass was removed and the window was returned to a solid wall mass.  This reminds us that structural engineering was largely guesswork coupled with experience.

The flying buttresses are very simple and functional, unlike their later, more ornate cousins in the big cities.  One can see that still more windows had been envisioned.

This functional door is one of several on the western facade where you enter the church.  The massive wall visually admits that plans were never completed.  This is hardly the sort of grand entrance one expects in a church originally designed to seat 100 canons in choir.  But again, I like the solution.  Rather than making a grand opening in a more recent architectural style, it is kept simple, almost being without style.

This is the other western door (NW), equally plain and purely functional.

We have now entered the church, walked in, and are looking back toward the west, where we entered through the door on the right.  The massive central pillars support the dome at the "crossing", but there is no transept, just a place for one.  Just behind the pulpit, you can see part of the more decorative central door which would be opened on feast days and for visiting ecclesiastical dignitaries.

For centuries, the wooden pulpit elevated the priest so that he could be seen and heard by the laity.  The roof over his head helped to reflect the sound down toward the faithful.  In the middle ages, the laity would have stood through the Mass, looking on without comprehending or even hearing much of the Latin spoken at the altar.  You can also see that the stone arches have not yet been completed in the Gothic triforium, the passageway which is cut into the inside of the wall, in this case, just below the clerestory windows. 

Collegiate churches accommodated both their resident canons and the secular community supporting them.  Often, shared buildings required clear lines of demarcation, and sometimes even gates for maintaining the separate spaces for the two groups.  This helped the canons say their daily Masses and eight Canonical Hours without people strolling past and disturbing.  Today the gates enable semi-private functions in the back chapels, such as funerals and baptisms.

As we look eastward toward the choir/apse, we catch a glimpse of the dome above. 

We are looking to the east, at the choir in the apse.  The ribbed vaulting in the choir's ceiling is highly unusual, having eight vaults of differing sizes.  

Here we see the dome while we stand behind the ironwork behind the high altar, it cross and its candles.

We are now seeing the nave's northern wall.  The October sun is streaming in from the southern windows, illuminating the Romanesque triforium.  The elevation is impressive for a rural collegiate church.  There are three levels, the middle row of arches hiding/exposing the triforium, the walkway which gives access to the roof, etc.  I so wish I could have access to that level when taking photos.

The north transept has windows, as well as stone tracery which articulates space as windows do, but without being glazed.  I surmise that this was as much of a transept as the architect envisioned.  This structure is not following that of the so-called 'pilgrimage' churches, whose emphasized the shape of the cross and therefore required a more pronounced transept.

The more recent parts of the church are more strongly influenced by the emerging Gothic style, with more pointed and slender arches.

This one puzzles me . . . sturdy (new) stone steps going up to a door that leads to . . . likely the dome's inner walkway.   You can only mount the steps if you bring your own ladder.

The stonework in the apse is more elaborate, its Romanesque arches distinguishing the canons' space from that of the villagers.

The choir (where the canons sat to sing their Offices and Mass) was always the first part of any church to be constructed.  After all, the very reason for building a church was to have a place where worship could be conducted properly, so the altar area was absolutely required.  In a sense, once this part of the building was finished, nothing more was needed for the canons.  But it was understood that collegiate churches would also serve the local community.

This type of additional seating, built into the wall, was common in monastic and collegiate churches.  The stone slab may have been cold, but it enabled a few people to sit.  At my age, this is increasingly important.  I invariably rest here when visiting churches.

This is the view the canons seated along the southern wall would have seen  multiple times daily.  As their eyes went upward, toward the sky/heavens, they were convinced they were looking up toward God, who lived above the dome-like sky.

The canons sat in their numbered choir stalls.  The most recent members sat the farthest from the altar, on the ground level.  Every time someone ahead of you died, everybody moved over one stall.  A death in the community was most certainly noticed by the community.  Each stall is carefully numbered.

The choir stall directly ahead of us has its seat raised, to reveal that most charming mediæval invention, the misericord, a tiny ledge which could act like a seat, supporting you while standing.  This was indeed a "mercy" to the elderly canons while participating in about 6-8 hours of church here daily, especially when hands were to be raised during some of the prayers.

