Part of the danse macabre wall paintings in the Chapelle de Tous les saints, Preuilly sur Claise.
The yellow ochre figures are cadavers, come to lead the red ochre shepherdess, lover, nun and widow in the dance of death.
One day in early November last year Marc Dimanche, the secretary of the local archaeological society, came up to me in the street and said 'I hear you would be interested in seeing inside the Chapel of All Saints.' 'Yes, please', I said, 'but we are leaving for Australia in two days time. I'll email you to arrange a visit when we have returned. Oh, and by the way, can I bring my friends Niall and Antoinette? They are historians specialising in the medieval and Niall has a particular interest in memento mori, so I know they would appreciate the chance to see the Chapel.' 'Bien sûr! but don't bring too many people along, as the building is dangerous and we must limit access!'
The simple peg ladder to get up into the roof space and bell tower. This is the inside of the front gable -- rebuilt in concrete blocks after a shameful, and thankfully unsuccessful attempt to pull the building down with a tractor several decades ago (even though it was by then a legally protected historic monument).
So, in January I emailed Marc and we set up a date that suited everyone. I had written about the chapel before, after being tipped off that you can see the inside by peering under the door. For this plain little chapel from the end of the 15th century hides a great rarity inside. The walls and ceiling were once entirely painted, and the theme of the paintings was a very particular medieval motif -- the danse macabre. I went down there and took some photos of what I could but to be able to see the real thing up close is something really special.
The tie-beam has fatally cracked under the king post.
The finely carved altar has been broken up and lies scattered around the building. Above the altar platform, a metal tie rod meant to hold the side walls together at the gable has lost contact with the wooden rafter it was originally attached to and that corner of the building looks distinctly wonky.
A detail of the painted oak vaulted ceiling.
La Chapelle de tous les saints -- from the outside you would never know that the gable has been reconstructed.
He and I have agreed that if any of our readers would like to see the Chapel, they can contact me and I will arrange it. When there is any further news of a public subscription being organised I will naturally post about it on the blog and do everything I can to support the conservation of this special national monument. It won't take very much money to achieve a useful first step, such as installing grills on the unglazed windows, to keep the pigeons out. A thorough job of conserving the paintings and consolidating the building will take a lot of time and a lot of money though, and we will just have to keep agitating.
The side door of the chapel, which once led to the cemetery. The keystone is dated 1684, so the chapel was already 200 years old when this door was inserted.
The crude wooden frame which now supports the tie-beam.