As one sits on the patio behind the Old Apple Store with a glass of wine one will be gazing out across the vines in the field below, over the trees to the river Dronne and beyond to the low, rolling hills of southern Charente.This corner of the Charente is home to more than its fair share of unique, stunning and generally surprising churches that are the heart of each village.
One of these churches is l’eglise Saint Arthemy set in the centre of the town of Blanzec-Porteresse. The town sits on the side of a gentle hill that rambles up from the river né in a lazy sprawl of ancient grey stone.
The church, in all its odd lines; dominates the tiny town square. We visited Blanzac, as so often happens, by accident rather than design.
Outside it has the usual evidence of changes in shape, form and scale over the years as good and bad times have taken their toll; replaced transepts, extensions, demolitions and repair. The real prize however is on the inside where recently discovered wall paintings map changes in style, technique and expressions of past devotion.
The oldest are on the supports of the central bell-tower. This tower looks odd from below. It seems to have been left behind after an older church was taken away and a newer, bigger one built around it.
But I digress, back to the pillars where paintings of armed knights stand guard in black and red, wrapped in chain mail, swords resting on their shoulders and shields at the ready. These are probably the earliest images in the church and date from the12th century
Back up the nave, along the south wall and set in ornate carved niche are some 14th C frescoes showing the crucifixion. Here a very animated conversation between the sun and the moon seems to be taking place around Christ’s head.
The 15th C is represented by a very nice presentation of the annunciation on one wall of the south transept. There are some odd things going on in this cartoon that I have not got to the bottom of yet. Even so the image of the angel Gabriel is superb.
The 16th C is represented by a huge picture of Saint Christopher carrying the infant Jesus across the river. This is also set on the south wall of the nave and is in a fairly bad state.
Finally a set of frescoes from the 19th Century have been painted onto the cardinal walls of both the north and the south transepts. I don’t know whether the pictures were originally as dramatic as they now are or whether the effects of age and time have changed the colours but they are superb pictures of stormy skies and heavy weather. The great ship struggling along the coast in one has the feel of the Marie Celeste to it.
This short drive north from Bon Abri gites opened up an absorbing afternoon of contemplation. We balanced this by a coffee in the closest of several cafés around the square.