The choir seems to combine elements of both the Romanesque and Gothic styles.  Basilica of St Denis  had already begun the transition from Romanesque to Gothic, and the ribbed vaulting in St Quiriace shows an awareness of those techniques.  (Chartres would not be begun until about a decade after St Quiriace ran out of money.)  The hemispherical shape of the apse is in contrast to its square outer structure which houses chapels and the ambulatory.  This was a new combination to me.

We are looking to the NW, from behind the high altar, to the northern wall above the choir stalls.

This stained glass window is directly behind the high altar, seen by the faithful as they observe the celebrant from some distance.  The top circle depicts Jesus crowning Mary, below it is the Presentation at the Temple (Simeon), the third from the top is the Annunciation, and I neglected to get a better look at the bottom roundel, possibly the birth of St. John.

Beam of late afternoon sunshine illuminating chairs and kneeling rail facing a chapel.

Part of the ambulatory, from which we can see the open front side (not central) door and, to our left, the choir.

A more recent window showing (left to right):  St. Francis, Jesus, St. Augustine.

My favourite type of stained glass window--no figures, just Cistercian-like designs.


1429 - 1929
Joan of Arc
on her return from 
the consecration (crowning of Charles VII) at Reims,
came to Provins to hear Massin this basilica
on August 3, 1429 with
King Charles VII.
Fifth centenary

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tour César, in the Mediæval City of Provins

Perched on the highest rocks of the old upper mediæval city of Provins, the Tour César provides an important visual focal point.  It was built in the 12th century, when such structures were both advisable and in vogue.  But this tower, like the old town itself, is somewhat small.  Although it is 44 meters high, within a few generations the Tower was used primarily by the local Count as a prison. The bilingual sign says that this has been known as the Count's Tower, the King's Tower, the Prisonners' Tower, the Large Tower, and Caesar's Tower.  

To reach the Tower, you need to climb beyond the heights of the upper city, which was already a good climb.

"For Sale"--I had to take this photo, even though the Tower itself was not on offer.

The main lower structure is square, each corner having its own smaller tower.  Above all of this stands the upper octagonal tower with two window openings on each of the eight sides.  This would have been a chilly wind-swept place for anyone keeping watch or even ringing the bells for church.

I surmised this to be part of a wall with an inner passageway, but the passageway no longer leads anywhere.  In its crumbled state, we see how field stones of any size or shape were used for filler, while chiseled quarried stones were used to create the wall's surfaces.  This wall was surely not thick enough to deter a determined assault, but it could do nicely for dampening escape plans of any prissoners.

The official entrance to the tower is at the top of still more steps, but now the stairs are fully covered and protected from the elements. 

We pause, looking back down the steps we just climbed.

As we go up into the Tower, we see that we are now well above the elegant homes of the upper city.

A telephoto shot lets us see the nearly haphazard nature of the steep tiled roofs.  Our home is not the only one with moss on the roof.

(And she thought our back door was drafty!)

This descends (as I recall) into the living area in the tower.

Just remember that all of the wood for this large fireplace has to be carried up into and through the upper city, up to the Tower, and then up into the Tower.  But the warmth would have provided comfort and heat for gruel three times a day.

I should have taken a photo of the very narrow stairs I was persuaded to climb (next photo), but my mind was more concerned with claustrophobia.  To get through the door, I had to take off my camera backpack and proceed sideways.  I then had to climb the steep uneven steps somewhat sideways because my modern shoulders are too wide (and I am no rugby player).

The climb was worth it (if I kept my mind off the coming descent).  Now the geometrical design of the Tower's upper timbers could be appreciated. 

This scaffolding was built in the 17th century to hold the city's large bells (formerly used to warn the town of fire, but now rung to call people to church in the upper city).  The sign warns us that we are "Absolutely forbidden to touch the bells or climb the supporting structure.  The town declines all responsibility."  Strangely, an inner wooden stairs lets us go down to examine the structure, and this has surely been tempting for young lads with adventuresome spirits.

From the uppermost inner deck of the Tower, we can look over the plain below through any of the eight windows.  This view shows that we are nearly as high as the church tower in the upper city.  The closer metal roof belongs to one of this Tower's four smaller towers.

This was October, so school was getting out, meaning that it was about 5:00 p.m.  Time to descend before the Tower is officially closed.