Louis l'Avengle (the Blind), 901-934
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A Visitor's Guide to Carolingian
VIII: Savoie, Provence and the Alps,
including N.W. Italy
Home page (and contact info) Carolingian
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The Chateau des Allinges is located on a high butte overlooking Lake Leman, making for a dramatic site. The foreground is in France, the distant shore in Switzerland. The chateau has been extensively restored. There are 10th century elements built into the chapel, pictured above to the right. The far end of the chapel, from this view, has a 10th C vaulted apse with early frescoes, pictured below. The Michelin Guide Vert dates these from the 10th C while material from the site says 10th or 11th C for the apse, with the frescoes before 1050. The frescoes are described as 'le plus ancient et plus venerable de l'art pictural en Savoie.'
Today the site is a religious site and a spiritual destination. It is also a great picnic spot with great vistas over the Lake Leman shore.
The chateau has an interesting history. It is, in fact, the site of two fortified castles, belonging to rival medieval lords. One owed allegiance to Dauphine, the other to Savoie. The castles are only a five minute walk apart, a distance of only 150 meters. It is hard to image how whoever was there first allowed the second to be built. They fought each other constantly between 1268 and 1355, when they finally came under the control of Amedeus VI, comte de Savoie. Below is a 19th C engraving showing the ruins of one of the castles with the current restored buildings in the background to the left.
Ganagobie is a restored monastery located on a defensible plateau south of Sisteron on the Durance. It's story follows that of many monasteries - an early founding, built and rebuilt, flourished in the middle ages, caught up in the wars of religion, abandoned after the French Revolution and restored in the 19th or 20th C. The picture above shows the modern monastery, with the church to the right of the complex. The name is unusual and of uncertain origin. One possibility is that the plateau was a refuge for a chienne boiteuse, or lame dog. Locally, this was cana gobi, which evolved into the site name. There are other possible derivations for the name as well.
There are the ruins of a small church dating from the 8th C. The abbey most likely dates from the first half of the 9th C. A papal bull of Stephen VIII mentions the abbey in 939 and there are references of a transfer of control to Cluny before 939. The abbey benefited from the patronage of comte Foulques de Valensole, who had significant land holdings in Provence. This family produced a sainted abbott of Cluny, Mayeul, who was captured by the Saracens in 972 on his journey between Cluny and Rome. This event mobilized the monks and local nobility who fought and expelled the Saracens from Provence. Lewis says it like this: " ..such an outcry arose in the Midi, an outcry which probably had a great deal to do with the final expulsion of the Moslem brigands from their pirate base of Fraxinetum in Provence." This event apparently helped give the area a sense of regional Provençal identity .
The current church, pictured below, dates from the 12th C. It is built in the Cluniac style and has a simple and attractive interior. To the left of the church entrance are a series of sarcophagi, I think from the 8th C. One is pictured below.
Pictured to the right below are elements of an 8th C sarcophagi lid. To the left are 10th C tombs, located behind the church.
Parts of the earlier Carolingian church are incorporated into the newer (12th C). Pictured below is one such 10th C element.
Ganagobie is an interesting visit. It is a working monastery with extensive grounds. It was not possible to visit the complex other than the church at the time we were there. There is a monastery goods and craft store, a picnic spot overlooking the Durance and walking paths throughout most of the plateau, including a trail to an abandoned village at the north end of the plateau. The abbey is accessed via a steep and narrow road that comes up from the Durance to the plateau.
Grenoble: St. Laurent
The church of St. Laurent has a Merovingian chapel and one of the oldest crypts in France. Some of the decorations of the column capitals go back to the 6th and 7th centuries and some of the columns were sculpted in the 8th C. (Michelin Alpes 120, 1st edition, 1976) These images are from the church/musee website. Grenoble is 720 km SE of Paris. It is 106 km SE of Lyon on the A43.
Abbey de Lac Bourget
The abbey church in Le Bourget du Lac is built on the remains of an earlier Carolingian church, so that while the above ground church is new (13th and 15th C with 19th C restoration), the crypt is 10th C. We had visited Le Bourget du Lac some time ago but missed the fact there was a 10th C crypt here, hence a revisit. This is no burden because we found a nice lakeside hotel with good restaurant in town (Beaurivage). Access to the crypt was not obvious, given the small size of the church. You have to go to the choir stalls on the left and you'll see a stairway down to the crypt.
