Day 25 of Walking Out of the World
Cloyes-sur-le-Loir has a municipal campsite near to the centre of town, at a reasonable price and a good campsite shop to save walking into town to buy food. But it was another wet night, so the tent weighed double when I rolled it up in the morning to continue on my way.
In the church of St Georges, there is a late medieval painted statue of St James, but with the black-grey clouds outside and no lights on inside, it was too dark inside the church to see it properly. Reminders of the Way of St James can be be seen in features of many towns and here in Cloyes the main hotel is the Hotel St Jacques. Has it always been an inn with that name – once welcoming pilgrims? Which reminded me: I forgot to get my credencial stamped at the campsite because I was too busy going through all the tourist leaflets to see if there was a free map of the road ahead to Vendome. I am without a map now until Tours.
(Note: For those following the route of the virtual pilgrimage, the full 10-sheet map set with descriptifs were put up here on pdf yesterday. Links also on maps page. These cover Chartres to Cloyes-sur-le-Loir stage.)
There is a necessary detour for the pilgrim immediately outside Cloyes after crossing the river Loir in the Vendome direction: la Chapelle Notre Dame d’Yron. This is a virtual pilgrimage, not a travel guide, so I am not going to give too many dates or an art history lesson, but simply say that this Romanesque priory has a Christ in Majesty in the apse which prefigures the Chartres designs by a hundred years or more, and is quite breathtakingly beautiful. (See above the altar in the photograph below.) I spent an hour there looking at it, as an alternative to Mass which was taking place in Cloyes, and that was a good choice. The meditation here – alone in the place – continued my thoughts and reflections from the previous day. Other Romanesque paintings on the walls also moved me: there was a humanity in the figures that was somehow missing from my once beloved Gothic art of Chartres cathedral, which now seemed to belong to the introductory stages of my spiritual journey. Was it the moment to move further back in time to earlier art and thought, halfway between here and the Man from Galilee, and be taught new ways of seeing?
Because yesterday was a day to consider faith, and the moment I was conscious of my conversion, as I described, it was good to take things forward and consider the way that Romanesque religious art was somehow less ‘showy’ (if I can put it in that rather bald way) than Gothic design. The history of the chapel was interesting and connected with the crusades, so again a pointer to the Holy Land. As I said, this is not an art history blog but a pilgrimage journey of faith: the meditation and prayer enabled by the imagery is the whole point of it, and more valuable than knowing the precise dates or understanding the artistic influences. That was more an Aristotelian diversion: making lists and putting art in clinical categories, so you ‘know it’ while not knowing what spirit – what devotion – inspired it. (I still owe something to Pirsig, even after all this time, don’t I? I must not be too hard on him.)
“That Will Kill This”
Being a short intervention (or one might less kindly call it ‘a rant’) concerning mairies and the issuing of inferior tampons. With apologies to Victor Hugo and John Ruskin. I will say this only once.
The dull mairie stamps, identical except for the colour and dryness of the inkpad, are a witness to the colourless beige-dressed functionaries who always say, “Can you please leave the Big Stick outside?”
“It’s a bourdon.”
“Well if it’s a burden why don’t you leave it at home?”
Inside the churches I’ve rested my bourdon against limestone saints and carved foliage, the priceless thousand-year-old heritage of the faith, and I have never been asked to leave it outside. But every time I want to collect a stamp from a town hall, I have to enter the building twice, the second time after leaning the 15th century against the wall outside. A man in a beige waistcoat stamps the Villechauve tampon upside down. In Villedomer a lady in a beige trouser suit (which is an almost pale yellow when she is under the desk light) stamps her blotter twice before dabbing the tampon lightly on my page, so that it is hardly legible. “We don’t want to smudge it, do we?” And at Nourray, a man in very thick spectacles takes the lid off a biscuit tin filled with tampons of different kinds and looks closely at them each in turn until he finds one that seems right. I think my luck is in: the Nourray one will be different. He stamps it in, neatly. It’s the same as all the other mairie stamps.
