As beautiful as Paris was, we knew that there was more to France than the City of Light. Lizzie has an open itinerary, but I am meeting my father in Madrid on January 22nd, so a few days ago we headed south, stopping in Autun and Bourges to visit some old friends of mine–in a matter of speaking.
The last time that I was in Burgundy I visited the splendid Romanesque abbey church of St. Madeleine de Vezelay, but I missed her equally beautiful counterpart just to the south, in the slightly larger town of Autun. Naturally, I wanted to pay a visit there this time around, with Lizzie by my side (lucky me). Unfortunately, I lost my camera’s USB microcable so I have no pictures to show you from this part of the journey, but I do have help from the good folks at Via Lucis, probably the best website for Romanesque and Gothic photography out there.
I mention Vezelay because stylistically, the sculptures at both cathedrals match up quite well; Vezelay’s were completed about a decade before those at Autun, and many scholars (including me) believe this is not a coincidence. It is highly likely that the same person who carved the fantastic demon capitals and breath-taking tympanum at Vezelay may have eventually moved on to Autun–an easy three day walk to the south–and worked on the cathedral there, dedicated to St. Lazarus (of resurrection fame). This isn’t the only example of an artist moving from one project to another, but what makes it so unique is that we know the artist’s name: Gislebertus in Latin, Gilbert to our modern ears.
Seeing the 900 year-old signature of a man who recognized his own genius and understood that he was more than a mere craftsman made me shudder with awe when I first saw a photograph of Autun’s tympanum during an art history class several years ago; when I saw it in person I felt meek in the presence of greatness. I’m not quite sure Lizzie felt the same way I did, but bless her for having the patience to sit inside the cathedral as I scampered around like a little boy on Christmas morning, neck craned upwards and marveling at the intricately carved sculptures.
Apart from the cathedral, Autun does have an assortment of Roman ruins, but it was near freezing and I wasn’t wearing my jacket, so we made do with walking around the old Roman ramparts before heading back to the apartment (rented through Airbnb) to cook dinner. The next morning, we boarded a train for Bourges, a city I had hitch-hiked to during my first week on the Camino de Santiago. That sunny day in August I wandered about looking lost until a friendly guy named Hippo offered me a couch to sleep on; this time Lizzie and I went straight to Hippo’s apartment and were met by his lovely wife Marion and their newborn baby girl (alas, Hippo was out of the country on business).
I took Lizzie into town to marvel at the gorgeous stained glass and soaring vaults of the cathedral, and then we walked around for a while, stopping at a cozy bakery to buy some delicious macarons (orange cream and pistachio for me, passion fruit and coffee for her). When I came by Bourges in the summer, Hippo and Marion took me out for a delicious meal in a cafe on the main square, but this time I repaid the favor and improvised a delicious vegetarian curry with a coconut milk and mango base. Since those pictures are stuck on my camera until I buy a new USB cable (soon, I promise) I guess you’ll just have to use your imagination instead.
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