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Updates – Three – April

You can live in a place all your life and still be surprised, from time to time…at the end of last april, my daughter and I registered for a guided tour of a very specific area in the Cathedral….always a pleasure, because it’s really stunning!

A little bit of history: the construction was begun in 1059 by bishop Cadalo, later antipope with the name of Honorius II, and was consecrated by Paschal II in 1106. A basilica existed probably in the 6th century, but was later abandoned; another church had been consecrated in the rear part of the preceding one in the 9th century by the count-bishop Guibodo. The new church was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1117 and had to be restored. Of the original building, remains can be seen in the presbytery, the transept, the choir and the apses, and in some sculpture fragments. The wide façade was completed in 1178: it has three loggia floors and three portals. Between the central and the right doors is the tomb of the mathematician Biagio Pelacani, who died in 1416. The Gothic belfry was added later, in 1284-1294: a twin construction on the left side had been conceived, but it was never begun.

Two great marble lions guard the entrance to the Cathedral: they were sculpted by Giambono da Bissone in 1281 and are among the symbols of the Cathedral. The door is by Luchino Bianchino, who carved it in 1494. A closer look at the lions reveals that they are not perfectly symmetrical. On the contrary. One is red and the other is white. It seems that this difference may be interpreted as the dual human and divine nature of Christ.  The two lions represent the Lord and embody his strength, his ability to support his own Church and victory over death.

All the visitors, once inside, are attracted by the painted ceiling, very up above their heads, a real catalyst for everyone’s attention….

but the real protagonist is the dome……

The Assumption of the Virgin is a fresco by the Italian Late Renaissance artist Antonio da Correggio decorating the dome. Correggio signed the contract for the painting on November 3, 1522. It was finished in 1530. The composition was influenced by Melozzo da Forlì’s perspective and includes the decoration of the dome base, which represents the four protector saints of Parma: St. John the Baptist with the lamb, St. Hilary with a yellow mantle, St. Thomas (or Joseph) with an angel carrying the martyrdom palm leaf, and St. Bernard, the sole figure looking upwards. Below the feet of Jesus, the uncorrupt Virgin in red and blue robes is lifted upward by a vortex of singing or otherwise musical angels. Ringing the base of the dome, between the windows, stand the perplexed Apostles, as if standing around the empty tomb in which they have just placed her. In the group of the blessed can be seen: Adam and Eve, Judith with the head of Holofernes. At the centre of the dome is a foreshortened beardless Jesus descending to meet his mother. Correggio’s Assumption would eventually serve as a catalyst and inspiration for the dramatically-illusionistic, di sotto in su ceiling paintings of the 17th-century Baroque period. In Correggio’s work, and in the work of his Baroque heirs, the entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions and opened up via painting, so that the dome of the church is equated with the vault of heaven. The illusionistic manner in which the figures seem to protrude into the spectators’ space was, at the time, an audacious and astounding use of foreshortening, though the technique later became common among Baroque artists who specialized in illusionistic vault decoration.

Cantelli Chapel: the neobizantine decoration of the walls and vault is due to Gerolamo Magnani (1881-82), who in the medallions of the vault represented the four evangelists. Various gravestones are found in the walls, including the one in the right pedestal that remembers the primitive chapel (probably an altar hanging on the wall with the family tomb, as the chapels, as we see them now, were built during the ‘400s) made in 1285 by Bartolo Cantelli, with coat of arms of Count Giuseppe Cantelli, chamberlain of Maria Luigia, who died in 1845. The carved and golden niche, containing the statue of St. Joseph with the Child, dates back to the end of the 18th century.

But now our solitary walk was interrupted by the guide who grouped us up to climb up there…..near the vault….along the arches of the matroneum to admire the medieval capitals….

An encyclopedia of images engraved in stone: this is how one can describe the countless medieval capitals that can be discovered while walking along the aisles of the cathedral, and we were lucky enough to see them from very nearMost of the capitals in the Cathedral are of the Corinthian-type, with vegetal decoration. But there are also capitals with different decorations, such as hunting scenes, mythological tales, Bible stories and scenes drawn from daily life. The capitals used to be polychromatic, but today bare stone and 16th-century gilding prevail.

