I’ve written before about the visit of the departmental archaeologists to Teysseroles, where we are helping to restore the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement when works are planned at a historic monument, to ensure that nothing of significance is damaged or lost. Their test dig took place three years ago. Recently, a surprise was in store for our team.
We had assumed that the findings would be carefully documented and transmitted to us, but no report was forthcoming. Despite discussions at our meetings, it appeared that no report had been written. This was disappointing, but we supposed that the site wasn’t of sufficient importance to warrant it.
Wrong. A couple of months ago, a copy of the report turned up in the dusty recesses of the Parisot Mairie’s filing system, received in…February 2016, i.e. more than two years previously. By some oversight, the association was never made aware of its existence.
We knew the general findings, but the report gave much more detail. A good half of it is taken up with copies of prefectoral arrêts and generalised technical detail about methodology. I skipped that and went to the results.
Former churches on the site
The archaeologists carried out three test excavations. The one at the front of the church discovered the remains of not one (as we had thought) but two earlier buildings. Both of them were longer than the current chapel.
The first building was difficult to date, although there’s documentary evidence of a church on the site in the 10th century. The second building dates to the late 12th or early 13th century. It’s very likely that our chapel was simply built on top of the previous ones in the late 15th century, using some of the stone from the older buildings.
The current chapel stands on its own on a slight rise. Historians have speculated that an earlier church was surrounded by a village, which was razed along with the church during the Hundred Years War. If there was a village, its remains have long since disappeared.
Skeleton with a story?
Two further excavations were carried out. In the first, they discovered a series of bones, but they were so badly damaged that it was impossible to determine their sex. In this grave a copper ring was found with a stone of blue-green glass.
In the second lay an intact female skeleton in good condition, aged between 20 and 49, with her head up against the east end of the church. She wore a simple copper wedding ring on the fourth finger of her right hand. This, in addition to the radiocarbon dating of the bones, led the archaeologists to believe that she must have lived before the 17th century. In the Middle Ages, it was common to wear the wedding ring on the right hand. It was only from the 17th century that it was worn on the left hand in France.
It appears that she was buried directly in the ground, since no remnants of a coffin, such as nails, were found. Was this a pauper’s grave? Did she have to be buried hurriedly as the result of some contagious illness – plague? Why was she buried in that spot with her head against the wall? Ideas on the latter include that rainwater falling on the church roof would become holy water and penetrate the ground beneath.
We’ll never know anything of her story, but we can do some imagining.
The restoration itself continues more slowly than we would like, despite the fact that we have funding from our own efforts and promises of subsidies from various authorities. We are hopeful that work can resume soon.
In the meantime, we’re holding our annual fundraising fête on Sunday 24th June. If you live in the area or happen to be visiting, it’s always a convivial event, with a meal held in our alfresco dining room under the trees.
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