Even from this distance we could see all sorts of interesting stone twiddly bits adorning the blessed walls of L’église Notre-Dame, the church of Our Lady.
We were in Louviers, just south of Rouen, partly for lunch and partly to match a postcard of the main street with a church in the background.
As admirers, if not passionate ones, of a well-appointed bit of ecclesiastical architecture, we explored further. What we found inside this gothic marvel could not be imagined.
Face to face with the past
Inside the old church of Notre Dame is a remarkable sight.
Here the ancient saints, once apostles, have descended from their mighty positions above the congregation to walk amongst us. Almost.
The extensive and expensive renovations of this crumbling home of god have, for a while, necessitated moving these unique 16th century saints. The have been taken down from their lofty pedestals in the nave and away from an unsteady roof.
Now ten of them stand (two fine where they stood), strapped securely at ground level to ten pillars, and here we can look them in the eye.
Old souls tell an older story
And what wonderful eyes they are. These are real faces captured in moments that tell a story. The saints worry, contemplate, they entreat and judge.
Each statue was originally painted and thankfully those colours survived the fashion for whitewashing and destruction during the French revolution.
Our saints appear to be tinted with early, possibly the original pigments of remarkable subtlety. Damage reveals no heavy layers of overpainting, it just exposes scars of white showing through from the original body.
Louviers’ Textile millionaires go shopping
Local information says these masterpieces originally came from the workshops of Chartreuse, of Gaillon. They were probably added during those times of abundance for Louviers when the textile industry made it rich.
Riches that also provided a cacophony of other spiritual extras; a new church tower, embellished porch and general celestial garnishes. But upkeep of this ornate building has not always been a priority for what is now just a small town.
Expensive, slow and costly; renovation
Renovations needed by Notre Dame are extensive, will be slow and very costly. Those costs are shared by the municipality, the Department, the Region and the State.
Between them they try to find funds to mend an old lady whose first stone was laid over 800 years ago in 1197, who lived through the Hundred Years War, through repeated occupation of the town by disrespectful English, then fires, plagues, rabid wolves, a hurricane (1705) and repairs that have not always been of the best quality.
A WW2 miracle in Louviers
Miraculously the church was not destroyed in WW2 but there was some damage and most of the pretty streets around it were smashed.
If you visit the church of Notre Dame in Louviers you will see the drama of it’s long history, and all of life, in the faces of some very human saints.
We don’t think they mind being at our level for a while, but hope they are soon returned to a safer, higher, home.
All about the church (French) but not including our saints in this tourist info pamphlet.