An imposing cycle of frescoes that accompanies worshippers along the entire central nave….they tell the story of the Life of Christ and also depict episodes from the Old Testament. And to see them so close was really an experience! Both the right and left wall are entirely covered by frescoes, which follow a precise thematic organization. The frescoes between the arches and the women’s gallery (matroneum) depict scenes of the Old Testament, those between the women’s gallery and the lunettes images from the Gospel, while allegorical figures appear in the lunettes. This imposing work bears witness to Lattanzio Gambara‘s apprenticeship with Giulio Campi, but also to the influence of the painter Giulio Romano.

After descending the stone spiral staircase, we didn’t stop at ground level, our descent continued to the crypt….

A dense interweaving of columns and groin vaults that can be compared to a “stone garden”. Here are preserved the relics of San Bernardo degli Uberti, patron saint of the Diocese. It is thought that the columns used in this crypt were taken from the ancient Roman town, thus establishing an ideal continuity between the ancient town and the Cathedral. Of particular interest is the statue of Saint Bernard at the centre of the chapel dedicated to him and altered over the centuries. From the crypt one gains access to two precious Renaissance chapels: the Rusconi chapel and the Ravacaldi chapel.

Ravacaldi Chapel: here one can see the fresco of the Annunciation and a cycle of paintings about the life of the Virgin, evidence of the fine narrative taste of the workshop of Bertolino de’ Grossi. This chapel is also named after its patron, a canon whose figure seems to be included in the Annunciation fresco. The particular attention given to details and faces makes of these frescos an interesting example of 15th-century painting.

Rusconi Chapel: this side chapel located at the right of the crypt contains elegant frescoes commissioned by Bishop Giovanni Rusconi in 1398. A magnificent votive fresco dominates the chapel. This fresco shows the Bishop kneeling by the throne of the Virgin and absorbed in prayer. The rest of the chapel shows depictions of the prophets, attributed to Padua workshops, and images of the Evangelists enclosed in elegant frames. Of particular interests is the depiction of the Trinity through the superimposition of the three divine faces, which at the time was considered an unorthodox choice.

The visit led us behind the main altar, in a series of rooms used by the priest to change them for Mass and where we could admire some precious wood carved closets used to store priests’ clothes, religious adornments, Mass books, ect…

Our visit finished passing before the Bishop’s throne, under the golden tabernacle….

The throne is adorned with a symbolically rich marble group in which scenes from the Scriptures are intertwined with anthropomorphic figures and episodes drawn from hagiographic stories. From a symbolic point of view, the bishop’s throne represents the Bishop presiding over liturgical assemblies within the Cathedral, which takes its name from this seat (“cathedra”). The arms are symmetrical and consist of two human figures crushed by lions that embody the victory of Christ over death. Other episodes are depicted on its sides, such as the battle between Saint George and the dragon and the conversion of Paul.

We couldn’t exit the Cathedral without paying tribute to the most (maybe) famous piece inside….the Deposition by Benedetto Antelami This is the first great known work by Benedetto Antelami and a masterpiece of Gothic art.  It originally was part of the ambo, from which the Word of God used to be proclaimed. Looking at the composition carefully one becomes aware of the modernity and humanity that the artist sculpted into the marble. The scene has a strong dramatic impact: Christ is at the centre, his lifeless body supported by John. At the left of the Cross are the gambling centurions, casting dice for the robes of the son of God. Antelami‘s style is very personal, and although he created this work in 1178 he anticipates with remarkable foresight elements of Gothic sculpture.

We enjoyed this tour so very much, a nice diversion for our usual saturday afternoon….

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Posted by on October 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Updates – Two – April

The begining of april was sunny and warm….suitable for early motorbike outings…

First of all, a day off with a former collegue of mine and her husband, at their seaside home in Lido degli Estensi….comparing the two new bikes…..lol….

….and after a short boat ride…..

to Porto Garibaldi for lunch……

the best catalana salad ever!

After that, a digestive walk………..

Easter Sunday lunch “chez maman”………..

…and the afternoon spent with our bikers/dancers friends at a local event in town…..

We decided that considering the good forecast for Easter Monday, we could give a try to a place we read about some time ago…..and the day for just perfect for bikes!

