Updated: Mar 14, 2022
After our delightful adventure at Mont St. Michel (see previous blog entry), it was time to continue traversing through France on the way to our next house-sit in the south. We had a few long driving days, but French scenery is wonderfully gorgeous—and few billboards are posted on the road marring the view. We spent one night in a cheap hotel in an industrial area that’s barely worth mentioning, and headed out the next day.
With little spare time to plan for anything, I surfaced a few sites of interest worth seeing along the way using Google and favored keywords. Then Robin burst my bubble by announcing that we wouldn’t have enough time to take in the Romanesque churches I targeted if I expected to arrive in time to be on a scheduled call. (Those messengers of truth are just begging to be killed sometimes!)
He did permit me to take a generous detour to visit Angoulême Cathedral & the Musée d'Angoulême, which I greatly appreciated. (Thank you, Master!)
Upon entering the charming town of Angoulême, we were both struck immediately by its position in the landscape. Perched on a rocky outcrop located on a plateau that overlooks the Charente river, it is nicknamed the "balcony of the southwest." Historically, it was coveted due to its position at the confluence of many roads, and therefore suffered many sieges.
Today it hosts forty animation and video game studios that produce half of France's animated productions. It has been called "Ville de l'Image" which means literally "City of the Image,"* which I found appealing given my ongoing interest in what Jung termed “the image.”
Given its historic lineage, the streets are narrow and winding, so we made our way carefully through the maze toward our intended destination. The moment the site came into view we both caught our breaths with astonishment. It is a striking spectacle!
Wikipedia details how “the façade is decorated by more than 70 sculptures, organized into two decorative themes, the Ascension and the Last Judgment, which are cleverly intermingled. Christ is portrayed within mandorlas, while two tall angels address the apostles to show them the celestial vision. All their faces, as well as those of the other faithful under the arches, look toward the Redeemer; vice versa, the damned, pushed back in the side arches and turned into Satan's victims, suffer their punishment. Apart from these two main subjects, the sculptors portrayed scenes of everyday life, such as hunting, not avoiding to underline hardships and painstaking labour.” (This last bit seems to have been written via Google Translate.)
I wished I could set up a chair across the street from that facade and simply gaze at it for several hours, feeling into the figures and the stories they evoke (preferably with the assistance of a live English-speaking tour guide or even audio guide). Crazily, a souvenir guide book describing the cathedral could not be found anywhere, so I must rely on Wikipedia and websites containing panorama details to examine the sculptures more closely. (Two interior and one exterior panorama may be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails found at https://mcid.mcah.columbia.edu/art-atlas/panoramas-world-architecture/angoul%C3%AAme-cath%C3%A9drale-saint-pierre )
After admiring the exterior, we strolled inside and found it to be gorgeously appointed, with spacious beauty and white support columns. Intricate carvings beckoned from the tops of the columns that I wanted to peer at more closely, but they were too high in the air for me to see clearly. You can see a few of them behind me in the picture below.
Built in 1110 and finished in 1128, the interior contains many remarkable carvings and appointments. I was taken by this Romanesque carving of Mary holding the baby Jesus—I particularly love the animal features, with the dogs running along below and the two curious creatures flanking the sides at their feet.
The font was unusual and intriguing, and again I was drawn to its sculptural program. I think it starts with the story of Adam & Eve. Robin shot a one-minute video for me to show its fantastic detail:
Departing the cathedral, we strolled around the corner and visited the Musée d'Angoulême, a modern and lovely museum with an interesting assortment of items.
The architectural fragments and statuary were quite appealing. These intertwined dragons below are wonderful with all their intricacy and used to be part of a pillar.
The museum featured an exceptional exhibit on neolithic France, and upstairs we unexpectedly encountered one of the best collections of African and Oceanian works in the country.
After our pleasant interlude in Angoulême we piled back into the car and headed south to Limoges, known for its porcelain.
The discovery of a deposit of kaolin in 1765 enabled the development of a porcelain industry during the industrial revolution. More than 50% of all porcelain made in France comes from Limoges, and this porcelain became famous during the 19th century. For the record, several porcelain factories are situated in and around Limoges, and “Limoges porcelain” is a generic term for porcelain produced in Limoges rather than at a specific factory.
Limoges also features a lovely old cathedral—Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges—so naturally we had to go peek at it since we were in the vicinity. As usual with gothic cathedrals, its exterior facade was extraordinary, with flying buttresses, gargoyles, and figures carved up high. The tympanum is ornate, and the doors are intricately carved with numerous biblical scenes. Its construction began in 1273 and, architecturally it’s a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque styles.
