We spent a terrific, if exhausting, day yesterday, helping with the clearing-up operation at the Chapelle de Teysseroles. This 15th-century chapel and the surrounding graveyard are in a very poor condition. Local people have set up an association to raise money and oversee/carry out the restoration work. Yesterday was one of several programmed volunteer work-days at the site.
The chapel is on the site of an even earlier church, dating back to the 10th century. I wrote earlier about the association’s summer fête, its first fund-raising event.
Our house is in the parish of Teysseroles. Although neither of us is religious, we are very attached to the French patrimoine (cultural heritage). We wanted to do our bit to help rescue a small part of it. So we turned up at the appointed hour yesterday bearing rakes, pickaxes, spades, loppers etc. It was probably a coincidence, but this weekend France celebrates Les Journées du Patrimoine. Hundreds of monuments, museums and cultural events are open, many for free.
Yesterday’s volunteers were mostly French with a smattering of Brits. For a while everyone wandered about wondering what to do. There was no plan or list of priorities, which seems to be par for the course here. Eventually, people just got on with what they thought needed doing. The SF joined a team rebuilding sections of the boundary wall encircling the graveyard. He was in his element, dry stone-walling being one of his favourite pastimes.
I joined some others who were raking up a load of rubble and broken roof tiles prior to seeding the soil with grass seed this autumn. This was very hard work and used muscles I didn’t know I had. It was baking hot and terribly dusty, since we’ve had no rain to speak of for weeks. Fortunately, one of our local doctors who lives close by was there helping. He would be able to administer first aid to anyone who had a malaise. However, at the rate he was going with the rake and shovel, I was afraid he would succumb first.
Representatives of church and state, Monsieur le Curé and Monsieur le Maire de Parisot – père et maire – also turned up and lent a hand. The work went on until the departmental architect from Bâtiments de France, responsible for inspecting and conserving protected sites in Tarn-et-Garonne, arrived with a colleague.
He will be instrumental in getting funding for and monitoring the major works, so everyone downed tools and followed him around the site. Fortunately, he was very enthusiastic and full of good ideas. This being France, his visit is merely the first of many in a chain of bureaucracy. But we felt that we had achieved an important first step.
Among other things, the architect’s colleague wondered if there might be wall paintings lurking beneath the plaster. Since it’s in a poor state, the plaster will have to come off anyway, but it would be fantastic if paintings were behind it. He also advised that the 19th-century altar should go and made suggestions for restoring the broken stained-glass windows.
The chapel has some interesting features, including a number of carved stone culs-de-lampe (see comment below. Originally I described them as gargoyles, which is incorrect). I would love to know who these two characters were:
After this it was, of course, lunch. No British workmen’s warm beer and sandwiches here, though. This was a proper sit-down lunch for 19 – including the architect and colleague – at a long trestle table in the shade, preceded by apéritifs and canapés. Françoise set up a portable barbecue and produced a couple of metres of sausage which was soon sizzling away merrily.
Everyone had brought something. We tucked into salads, sausages, Saint-Nectaire and Brillat Savarin cheeses, four kinds of cake and apples, washed down with red wine and finished off with coffee and plums in eau de vie. My protests were smilingly ignored as yet another piece of sausage was plonked on my plate.
After this, there was some discussion about future fund-raising events and work-days. Then it was back to work with a vengeance. It was even hotter in the afternoon but there was no flagging. Around 5 pm, people started peeling away to other commitments. When we looked around and saw what we had achieved, we felt tired but satisfied. Just one day’s work had made a huge difference.
And I can report that we were able to get out of bed this morning.
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