Louis l'Avengle (the Blind), 901-934

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 A Visitor's Guide to Carolingian France
VIII: Savoie, Provence and the Alps
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Allinges

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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.'

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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

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.

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Pictured to the right below are elements of an 8th C sarcophagi lid. To the left are 10th C tombs, located behind the church.

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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

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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.

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Quintal

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.

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Roquebrune

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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.

Other Locations in the region

Chambrey: The 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.