Travel back in time

Here’s where we left off last week, just outside the church of Saint Eulalie in Cruzy!

P1040677The guided visit inside was already underway, and when I joined the guide was explaining that the church had been built and added to over the centuries.  He explained that the difference in the stone work in the wall on the north side of the nave was due to the fact that the church roof had been raised at one time or another – the stone blocks are of a different colour and size.  Originally the church would have had no side chapels, and the roof would have been a good deal lower than it is today.  During the period called the “Wars of Religion” (1562-1598), Cruzy changed sides several times and was frequently besieged by the opposite side.  The church became a veritable fortress, either during that period or immediately before.  I haven’t seen many churches with machicolations and crenelated battlements – have you?  But that’s precisely what can be found in Cruzy.

P1040686There are machicolations on all the bays, where stones or other things could be dropped down from. The side chapels, of which you can see the windows above, were added much later, as the machicolations wouldn’t really make sense, one wouldn’t drop stones on one’s roof?  Our guide also dispelled the myth about boiling oil or water being poured from up high.  The only access to the roof was via a narrow stone staircase, and you wouldn’t want to have to carry boiling oil up that, or light a fire on the roof to heat it. So by the end of the Wars of Religion the outside of the church had been fortified as much as possible.  The inside would have had a different aspect to what it looks like today, with the nave being unbroken by the side chapels.  It would have been a very impressive space, 21 metres wide and 23 metres high (it might be higher, I didn’t write that measurement down, sorry!).

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One interesting fact about this church is that there is no wood used in its construction – absolutely everything, including the roof structure and covering is made of stone!  Either side of the apse are chapels.  The one on the right is done out with a baroque altar, full of gold leaf and carved detail.  The one on the left was re-done in the 19th century, in what the people of the time thought more in tune with the style of the church – lots of Carrara marble and some gothic ornaments, but to my mind very cold and not all that pretty.

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For the heritage weekend, some of the old vestments had been put on display.  I’m always fascinated by the embroidery.  It must have taken weeks if not months to stitch that beautiful ornament!

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One of the side chapels on the south side of the nave is dedicated to St Roch, the saint who is supposed to protect against the plague.  He always shows a bit of leg and is always accompanied by a dog!

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The chapel on the north side has a nice font made of marble from the quarries in Caunes Minervois.  The high altar is made with three types of marble: red from Caunes Minervois, white from Carrara, and grey/blue from Saint Pons (sorry, no picture of that altar, but if you look closely at the one of the apse further up you might just be able to make out the different colours?).

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Our guide next showed us the old sacristy, a room on the north side of the apse, which is no longer in use.  The lock on the door into the old sacristy was made of wood!  The escutcheon plate on the outside belonged to an older lock, which no longer existed.

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Here are a few more little details of the interior:

Our guide next took us round the outside of the church, to explain a few interesting details.  The west wall, closing off the nave, is not really attached to the church, and there are stones sticking out of the nave walls, as if the builders had intended to continue the building.

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The tower on the north side is almost entirely solid up to where the roof of the church starts.  Until to that point the only space inside is for the spiral staircase.  There are a few arrow-slits on the way up for light and defense but that’s it.  Farther up you have space where the bells live, and where the church clock ticks away.

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The main door into the church had probably been at the west end of the church originally, but was moved at a later date.  The door is ancient and the stonework around it very delicate.

The church of Saint Eulalie also holds a few mysteries!  There are two rooms on top of the old sacristy, which are not accessible from anywhere!  They were only discovered during repairs to the roof.  What were they used for and how?  And there is small tower, octagonal at the base and round on top, which appears buried in the masonry – what purpose did that serve?  In time (and given some money to carry out work) the local historians may get to the bottom of those mysteries…

A short walk brought our group to the entrance to the museum, and that’s where the next part of our guided visit started.  To give you an idea of the village, below is an aerial view of modern-day Cruzy (found at http://www.mappy.com).  I’ve drawn a (wobbly) line around the ancient core of the village, which would have been fortified by a thick and sturdy wall.

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First our guide showed us an ancient mediaeval part of the village.  Through a low archway, down a slope, we ended up in a blind alleyway.  This would have been the only access to several houses built against the defensive ramparts, which had no windows on, or access from (of course) the outside wall.  The tiny walled up window would have been one of the original windows. These houses would have been very dark indeed!  Have a look at the map above, you’ll find several of those alleyways still in existence!

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We then walked across Place Roger Salengro, past some beautiful mullioned windows…

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…and down Rue de la Place, past what was once the house of a noble family, dating from the 16th and 17th century.  Unfortunately, you can tell that it has seen better days!

Once we reached the Allee du Portanel, our guide showed us where the ramparts had been re-used.  Openings had been cut into thick stone walls, and on the side of the building you can still see the thickness of the defensive wall!

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Next to that building is what remains of a communal staircase, which would have served several buildings.   Unfortunately a big van was parked in front of it, so I could only get a shot of the window.

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The next picture shows an interesting building.  In olden days ownership of houses was not quite as clear-cut as today, so people might own a room in next door’s building.  The facade gives you a good idea of the complicated ownership on this building!

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We continued our walk, with lots of more interesting snippets of information along the way.  The buildings on the side of the road opposite to the ramparts are mostly 18th century, built when the village started to grow outside the ramparts.  I loved the decorations on this particular facade.  And the swallow’s nest is supposed to bring good luck!

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Back towards the church and past another beautiful Renaissance facade.

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And just two last little pictures, before we finish for today.  I’m sure that gargoyle is smiling at us!!

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