Touching Place


This summer, if you are driving down through western France to Aquitaine, Gascony, or even Spain, leave the A10 autoroute at Poitiers and head southwest down the N11, then the D950. It is pretty straight, with the agger of a Roman road; you are following the route of pilgrims to Compostela. At the boundary between Poitou and Saintogne, about twenty miles beyond Melle, Aulnay church is there on your left, surrounded by cypress trees, standing separate from its village.

Approach from the west, as a medieval pilgrim would have done; walk through the old churchyard. On the left of the three-bay twelfth century façade is St Peter crucified (upside down); on the right is Christ in glory, flanked by two saints. On the voussoirs of the central doorway is the Lamb of God surrounded by angels; the Labours of Month and Signs of the Zodiac; Virtues fighting Vices.

Walk round the outside, take in the richness of the carving of the south transept, with twenty-four elders, beasts and monsters round the door, and the well-carved apse, mirrored in the little apsidal chapels to the transepts. Enjoy the refreshingly cool, dark and plain interior, not missing the capitals in the south transept – Samson and Delilah, Cain killing Abel, and Samson and the lion.

Aulnay is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage monument. Poitou and the Saintogne are especially rich in Romanesque churches that are largely unaltered, witnesses to an age of faith, for the peak of the Compostela pilgrimage was their economic peak.

Reflect: what will our age of faith leave behind? What are you doing about it? Pray for all pilgrims and for those who minister to them (chaplains and those who provide accommodation, food and transport).

Simon Cotton

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