Chignolo Po Castle is one of the most sumptuous castle residences in Lombardy. The oldest part is the tower which was built to defend the Po river and the trading routes between northern Europe and Italy. The castle was built in the thirteenth century and transformed into a princely palace in the eighteenth century in an inventive stylistic reinvention of the building. Its present form is a majestic earthenware building surmounted by a hanging gallery held up by stone ledges.

The oldest part of the castle is the great tower, from which is controlled a long stretch of the Po (Cuneulus super Padum). It is believed that it was built by King Liutprando around 740 AD, when Pavia was the capital of the Lombards, in order to serve as a fortress of defense and garrison on the Po and the Via di Monte Bordone, later called via Francigena – Romea linking northern Europe with Rome.

In 1251, the Abbot of the Abbey of Santa Cristina appointed a Head of the Government of the Castle and the extensive territories attached to it. The castle, shortly since the thirteenth century, became one of the major Lombard fief, on which the Pusterla family first settled, until in 1340 that family was involved in an anti-Visconti conspiracy and fiercely exterminated. They were followed by the Federici and the Cusani, which maximize the power of the castle, also constantly receiving privileges and concessions from the King and the Dukes of Milan. From 1700 to 1730 it was expanded and transformed from a medieval fortress in a true eighteenth-century palace, where stayed popes, emperors, kings, princes and Archduke.
Artists from the school of Tiepolo was entrusted with the implementation of the stucco and paintings that adorn the rooms of the castle.
The works were done at the behest and funding of the owner at the time, Cardinal Agostino Cusani Visconti (1655 – 1715), who was Ambassador of the Pope at the Venetian Republic and at the Court of Louis XIV in Paris.
Following this impressive work, the Castle of Chignolo Po was called and known worldwide as the Versailles of Lombardy”.

Our guide before entering the castle, explaining us the history of the place and te rules (no photos inside, being that a private residence….well I managed to sneak a few…lol)

Below, the ceiling of the entrance arch…

The inner courtyard and a couple of painted ceilings inside….

The backyard (being in fact the main entrance, towards the village)

The complex is surrounded by a large English park, featuring a spectacular tea-house from the eighteenth century, and includes the Borgo, a series of palaces located behind the castle and built in 1600, which has a moat and four towers along the outer sides

We had a reservation at a cozy restaurant near the castle, along the river Po….

It was really a beautiful day, we had really a gret time with our friends, enjoying the good weather finally….

 

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Updates – One – March

After a short and not so cold month of february, almost lacking of events, march started with a nice late afternoon meeting, celebrating a collegue wedding, in a very well known place in the city center…..

Then we brought home a new road companion, for the happiness of my husband….and for the sake of my lower back!

One sunny sunday we drove to our friends’ country home to have lunch together…….

…..and to fix a date for a guided visit to a stunning private palace in town.

Well, it seems I have some recurring names and places in my life…… I’v been in that palace before a few times (work related), but I only saw a few rooms. Open to the public exceptionally for a day, Palazzo Pallavicino, a historic baroque residence in the heart of Parma, was shown to the members of a cultural association that arranged the appointment, by the marquise Maria Gabriella Pigoli Pallavicino and Professor Carlo Mambriani (an historian) who led the participants through the stunning rooms of the private residence. And amazing as it was, the marquis Maria Gabriella recognized me after so many years and at the end of the visit she kindly gave us half an hour of her time chatting about our lives after the last time we met  …… very kind of her, don’t you think?

The palace was commissioned by Alfonso Pallavicino from Zibello in 1646 and built on the spot of a 15th century palace belonging to the Sforza of Santafiora family (the square before the palace still has the same name). The façade dates back to 1705 and is characterised by windows of different sizes and designs surrounded by marble, with a balcony held up by corbels.

Inside, from a baroque courtyard, a balustrade staircase with three flights in Bolognese style of the end of the 17th century  adorned with statues, leads up to several rooms with stucco, Austrian marble fireplaces, mirrors, paintings, a Chinese salon with 18th century marble floors and a salon frescoed by Sebastiano Galeotti. Four works are by Girolamo Donnini, including The flight of Eneid from Troy, The flight of Ifigenia from the temple of Artemides, Medea and Jason and Diomedes revealing the faked madness of Ulysses. Donnini also painted the ceilings, as well the artist from Bologna, Aureliano Milani, depicting Hercules in many of his works.

Just the staircase is worth the visit….

