Since I share many Europeans' profound shock and dismay about the Brexit vote in now what is becoming rapidly "Little England", I found myself thinking back to a wonderful series of carvings I had seen the evening before. They helped me regain a sense of perspective and reminded me that down the ages, every country, especially here in Europe, has gone through so many upheavals and shocks. I was exploring the wonderful little Burgundian village, Montréal, near Avallon.
Already inhabited by 888 AD, it was a flourishing centre by the time Bernard de Clairveaux, a key figure in the founding of the Cistercian monasteries in France, visited the area in 1146. He was seeking volunteers to go to the Crusades (sounds familiar, doesn't it, only with a change of protagonists today). A leading lord in Montréal, Anséric II, volunteered,and made a pledge that if he came home, he would build a church atop the hill in Montréal.
Anséric returned and, in 1150, did build the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Montréal, a large church that straddles the Romanesque and Gothic periods of architecture. The church was maltreated during the Revolution, but luckily the busy architect and saviour of so many French buildings, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, was visiting nearby Vézelay in 1840, came to Montréal and deemed the church of great importance. So it was saved, restored, and stands proudly overlooking the rolling green Burgundian fields and forests beyond.
What I found fascinating - and comfortingly a personal reminder of the need for historical perspective - was the series of choir stall carvings in the cool, wide church nave.
They were apparently created because François I thanked the town for its warm welcome by donating to the church. Three brothers of the Rigolley family carved them in oak between 1530-1550. They are wonderful and deliciously humorous - reminding one of longer-term ideas and truths. To me, the most interesting were the stall endings, with the best being one of the sculptors depicting themselves relaxing at a table with a glass of wine!
The other carvings cover a range of subjects, and each gives one delight. I lingered long in the cool of the church, savouring of these "gifts" that I found, that now remind me that Brexit will evolve and somehow Europe and the English will muddle along - together or separately!