Getting Plastered at Teysseroles

Chapel interior - before

Chapel interior – before

Or getting covered with plaster, anyway. Things are really starting to move at the Chapelle de Teysseroles, where we are helping with the restoration work. A month or so ago we received authorisation from the Bâtiments de France architect to remove the plaster – crépi – from the internal walls prior to the work starting in earnest. On Friday we set to with a vengeance.

A team of 10 turned up at 08h30 to attack the job – décrépissage, as it’s termed in French. Well, some did. I regret to say that the SF and I blotted our copybook by turning up at 09h15. By that time, work was already well underway. I paused only to take a few photos and then it was all hands to the pumps. Armed with hammers and chisels, we hacked away at the walls.

9.15 am - work well underway

9.15 am – work well underway

Much of the plaster was damp and in poor condition so it came away easily, revealing the lovely dressed stone walls underneath. In places, though, it stuck like cement. In fact, on the right hand side of the chapel it was cement. It was plain that the poor chapel has been the subject of some shoddy workmanship at certain times in its life.

The scaffolding goes up

The scaffolding goes up

Despite appearances to the contrary, we went carefully. There was a possibility that we might find wall paintings beneath the plaster. However, the chapel was rebuilt in the 1490s. I have read that most ecclesiastical wall paintings in France date from before then, so this was always going to be unlikely.

We discovered a lovely niche to the right of the altar which had inexplicably been covered up.

Niche to the right of the altar - inexplicably concealed

Niche to the right of the altar – inexplicably concealed

The current altar – a real monstrosity – is totally out of keeping with the style of the chapel. Opinions vary as to its age – 18th or 19th century. It doesn’t matter. It’s ghastly and it’s going. Behind it, we uncovered another, larger niche topped with a dressed stone archway enclosing a painted wall – the only one in the chapel as far as we can see. Why on earth did they cover all this up? We’ll never know.

Niche behind the altar with wall painting - the only one in the chapel

Niche behind the altar with wall painting – the only one in the chapel

The ceiling of the chapel is some 7 metres high. To reach the top of the walls we had to put up scaffolding. The SF, who doesn’t like heights, gingerly scraped away on his knees on the first level of scaffolding. I’m slightly less bothered by heights and got up there to do my bit. The president of our Association, Alain, who is a maçon, has no fear at all. At one point he was standing on a narrow metal bar right at the top of the scaffolding and hacking away at arm’s length. Between him and oblivion – nothing.

Décrépissage - SF on the scaffolding

The SF on the scaffolding – not 100% at ease

 

Me on the scaffolding - slightly more so

Me on the scaffolding – slightly more so

This wouldn’t be France if you couldn’t stop for a decent lunch. No curling sandwiches and tepid beer for us. We set up a proper table with a paper tablecloth, plates, cutlery and glasses. Although it was less than 10 degrees outside, Françoise lit a fire and barbecued 1.8 metres of sausage on it. We also feasted on two sorts of pâté, crudités, salad, several cheeses and two sorts of cake, all washed down with red wine and then coffee. It wasn’t warm, though. I was wearing a T-shirt, jumper, fleece, jacket and woolly hat. Gloves wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all. And at least it didn’t rain.

Lunch

Lunch

After lunch, we attacked the work with renewed vigour. By the end of the day we had done about 2/3 of the vertical surface area of the chapel. Not bad. There’s more to do but we feel that we have something to show for our efforts. This is important: people have been giving us money since 2011 and we need to demonstrate progress this year.

Building site

Building site

Our clothes were coated with plaster dust – not to mention our lungs – and every muscle ached. But there’s something very satisfying about physical labour, especially in a good cause. By the time our annual fête takes place (Sunday 23rd June this year) we will have gone a long way towards our goal.

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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14 Responses to Getting Plastered at Teysseroles

  1. pfornari says:

    Wow that looks like such fun! (And hard work too…) Somehow, I feel that uncovered niche could hold a secret for a future story…or even a novel?

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It is hard work, but fun, and a nice feeling of goodwill reigns. That’s a good idea about the niche – I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe for a Monday Muse…

      Like

  2. Kate Swaffer says:

    Another fabulous travel-log, really made me feel like I missed out on the lunch!! And what a great project for you all to be working on, well done. Thank you 🙂

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      The lunch was a high spot – we certainly worked for it! At this point, it’s difficult to imagine the chapel in its restored state. There’s plenty of work to do before we get there. But we took a few steps towards it on Friday.

      Like

  3. Catherine says:

    Hi there. Nice post. And BTW, two years, many anguished hours of study, more than a few tantrums and 400 euros later, I have at last been awarded a French driving license! It was “thanks” of your blog that I learned I needed one as a French resident. Hallelujah.

    Like

  4. Fantastic work. You must be exhausted!

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  5. robinnis says:

    What a fabulous project – well done all of you. Nothing that old in my Spanish town – unfortunately! Keep us posted on progress.

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    • nessafrance says:

      We are starting to feel that we are making progress. Up till now all the work has been outside in the cemetery. But at long last we have had the go-ahead from Bâtiments de France (official body that polices historic monuments) to get started inside. It’s amazing what you can achieve in a short time.

      Like

  6. lizgyooll says:

    Gosh! Well done… getting rid of nasty crepi plaster is the worst. If you need your blue painting in the niche restored, I could offer to do it if you like and if such a thing is allowed by whatever authorities that look after churches here. I hope you are going to repair with a hydraulic (natural) lime mix, rather than cementy new plasters, which I am sure you will after all the present effort. It looks like a really pretty church:)

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks very much for the offer. I will certainly talk about it with the team. Being France, I have a suspicion that you have to have French diplomas, be officially recognised as competent by Bâtiments de France etc. No doubt it’s all horribly regulated. However, it would be great if you could help and I’ll keep in touch about that. What my shot doesn’t show is the nasty crack down the back of the wall behind the altar. We’ll have to work out how to deal with that.

      I’m not sure what the plan is for the interior walls. I’d rather like the bare stone to stay like that. But it would need to be properly pointed, which is probably much more expensive than replastering. In the end, it’s up to Bâtiments de France, who police historic monuments, to approve our plans. So watch this space.

      Like

  7. Evelyn says:

    Wow! I’m impressed with your hard work. The wall painting looks lovely. I’d love to see the inside some day. Will you have it open in June?? Or perhaps I could make an appointment with one of the workers I know for a private peek???

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It will certainly be open in June for the fête – we want people to see what we have done. And of course you can have a private peek before that! Just need to fix a day – will see you Tues so let’s talk then.

      Like

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