The visit started at the long hallway that i remembered so well, where the marquise was waiting for us……

then, her precious bridge room, a card game always loved by her and her late husband….

….the conversation room…..

….the Chinese salon…..

….the dining room….

….the library where the late marquis Pierluigi used to meet me….

It was really an amazing experience for me, just like it was anytime I met that kind couple, so many years ago….thank you Lady Gabriella for a wonderful time!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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I’m back! ….for a one shot, at least….

It’s been ages since last time I posted something….and lots of things happened of course….here is a little re-cap of my life in the last few months….

First of all there was an event in mid-september to present the opening of the Parma branch of the dance school where our friends/cousins teach….

September was a busy month….One of my favourite events…a country night

…..then the wedding of dear friends of our daughter, a very nice celebration…….and their little boy was the center of all the attentions…

….. a day out at the end of the month, discovering a new place, to savour and taste a rural market, where our friends were selling their fruit and olive plants

It was a great place, near to us but left ignored for way too long, a very nice surprise, full of great buildings and lot of history behind those walls…

In october we had a night all together to say goodbye to a couple of our neighbours moving away….

Mid-october we spent a day in Murano (a very beautiful island in the Venice lagoon)  to visit the Glass Museum where maestro Vianello had some of his pieces displayed… (remember Mauro and my glass ducks?) It was a stunning visit……

Below, one of Vianello creations….

We did enjoy the sunny day to walk around….the beautiful Church of St Mary and St Donato….

…and another desecrated church, St Chiara, now a glass workshop….

I’ll never get tired of this beautiful place!

Usually we don’t take time off in fall/winter, but last october it was different. We just needed a few days off, after a very busy period renovating our daughter home, so we choose France for a short vacation. We had our hotel (below) in Salon-de-Provence, and we just drove around between Provence and Camargue…..

Salon-de-Provence was really a nice surprise….the old centere of the village was full of cozy and beautiful corners…starting with the fountains, all green and more like trees….

….or the clock tower, that signs the time of the residents since ages….

….every street and every square holding something to remember…..maybe a modern statue of Nostradamus who lived and died here….

A more classic statue of Nostradamus…

….beautiful mansions and gardens….

And obviously there is a castle….

We had a great time spending a sunny and warm day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, being there after 20 years since the first time….

The first time we didn’t get into the church, it was closed for some event rehersal, but this time we did!

Can you tell the majority of the people living here are Gypsy from Spain?

One morning we decided to visit a “savonnerie” (soap factory) and we didn’t come out empty handed….

We spent the rest of the day between an old pirates outpost and the “salines” (salt evaporation pond)….

It was a nice trip, and we’d like to come back in the area next fall as well….

Me and daughter spent a day in Milan for a job interview…..and nope, she didn’t get the job. At least, we had a very good lunch…

Mid-november we had dinner with some friends, savouring a very tasty bistecca fiorentina

At the beginning of december my daughter boyfriend’s parents came to spend a few days with him so we got the chance to know each others and have lunch together with my mother too…

Last december with some of our friends, we resurrected what used to be a Christmas tradition for some years, the making of “spongata“…..beside having something to give as a gift, the tradition was just to have fun and spend some quality time all together, having lunch as well…

The final result ready for the oven….

And then it was Christmas time…Eve’s dinner at home as usual…

To celebrate the arrival of the new year, we had dinner out with some friends (with daughter and her bf/friends in a nearby table….lol) in a unpretentious place, but very good…

First event of the new year was the classic, by now, Epiphany on bike….to bring gifts to the Children Hospital’s patients…

Another classic already, the charity dinner for our friends’ son in Brazil….

Finally, after some time we had the chance to meet with our friends from Modena….obviously at lunch!

Our friend S with a partner, opened a tex-mex restaurant….we were there for dinner one night of course….

And this is all, at least till the end of january…..but two big event took place among all those above…hubby retirement (at last!) in mid-december, celebrated at his workplace with all his collegues….including gifts and jokes…

…and daughter M finally moving to her new home in january…

So now we’re officially empty nesters…..and we miss her so very much….but that’s life, right?

