Thursday, 7 February 2008

Pure white stone

"C'est la plus belle église de l'Europe," beamed the woman in the woods. She and her friend were the first French hikers we have met, out on an afternoon walk.

"Le Dalai Lama a dit que c'est un des lieux les plus serens." The woman had striking blue-grey irises rimmed in black. She had been to Compotela in stages from Le Puy; remembered most the eucalyptus forests just before Santiago.

As we approached St Martin de Boscherville, the abbey church of St George rose above the village; Its straight white walls and slanting slate roofs made it look smugly complete. An air of almost industrial well-being. But in the heart of the village, standing before the heavily patterned Norman arches flanked by perfectly paired slender towers rising into the blue, its beauty was calm and joyous. It welcomed us into its warm whiteness.

This church struck me as the apogée of Normandy Romanesque architecture, lifting my head and spirits to its heights. After Gothic ebullience it is simple and unadorned. Honest. It suddenly made all the Gothic architecture appear as a pretentious, fashion-ridden female. Romanesque splendour is clearly male - an aesthete certainly; pale and possibly undernourished through so much thought.

The previous night, the towers of ruined Jumièges had risen, unilluminated, against the stormy night sky as we made our way to the restaurant. With dark, wheeling seagulls the towers brooded on their ghosts, less welcoming than St George's church; more demanding.

Inside St George's, I wondered how the architects of the Gothic could possibly have imagined that what they were creating was a proper way to worship God. This Norman Romanesque version was indeed serene. Welcoming and soothing, like an ever-understanding but undemonstrative grandparent.

4 February 2008

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