We set off early on an ambitious tour of 7 churches. It was promising to be quite hot but we were undaunted. The navigation to our first stop, Santa Maria del Vilar, was easy, and I was blithely cycling up a hill, happy to see a sign that said we were just 1 km from the church. I realized I hadn’t seen my companions for a while so stopped to wait for them to catch up…and waited…and waited. Finally, I decided to walk down, expecting that a chain had come off or a tire gone flat. Wrong! Gwen’s chain had broken! She managed to fix it and re- attach it fairly easily, but we weren’t sure how robust it was, so we walked up to the church, only to find it was closed until 3:00 p.m. Reluctant to keep going on our long trek when we were unsure of the state of Gwen’s chain, we returned to the campground to see if we could find some help with the bike. As it was Sunday, no help could be found, so we checked the chain ourselves–it seemed to be fine–and decided to return to Santa Maria in the afternoon as a test.
It was hot! Jim’s little MEC thermometer was registering about 36 or 37 in the shade. Gwen made it up the last half kilometer on her bike (it was rather a steep grade), but the old folks had to get off and walk.
We had to have a guided visit to see the church, which we normally don’t like much, but this was really pleasant. Our guide was a Romanian Orthodox nun. Apparently, the priory had been vacant and the bishop looked for a monastic order to take it over. As there were no French orders who were interested, when the Romanian orthodox monks applied, they were granted the use of this wonderful location. We liked our guide a lot, but I wondered how she managed in the heat with her black habit.
This site had been in use for a long time, as evidenced by the Roman and pre-Romanesque ruins.
Jim was excited to notice that the shape of the pre-Romanesque church was exactly the same as a pre-Romanesque arch, used in doorways and windows.
The carvings on the portal were unusual, but very well done. The capital you see here is the reason we were here at all: we had seen a postcard of it in a jeweller’s shop in Le Boulou, where we were buying Jim a Swiss army knife. When we asked the jeweller about it, he told us all about this gem of a church, which we otherwise would have missed.
The frescoes in the church were very vivid, including decoration which was described as “Mozarabe”, a word we hadn’t heard before but would encounter again, referring to Islamic influenced art and architecture. Here’s a link to some pictures of the priory, including the inside of the church where we weren’t allowed to photograph:
We were very pleased with our day (Gwen’s chain worked flawlessly,) blessing the serendipity of a visit to a jeweller and a broken chain.
But…there was more! We had seen posters for a free guitar concert in a chapel in Le Boulou, featuring the music of Isaac Albeniz. It started at 6:00 p.m. And we rolled up with only a few minutes to spare…only to wait for about fifteen more for important guests (the sponsors of the concert?) to arrive. It was worth the wait, however. The Spanish guitarist showed a wonderful technique and the sound in the small early 15th-century stone chapel was very sonorous. I was too tired to follow his French, but he introduced each piece and managed to communicate his enjoyment. What a lovely ending to our unplanned day.
Posted by Ellen