Till next time, take care….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Mushroom Pie

  • ½ lb short pastry
  • lb mushrooms
  • 3 oz butter
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup bechamel
  • 1 ¾ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • onion
  • garlic
  • pepper
Butter a metal oven-dish with wavy edges of about 8 inches in diameter; line with the sheet of dough to a thickness of about 0,2 inch, prick all over, cover with some thin white paper, fill with dried peas, and put into a moderate oven. Remove after 15-20 minutes (it should be barely colored), remove the peas and the sheet of paper, leaving the crust in the oven-dish. Brush with beaten egg and leave in the oven doorway for a couple of minutes to dry the pastry. After this procedure, the crust may be filled. Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, sauté them in the butter for some seconds, add the chopped mixture of onion and garlic, mix, and as soon as the mixture is lightly golden, douse with Marsala wine. Allow to evaporate and reduce the mixture. At this point, pour in the cream, season with salt and pepper, continue cooking over high heat for 5 minutes, taking care to mix often, and then mix in the light béchamel. Cook for some seconds, then fill the crust with this mixture, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan and melted butter. Put into a hot oven. Serve when the surface has become nicely golden.
 
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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step ten (and last) – A walking through Castres

Another beautiful road led us north of Carcassonne, to visit the city of Castres….

Castres is a commune, and arrondissement capital in the Tarn department and Midi-Pyrénées region, and it lies in the former French province of Languedoc. Castres is (after Toulouse, Tarbes and Albi) the fourth largest industrial centre of the predominantly rural Midi-Pyrénées region and the largest in that part of Languedoc lying between Toulouse and Montpellier. It is noted also for being the birthplace of the famous socialist leader Jean Jaurès and home to the important Goya Museum of Spanish painting.

(above and below, old houses along the river Agout)

The name of the town comes from Latin castrum, and means “fortified place”. Castres grew up round the Benedictine abbey of Saint Benoît, which is believed to have been founded in AD 647, possibly on the site of an old Roman fort (castrum). Castres became an important stop on the international pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain because its abbey-church, built in the 9th century, was keeping the relics of Saint Vincent, the renowned martyr of Spain. It was a place of some importance as early as the 12th century, and ranked as the second town of the Albigeois behind Albi. Despite the decline of its abbey, which in 1074 came under the authority of Saint Victor abbey in Marseille, Castres was granted a liberal charter in the 12th century by the famous Trencavel family, viscounts of Albi. Resulting from the charter, Castres was ruled by a college of consuls.

During the Albigensian Crusade it surrendered of its own accord to Simon de Montfort, and thus entered into the kingdom of France in 1229. In 1317, Pope John XXII established the bishopric of Castres. In 1356, the town of Castres was raised to a countship by King John II of France. However, the town greatly suffered from the Black Plague in 1347-1348, then from the Black Prince of England and the Free Companies (bands of lawless mercenaries) who laid waste the country during the Hundred Years’ War. Consequently, by the late 14th century Castres entered a period of sharp decline. In 1375, there were only 4,000 inhabitants left in town, only half the figure from a century before. Following the confiscation of the possessions of Jacques d’Armagnac, duke of Nemours, to which the countship of Castres had passed, it was bestowed in 1476 by King Louis XI on Boffille de Juge (Boffillo del Giudice), an Italian nobleman and adventurer serving as a diplomat for Louis XI, but the appointment led to so much disagreement (family feud between Boffille de Juge, his only daughter, and his brother-in-law) that the countship was united to the crown by King Francis I in 1519.

(above, the statue of Jean Jaurès in the same name square – below, with a very interested husband – at market time, and after it)

Around 1560, the majority of the population of Castres converted to Protestantism. In the wars of the latter part of the 16th century the inhabitants sided with the Protestant party, fortified the town, and established an independent republic. Castres was one of the largest Protestant strongholds in southern France, along with Montauban and La Rochelle. Henry of Navarre, leader of the Protestant party, who later became King Henry IV of France, stayed in Castres in 1585. The Protestants of Castres were brought to terms, however, by King Louis XIII in 1629, and Richelieu came himself to Castres to have its fortifications dismantled. Nonetheless, after these religious wars, the town, now in peace, enjoyed a period of rapid expansion. Business and traditional commercial activities revived, in particular fur and leather-dressing, tanning, and above all wool trade. Culture flourished anew, with the founding of the Academy of Castres in 1648. Castres was turned by the Catholic Church into an active center of Counter-Reformation, with the establishments of several convents in town, and the building of a renowned bishop’s palace by Mgr. Tubœuf, still the most famous monument in town today. A new cathedral was also built, after the destructions of the religious wars. Perhaps even more important, Castres was made the seat of the “Chambre de l’Édit” of the Parliament of Toulouse, a court of justice detached from the Parliament of Toulouse and in charge of dealing with the cases involving the Protestants of Languedoc, a measure of protection granted to them by the Edict of Nantes. This court attracted lots of business to Castres. In 1665, there were 7,000 inhabitants in Castres, 4,000 of whom Catholic, and 3,000 Protestant.

