One of the advantages (well, the only one, actually) of having house guests is that you go out and do things you normally wouldn’t. I have often observed that when you live in a place, everyday life takes over. This is a pity, since there’s so much to see down here and there are many interesting places we still haven’t seen. This week, however, provided the opportunity to re-visit the Abbaye de Beaulieu, only a few kilometres away.
Beaulieu is a beautiful Cistercian Abbey, which is now a centre of contemporary art. As its name implies, it’s set in a lovely south-facing spot, sheltered by hills, with the River Seye babbling close by. I have written about it several times, so I won’t repeat it all here, but I have given the links to previous posts at the bottom of this one.
The abbey church, where the largest installations are displayed, is a model of Cistercian purity. It has been skilfully restored and it’s hard to believe that, after the Revolution, it was used as a cow byre. A separate exhibition of photos and documents in the Gothic cellier records the abbey’s history. It recounts the story of its listing as an historic monument in 1875 and its restoration from 1959.
During the 19th century, a daft plan was hatched to move the church, stone by stone, to Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Fortunately, Prosper Mérimée, inspector of historic monuments and novelist, scotched this scheme and the abbey remained intact.
Further restoration work remains to be carried out to some of the exterior buildings. These include a round pigeonnier on the other side of the road from the abbey and a small chapel beside the Seye, which contains wall paintings.
The current exhibition in the church, which runs all summer, displays wood carvings and photographs by Alain Volut. They are inspired by the Dogon people of Mali and celebrate the ancestral memory of Africa, cradle of humanity. The photographs are particularly haunting, depicting dignified people carrying on a traditional way of life. We noticed that they have enormous hands.
We wandered from the church into the cloistered courtyard, marvelled at how hot it was, and noticed two swarms of bees that had taken up residence in the walls of the church.
The old, lay dormitory houses a smaller exhibition space. An Aveyronnais photographer, Jean Cazelles, is exhibiting his black and white photos until 6th July. He was brought up in the Décazeville area, where there was previously an open-cast coalmine, and photographs the former industrial installations. He does it so artistically that, for example, a pile of what is probably plastic sheeting looks like pleated silk. The woman at the desk told us that he works very early in the morning to take advantage of a certain light.
Beaulieu is a lovely, tranquil spot that is well worth a visit.
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