The church was initially rebuilt (13th C) over the earlier base by monks from Cluny and seriously modernized in the 15th C by the prior Aynard de Luytieux. Therefore the interior has both Romanesque elements but the flavor is largely Gothic. The crypt has been dated by different sources as either 10th or 11th C. The small sanctuary in the crypt is sometimes referred to as Notre Dame la Basse. The crypt also has inscriptions honoring Mercury, reflecting an earlier pagan incarnation of the site.
The abbey of Novalesa dates from 726, when it was founded by Abbone and dedicated to Sts. Pierre and Andre. The founding monks probably came from an abbey near Grenoble. The abbey is located towards the end of a side valley off the Val di Susa, close to the base of Mont Cenis. In 773 Charlemagne crossed into Italy to confront the Lombards. He had the help of the abbott of Novalesa who showed him a little know track through the territory that allowed by to put his army in a position to surprise and defeat the Lombards.
The picture below is the current abbey church, located in the main building complex. The map further down shows the abbey grounds, which include a number of small chapels. These include the 10th C Cappella di S. Maria, pictured to the left of the map. This gives a sense of the relative isolation of the abbey. The location of the cappella is circles on the map and is about 400 + meters from the main building complex.
The abbey, like so many others, had its moments of prosperity and of despair. The abbey was sacked and burned by the Saracens in 906. A number of monks were killed and the survivors fled to Turin. The 10th C. Cappella di S. Maria was built during a restoration later in the century. The chapel is pictured below.
The current main complex was reconstructed in the XVIII C. In 1802 Napoleon granted privileges to the abbey as a pilgrimage site but later in the century, in 1855, the Piedmont government t ordered the suppression of monasteries and the next year the monks left. It was reconstituted as an active monastery in 1973. This is a quiet site and worth a visit. It was not possible to enter the Cappella di S. Maria but there are tours of other parts of the monastery, including the 11th C. Cappella del S. Salvatore.
The small church at Quintal has been extensively renovated over the years, as evident by the tower and larger windows. The interior bears little resemblance to a Carolingian church. However, the underlying fabric dates from the 10th and early 11th C. Quintal is located near Anncey. While Anncey is definitely worth a visit, the church in Quintal is worth a small detour if you're in the area. With chagrin, I am unable to cite the source for my information. We went out of our way to find the village and church.
Roquebrune is a medieval hill town located near Menton, between Monte Carlo and the Italian border. It has a preserved Carolingian fortification, pictured left (with later additions). The town looks down to the Mediterranean. An online site says this is one of the very few 'almost complete' Carolingian fortresses. We have not yet visited it.
Sacra di San Michelle
The monastery Sacra Di San Michele is perched on the peak of Mount Pirchiriano in the Val di Susa, northern Italy. It offers dramatic views of the valley, up to Mont Cenis to the west. The valley has long been a trans-alpine route and been occupied by many different people of the centuries. The Romans occupied the valley in the first century. After the fall of the empire, it was occupied by the Burgundians in the 5th C, the Lombards in the 6th - 8th centuries, and the Carolingians from about 773 - 888. The Saracens occupied the valley and mount from the end of the 9th C into the 10th, when they were finally displaced. It then became part of the kingdom of Italy. As such, this is clearly not a Carolingian remnant, but rather a 10th C. construct.
It has long been a site of religious activity. The Romans had a temple there, and there were early churches in the area. The oldest remain remnant of any of these dates from the end of the 10th C. The schematic below shows the location of these earliest buildings, now incorporated into the newer construction. Actually, they are under the floor of the main monastery church. A history of San Michele suggests that these earliest churches themselves incorporate a Roman crypt and flooring. The Saracens were driven out between 983 - 987 and the oldest of the chapels were then modified. Subsequent building, and rebuilding, was on top of these early 10th C crypts.
These pictures are from the 10th C chapels under the floor of the current church. The left shows the primitive chapel of St. Michele (Michael), dating, in part, from a Roman military chapel.
Other Locations in the region
Le Bougret du Lac has a church with a Carolingian crypt. (Michelin Alpes 76, 1st edition, 1976) It is 530 km SE of Paris. It is at the end of the lake that bears its name, just N of Chambrey,
church of St. Pierre de Lemenc, which has a Carolingian baptismal font
in its crypt. (Michelin Alpes 88, 1st edition, 1976) Chambrey is
560 km SE of Paris. It is 100 km SE of Lyon.