In 1670 however, the Chambre de l’Édit was transferred to Castelnaudary, much to the discontent of even the catholic citizens of Castres, who lost a major source of business and revenue with the departure of the lawyers and the plaintiffs. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes soon followed, and Castres suffered a lot when a great number of Protestants chose to go into exile. Then came the plague of 1720-1721 and the fire of 1724. Last but not least, Castres lost its liberal charter in 1758. In the 1760s, a few years after the famous Calas Affair in Toulouse, Castres made the headlines nationwide: Pierre-Paul Sirven and his wife, both Protestants, were wrongly accused of having murdered their daughter in order to prevent her from converting to Catholicism. Tried and sentenced to death “in absentia” on March 29, 1764, they were defended by Voltaire, and eventually exonerated in 1771.

The outbreak of the French Revolution was generally welcomed in Castres, particularly among the local Protestant merchants and entrepreneurs, but the majority of the population remained moderate during the whole period. In 1793 for instance, Protestant pastor Alba La Source, Castres’ representative at the Convention in Paris, opposed the deportation of “non-juror” Catholic priests to French Guiana, where death in the horrid jungle was certain. “Non-juror” priests were by far the majority in the region of Castres. Accused of being a moderate, Alba La Source was guillotined in October 1793. Suspected of being lukewarm toward the revolution, Castres was duly chastised. The bishopric which had been established by Pope John XXII in 1317 was abolished, Castres later becoming part of the bishopric of Albi. Capital of the département of Tarn in 1790, the town was downgraded to capital of an arrondissement in 1797, Albi being made the capital of the département. Despite these setbacks, in the 19th century the economy of Castres developed greatly, and the town grew outside of its old medieval center. As early as 1815, the first mechanized wool mill was set up in town. Originally specialized in luxury cloth, the Castres textile industry then turned toward more ordinary types of cloth, whose markets were considerably larger. Around 1860, there were 50 wool mills in town, employing 3,000 people. In the end of the 19th century, mechanical engineering industries appeared beside the textile industry, which led to Castres becoming a major arsenal for the French army during the First World War. Castres was linked to the French railway network in 1865. At the end of the 19th century, Castres was the largest town in the département of Tarn, with 5,000 more inhabitants than Albi.

The Goya Museum (below) is settled in a part of the ancient bishop’s palace of Castres which plans had been designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of Versailles architects. Although the museum exists since 1840, the Briguiboul legacy of 1894 determined its Hispanic vocation. Painter and collector, dazzled by the famous Spanish master, he acquired numerous quality works among which Goya famous : “Self portrait with glasses”, “Portrait of Francisco del Mazo”, a set of engravings : “The Caprices” and” The Philippines Assembly”. In 1949, prestigious deposits from the Louvre Museum confirmed such specialisation :”Portrait of Philip IV” by Velázquez, “Virgin with the Rosary and child” by Murillo. Since then, the Castres Museum never stopped enriching and, particularly, those past twenty years and this place, unique of the kind, became a reference to appreciate Spanish creation, from Antiquity until the 20th century. (sorry, but inside it was forbidden to take photos).

Castres Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Benoît de Castres – below), now the Roman Catholic church of Saint Benoît (Saint Benedict), was formerly the seat of the bishop of Castres, but the diocese was not restored after the French Revolution and was added by the Concordat of 1801 to the Archdiocese of Albi. The first cathedral was built in the 14th century after the creation of the diocese of Castres in 1317, along with a number of other dioceses created in the region after the suppression of the Albigensians. It was destroyed during the French Wars of Religion. The present building which replaced it was constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