The interior was equally remarkable, with much color and variety of imagery—such a different experience from Angoulême Cathedral. It was quite the study in contrasts. For one thing, it was dimmer inside!
My sense of Angoulême’s cathedral was that it resembled a contemporary art museum, with sporadic sculptures and artifacts artfully portrayed against a pristine white backdrop to set them off, while Limoges’ cathedral was all about coloration! It was radiant with pigmentation, and even the columns were painted with a cacophony of riotous patterns and hues. The aesthetics were completely different, as was blazingly apparent in this side chapel pictured below.
We had a wonderful time viewing the ornate and interesting decor in all its myriad detail, and were surprised to stumble over a curious black madonna in a side chapel. Meet Notre Dame de la pleine Lumière (“Our Lady of the fullness of light”). Even she is awash with color!
Unfortunately, this Madonna is not ancient; she is a contemporary piece crafted recently in 2009, inspired by other ancient black Romanesque virgins. This work is a salute to the arts of fire—the champlevé enamel and engraved goldsmithery trumpet the finest traditions of Limoges work.
Overall, the cathedral disappointed me for two petty reasons: 1) they were refurbishing the back of the church so scaffolding covered up unusual carvings on a Renaissance limestone rood screen that presents both pagan and Christian subject matter. On one end are reputed to be carvings of Hercules** performing his heroic “Labours,” while at the other end are six virtues (said to have been mutilated during the French Revolution). The virtues and vices are a particular interest of mine at the moment so I was crestfallen; and 2) a crypt exists, but it is off limits, so we were unable to see the ancient frescoes “representing Christ in glory” from the 12th century that are housed there. (I would have liked to compare them with the Byzantine wall paintings we had just seen in Cyprus! I have been able to chase down some pictures online at least...)
Having officially logged these complaints with you, the reader, we had a fantastic time perambulating the ambulatory, admiring the fading medieval frescoes of angels and various carved figures. Even the stations of the cross were intriguing!
Afterwards, we piled back into the car where that nasty messenger (meaning Robin again) reported our timetable was too tight to fit in visits to other enticing sites en route, so we traveled hastily to the tiny village of Saint-Félix-de-Lunel in the Occitanie region of southern France where we are booked for 6 nights in a spacious Airbnb. The surrounding landscape is soul-satisfying!
Luckily we made it in time for my appointment (barely), and have geared up for Robin to teach online for several days while I catch up on various projects and recover from my jetlag. (I am convinced I suffer jetlag from long drives as much as any other travel mode.) And I have big plans for later in the week!
Announcement! At last I have an update for the other article I have been expecting to be published—my pledge has been realized! It came more than three months later than I expected, but it happened. My article, “The Rebirth and Renewal of Psychological Types” was published online this week in Psychological Perspectives, the peer-reviewed Jung journal affiliated with the Los Angeles Jung Institute. Woohoooo! It has a DOI number and everything! I’ve already gotten several kudos for it, and I’m proud as anything.
Even though the article was actually published in 2022, the issue is backdated to 2021, so when I say in the article that we are celebrating 100 years since Jung’s book Psychological Types was published, that’s technically true according to the official date of the issue.
If you tried to attend my APTi conference session last weekend, you were sadly disappointed. Our little French village suffered a power outage that coincided with my presentation, and I was offline during the critical timeframe. We don’t know whether it was caused by the cyber-attacks related to the conflict in the Ukraine or not, but we have been suffering with internet slowdowns linked to those tragic events since they began. You should have seen the shock on my face when everything went dark!
APTi generously allowed me to reschedule, and I will now be presenting at 9 a.m. PST (11 a.m. CST, noon EST) on Thursday, March 31. As a reminder, my topic is “Jung, Art, and Typology,” and since I missed out on being part of the conference, APTi is magnanimously offering the event for free. You only have to register using this link:
I think it will be a terrific session. I hope to see you there!
warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo
*It earned this nickname due to its "painted walls of cartoons" that punctuate the city center rather than for anything depth psychological per se.
**What is Hercules doing inside a church, you ask? Hercules was for a time considered a prefiguration of Christ: he is son of a god and, through his work, accomplished veritable miracles. But in case you feel tempted to worship him, an ornate cross mounted on the balustrade proclaims: "by his sacrifice, Christ is victorious over paganism." So don’t even think about it.