Two weeks ago, I hinted that I would write about my recent visit to the church of Saint Aphrodise in Beziers. Back in 2013 I was lucky enough to be able to visit that church. Work to save the building from falling down was scheduled to start shortly after my visit, and it was going to be closed to the public for some time. You can read about my previous visit of the church in this article.
For the 2017 European Heritage days, the Friends of Saint Aphrodise were once more offering guided visits of the building. This was the first time since the renovation work had started in 2013! Work was completed earlier this year, and much was changed during the intervening years!
The facade of the nave has been restored and the little square in front of it has been made more accessible. However, both of the doors were locked when I visited.
The gates on Rue du Puits de la Courte, by which I had previously entered the church, were also firmly locked! I kept on walking and finally got to Place Saint Aphrodise, where I had tried in vain to enter the church so many times before my very first visit. This time the gate was open – third time lucky!!
The gate allows access into a corridor which passes through a house, and the alleyway on the other side of the house leads to a door into the nave of the church. The nave was the part of the church which was in danger of collapsing, and which has now been consolidated and reinforced.
According to our guide, the nave of the original building would have only had one central aisle. The chapels, i.e. the parts outside the main aisle, were added later, Trouble started when stone vaulting was added in the 18th century. The weight of the stone was just too much for the building, which had been designed to support a simple wooden roof. In the picture above, you can see the metal rods which were inserted to tie the columns together. A lot more of this kind of ironwork is in the attic and not visible.
The nave had been completely closed off on my last visit – even the opening to the choir had been blocked – so it was wonderful to see this space at last. The renovation works had concentrated on making the structure of the nave safe, without carrying out any renovations on the interior – there’s plenty left to be done! If you look carefully at the picture above, you’ll see barriers closing the choir off – that is now out of bounds. However, our guide led us in there for a good look. 🙂
The baldachin over the high altar is 18th century, the paintings on the walls are 19th century, as are the stained glass windows. Wealthy donors sponsored the windows, and in return their names were added to the windows!
Antonin Injalbert, whose summer residence I wrote about last week, was commissioned to create a statue of Christ on the cross for the high altar. When the sculpture was delivered, it was deemed far too modern by the parishioners, so it was hidden away in a corner of the church. After the first world war, the parish wanted to create a memorial for the parishioners who had been killed in the war, and Injalbert’s statue was used as the centrepiece for the memorial.
Some of the carvings in the nave are very detailed – I can’t tell if they are stone or plaster. I imagine that they are mostly 18th century.
Some of the altars in the nave are very baroque:
The organ looks impressive. When the renovation work was finished, someone decided to see if the organ was still working. It was given a good clean (several days’ work with vacuum cleaners, removing decades of dust), and then someone flicked the switch. Almost miraculously, the organ came to life and could be played!! It still needs a thorough overhaul and tuning, but it is in relatively good shape. There are plans for organ concerts next year!
Here are two close-up shots of the statues on the pillars of the organ loft:
The association Les Amis de Saint Aphrodise is very active in Beziers. The members have been involved in organising some of the guided visits I have written about, such as Time with the Swiss and Heritage of Rememberance.
I’ll finish this post with a picture of the collection box. The postcards were 30 cents in today’s money (bear in mind that the church was abandoned a long time ago!). The sign reads: “God says you must earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. Not by robbing the collection box”! The exclamation mark is mine! 🙂