On a plaque is written: “Bishop of Tuboeuf initially, first put into effect plans for the building in 1678”, on the site of the former St. Benedict Abbey, which had been destroyed by religious wars. The works were later halted by a lack of funding. The construction was then resumed under Monseigneur de Beaujeu. The cathedral was consecrated in 1718. The style is baroque and very sober. The initial plans were for a large imposing building. The interior is huge. The decoration of the vault dates from the last century. In the choir is a canopy of gilded wood supported by red marble columns from Caunes (Aude). The side chapels contain a rich collection of paintings from the Toulouse school of the eighteenth century (Chevalier Rivals). Most of the decorative elements are from the old monastery of Saïx, including : the seats of the canons, the doors of the sacristy and the paintings. The Cathedral of Saint-Benoit was classified as a Historical Monument on June 24, 1953.

It was a very interesting visit, the last one of our vacation in France. This country never stops to surprise us, and each time it leaves seeds for another visit….

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step nine – A village with a mistery

Rennes-le-Château is a castle in a small hilltop village in Southern France that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. Some say that priest Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19th century, but there are many conflicting theories and stories about what exactly transpired in this area filled with beautiful scenery etched with deep river canyons.

The history of Rennes-le-Château reflects the history of many other European villages. It began with a prehistoric encampment, followed by a Roman villa. The area was a part of Septimania during the 6th and 7th centuries. Thirty thousand people lived in the city around 500-600 AD, with the number of castles rapidly increasing in the area around 1002 AD. In modern times, Rennes-le-Château became very famous when stories from the mid-1950s concerning Roman Catholic priest, Francois Bérenger Saunière, influenced modern writings including The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, and The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003 (obviously I’ve read both of them and others, that’s why I wanted to visit there, dragging along a reluctant husband….).

The stories told about Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière consist of many theories, revolving around all matters of conspiracies involving the Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and later, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the remains of Jesus Christ.

The starting ground for these conspiracy theories involve Bérenger Saunière. He was the priest of a small village from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Somehow, Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is unimaginable how a small village priest could come to have such wealth. This led to much speculation as to where and how he got the money. Some say that he discovered a buried treasure, but this theory has never been substantiated.

During his first few years in the village, Saunière lived in poverty. He kept meticulous accountings of his money, which showed that in 1892 he owed a debt of 105 francs and had savings of 80.65 francs. From the 1890s on, his papers showed that he spent an alarming total of 660,000 francs. As a priest, he earned a salary of 900 francs per year. Around 1880, the going rate for a single mass was 1 franc, so it is difficult to imagine that Saunière could have earned such an income on performing mass alone. In 1910–1911 Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of “mass trafficking” – receiving money for masses that he never actually performed. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books he refused to attend his trial. Even if Saunière was guilty of this, he could not have collected enough through this practice to amount to the sums he spent over his lifetime. As his life came to an end, Saunière began having financial difficulties. It has been noted that this time in his life corresponded with the start of World War I, which may indicate that his funds were held abroad and he could no longer access them. Saunière’s income and spending have led to many conspiracy theories about Rennes-le-Château and where the money may have come from. Some say he came across a buried treasure. Others accused him of digging graves and stealing from the dead. When his spending was investigated by the church, Saunière claimed that the money had been gifted to him. Marie Dénarnaud, the faithful housekeeper who was accused of digging through graves with Saunière, claimed to know a secret that would make one extremely wealthy. When Noel Corbu purchased the Saunière estate from her, she told him she would tell him a secret that would make him powerful and rich. However, prior to her death, Dénarnaud had a fit that left her unable to write or speak. She ultimately took her secret to the grave.

During the 1950s, Corbu began circulating stories that Saunière was in possession of parchments, which he found while renovating his church in 1892, and that these were linked to the treasure of Blanche de Castile, supposedly amounting to 28,500,000 gold pieces. This was the treasure of the French crown assembled by Blanche de Castile, wife of Louis VIII, to pay the ransom of her son Louis IX (Saint Louis), who was captured during a crusade. The surplus was said to have been hidden at Rennes-le-Château.