“Could I have one of the others as well?” I ask, tentatively. I turn back the pages in my credencial. “Look: different ones!”
He looks slightly shocked at the idea. “These are for accounts.” And he quickly put the lid on the tin and hid it away in a desk drawer, then folded his arms.
Compared with the rich variety of images stamped into the pilgrim credencial by religious institutions, there is no worse condemnation of the dullness of secular life than pointing to the identical tampons that mairies give to pilgrims. Yet while some secular-minded nit-pickers might complain priests all wear the same dull clerical black, just look at the workers in the town halls and mairies in their civil servant beige cardigans!
The mind-bending monotony of secular life is so clearly reflected in the credencial page for this section of the Chemin des Anglais through the Loir-et-Cher department. In stark contrast, admire with a sharp intake of awe and wonder the enchanting beauty of the parish stamp, which would have delighted John Ruskin with its sense of propriety in the use of classic letterforms and well proportioned typography, its soaring pointed arches, the rhythmic dance of its flying buttresses – supporting the weight of the inky centre – while playfully allowing the light to enter.
With what verbose fervour might Victor Hugo contrast that majestic parish stamp with the dreary mairie tampon, heaping scorn upon the latter in a new chapter appended to his hunchbacked campanologist’s Gothic adventures, called, “That Will Kill This!” The parish will outlive the mairie. Yes, you secular town hall functionaries in your mousy cardigans, you might well pooh-pooh the offer of eternal life, since your lives are so colourless and sooner retired from it on an indexed pension, the better! No wonder they despise the church for its ban on contraception: the rubber johnny prevents so many more civil servants being born and condemned to a life in the mairie! Be that as it may, but can they possibly deny the superiority of the Catholic rubber stamp?
There. I’ve said it. Sorry about that.
The morning was once again a very wet and unpleasant experience as I was mostly in the open, on well marked farm tracks with good pilgrimage balisage but rotten weather! At the end of the afternoon approaching Vendôme the rain stopped and the sky brightened. The pilgrim spends much of his day looking at the heavens, not always searching for a sign from God but pleading for mercy from the elements.
Entering the town of Vendôme I paused to take a photograph at the old mediaeval pilgrim hospital. Here the town had offered rest and recuperation to thousands of Compostela pilgrims passing through, down the ages, and shortly I would be receiving hospitality from my hosts that Jacques had telephoned from Chartres. I had stood back from my rucsack and the bourdon to take the photograph and a middle aged man stopped and waited. I thought he was simply waiting till I had taken the photograph before walking past – not to ruin the snap -but he was patiently waiting to greet me.
“Vous etre pelerìn a Compostelle? En le Chemin des Anglais?”
I told him I was and he immediately offered to put me up for the night in his home, and his wife would cook me a good meal. The children would ask many questions and we could tell them what roads I had walked.
I was soo used to walking in Spain where there are frequent stopping places – refugios – for the pilgrims, that I had not seen this kind of generosity before. It happened more in France because people know the pilgrims on the road have fewer places to stay. Stopping for commercial hospitality each day would bankrupt the pilgrim before he had even developed any blisters on his feet or sunburn on his nose. I was so grateful, but told him, “No, I am expected by my hosts in the centre of the town: Msr. and Mme. L’Eprevier.” He said immediately, he’d take me there to save me the trouble of searching. This was hospitality!
Apart from a television in the room set aside for pilgrims – who my hosts welcomed every week – the entire house seemed to be frozen in time. It could have been a period display in a museum of a turn-of-the-century upper middle class town house, with a large garden and a coaching stable leading from the main street in front to the yard at the back. My hosts were not given to much talk, and the wholesome French country supper was almost eaten in silence, but with great warmth. It was as if they knew a tired pilgrim did not want to be questioned and exhausted by unnecessary chatter. Thank God for people like these: it restores your faith in a world we are always on the brink of losing.