Thursday, August 04, 2022

The Abbey of Chaise-Dieu (Part 1)

A friend of mine recently visited the abbey of Chaise-Dieu in south central France, about 75 miles southwest of Lyon, and kindly allowed us to share his pictures. Founded in 1043 by St Robert de Turlande, it was magnificently rebuilt in the mid-14th century at the behest of Pope Clement VI (born 1291, reigned 1342-52), who had begun his life as a Benedictine monk there when he was only nine years old; his tomb is in the church. From the time of its foundation, it became an austere rival to Cluny as the mother-house to many abbeys and priories, until the sixteenth century, when the Kings of France kept it “in commendam”, and it began to wither; the famous (or infamous) Cardinal Richelieu was its nominated abbot from 1629. (Giving an abbey “in commendam” means the deleterious practice of giving the title and salary of the abbot to an external patron.) A second part of this article will show a famous series of early 16th century tapestries in the abbey museum.

The cloister and conventual buildings, which were extensively rebuilt when the abbey was taken over by the reform-minded Congregation of St Maur in the 17th century.
The church’s rood screen survives, which is fairly rare in France where they were in any event less common than in northern countries. The right arm of the rood is shorter than the left as it was cut short to enable the rood to be hidden from the revolutionaries flat on top of the screen!
The tomb of Clement VI.
The outside of the choir screen is frescoed with the motif known in French as the “danse-macabre”, in which representations of death dance with various living figures, including here a pope, a bishop, a cardinal and a king - a useful reminder that the ultimate reality pays no respect to power and wealth in this world.  
A carved wooden lectern in the form of an eagle; this motif was so common that the rubrics of many medieval liturgical books refer to such a lectern as an “aquila.”
The outside of the new conventual buildings of the 17th century.

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