It was during the 1960s that Corbu’s stories took on a life of their own, and ignited interest in the case of Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. Corbu’s account of Saunière reached the ears of Pierre Plantard, a French draughtsman who is famous for claiming to be a direct Merovingian descendant and for being the principal perpetrator of the Priory of Sion story. Plantard adapted Corbu’s story and entwined it within the mythological account of the Priory of Sion, which inspired the 1967 book L’Or de Rennes by author Gérard de Sède. The book had photographs purportedly showing the parchments discovered by Saunière, but a friend of Plantard later admitted to forging the parchments and both Plantard and his friend were also involved in planting fabricated documents in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale that dealt with the secret history of the Priory of Sion. A decade later and the story of Saunière became even more convoluted and mixed up with conspiracies relating to the ‘Jesus bloodline’, made popular in the bestselling book ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’. Wikipedia reports:“In 1969, a British supporting actor and screenwriter for the BBC by the name of Henry Lincoln read de Sède’s book while on holiday in the Cévennes in 1969 that led him to inspire three BBC Two Chronicle documentaries between 1972-1979, working some of its material into the 1982 non-fictional bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that he co-wrote with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The book claimed Bérenger Saunière discovered proof (possibly the Marriage Certificate) that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and their descendants became the Merovingian dynasty. Among the book’s hypotheses are the possibilities that this was the secret of the Priory of Sion; that Pierre Plantard could have been the descendant of Jesus Christ; that the source of Saunière’s wealth could have involved the blackmailing of the Vatican.”

This theme was further picked up by Dan Brown for his famous historical novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which led to a further surge of interest in Rennes-le-Château. The story of the castle and the priest with his hidden treasure has since become popularized in radio shows, TV programs, and films, and it is now virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction in this complicated conspiracy story. To this day, the secret of Saunière’s fortune remains a mystery. Many theories as to where he got the money have been developed, but none substantiated. Was he a dishonest priest, highly skilled in mass trafficking? Did he come across buried treasure? Was his money kept and hidden overseas? We may never know the real story of Saunière and his fortune, the truth of which he most likely took to his grave when he passed away on 22 January 1917.

The village church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene has been rebuilt several times. The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site may date to the 8th century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins by the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site—remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. This survived in poor repair until the 19th century, when it was renovated by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the renovation of the church, including works on the presbytery and cemetery, cost 11,605 Francs over a ten-year period between 1887 and 1897.

One of the new features was the Latin inscription Terribilis est locus iste above the front doors, taken from the Common Dedication of a Church, which translates as: “This is a place of awe”; the rest of the dedication reads “this is God’s house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.” The first part of the dedication is above the front doors—the rest inscribed on the arches over the two front doors of the church.

Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a devil holding up the holy water stoup, its original head was stolen by persons unknown in 1996 and has never been recovered. A devil like figure holding up the holy water stoup is a rare and unusual choice for the interior decoration of a Church but not exclusive to the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, a similar subject matter can be seen in the Saint Vincent Collegiate church in Montréal, a short distance from Rennes-le-Château. The new figures and statues in the church were not specially made,[13] but were chosen by Saunière from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who—among other things—offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. Following Sauniere’s renovations and redecoratations, the church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsignor Billard.
As you can see from my photos below, it’s not exactly the roman catholic church you can expect……the first impression is you are on a movie stage really, not the feeling you’re in a blessed place….stunning nevertheless, due to the different lights (natural and artificial), the colors of the statues, the paintings of the walls….have a look….
Near the church there’s a little museum about the story of the village and the Saunière life and mystery, not really adding much to the visit, but from the back garden (a nice walk) there’s the access to the Tour of Magdala….
In September 2004, the mayor of Rennes-le-Château exhumed Saunière’s corpse from the cemetery and reburied it in a concrete sarcophagus in the garden to protect it from grave-robbers. Since then, the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château has been closed to the general public.
Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Named after his church, he built the Tour Magdala originally named the Tour de L’horloge on the edge of the village which he used as his library, it features a circular turret with twelve crenellations, on a belvedere that connected it to an orangery, a tower-like structure. The tower has a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethania, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated at his trial that it was intended as a home for retired priests. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the construction of his estate including the Tour Magdala and Villa Bethania (including the purchases of land) between 1898 and 1905 cost 26,417 Francs. Believers in the enigma have suggested that Saunière’s estate was set up on a large-scale checkerboard, while others have claimed that Saunière produced a Mirror image of selected architectural features of his property.

From there you can have an unobstructed view of the Aude valley towards the Pyrenees………..

After the still unsolved mistery (if really there’s one) we needed a break, so we drove to a nearby lake to have a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon…

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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