Thursday, February 28, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 390

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France

When we visited Paris in October of 2018 we took time to see Sainte-Chapelle and purchased a couple of postcards and a booklet written by the chief heritage curator, Laurence de Finance and issued by Editions du Patrimoine.  The booklet and Wikipedia provided information for this post.  Today’s postcards are unused, both Editions du Patrimoine.  The one above has a David Bordes photograph of the exterior of the Sainte-Chapelle. 

Sainte-Chapelle was one of the places I wanted to visit when I was in Paris six years ago with my daughter and grandson.  But on that trip we were with a group and although we had some free time we didn’t want to spend all of it waiting in line to get in.  There was a line this time too and it was cold outside or seemed cold to us since we had just come from 80 F or 26.6 C in Italy to 40 F or 4.4 C and wind in Paris.   Also the security to enter all the museums we visited this time had been significantly increased from six years ago and that resulted in slowing down the lines.  If we go to Paris again we will definitely get a city museum pass so we can avoid the long, long ticket lines.

Looking up I noticed what looked like carved figures on the spire . . .

While we were waiting outside in the ticket line we had time to look at the exterior of the church and note some of the details that might have gone unnoticed if we had been able to just walk right in.  It is hard to see from the ground but my camera with the extra zoom feature picked up the details on the spire.  I especially liked the angels playing music and the archangel at the very top of the spire. 

Using the zoom lens on the camera it was possible to see some of the details . . .

An even stronger zoom in view showed angels making music . . .

and an archangel holding a cross perched at the very top of the spire

Almost all the churches have lots of gargoyles like these . . .

but this was the first time to see one up close.  This one had been removed and was getting a repair job. It was located right next to the waiting line to get into Sainte Chapelle.  When they are doing their job up high on the church it is not possible to see the gargoyle's water channel so this was a fun surprise and explained how they work.  The rain water runs down the channel and exits out the gargoyle's mouth.

Interior windows, upper chapel, Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

This second card has a photograph by Julien Fromentin and shows part of the amazing interior of the upper floor reliquary chapel.  From the outside it is impossible to guess at all the windows.  From the inside it seems as if the magnificent windows are standing without much support, the light streaming in through all the beautifully decorated glass.   The lower chapel was intended for the palace personnel and the upper chapel or royal chapel was where the relics associated with the Passion of Christ were housed. 

Lower level chapel

 Statue of Saint Louis, King Louis IX

All the windows on both levels have beautiful stained, leaded glass with Biblical scenes

Although the lower level is also quite beautiful, the spectacular upper room is the main attraction at Sainte-Chapelle.  It is considered a masterpiece of Rayonnant Gothic architecture.  There is a narrow winding staircase going up from the lower level that opens out to this awe-inspiring scene.  It takes ones breath away.  The ceiling is so high; the windows seem to reach to heaven.

Originally the Crown of Thorns was housed in a silver and copper-gilt reliquary that measured 2.7 meters or 8.9 feet and placed above the altar.  Sometime between 1264 and 1267 the Crown was moved to the platform above.   I wondered if perhaps it might have been in the long box under the canopy in the photo.  Still later successive kings would gift fragments of the crown to various institutions or members of the royal family.  Today the remaining pieces are housed in a rock crystal ring that is embellished with gold, gem-stones and enamel and displayed for Christian worship in Notre-Dame cathedral. 

Dating from 1485 the Western Rose Window has scenes from the Apocalypse.  It measures 9 meters or 29.7 feet in diameter.  Only 9 of the 89 window panels have had to be replaced.

The walls and door frames are covered in decorative paintings and Biblical scenes

Closer view of the carved angels holding the Crown of Thorns

Window in the Queen's oratory found in the south wall of the third bay of the nave

King Louis IX of France commissioned the building of this church in 1238 to house his collection of Passion relics that included among others Christ’s Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross.  Completed in 1248 the church was damaged during the French Revolution and later restored in the 19th century.  Further restorations have been on going from the 1970s including the cleaning and preserving of all the stained glass begun in 2008.  It has one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world.  Since 1862 Sainte Chapelle has been a national historic monument.

For additional information, see:


The Sainte-Chapelle Palais de la Cité by Laurence de Finance, chief heritage curator

Thursday, February 21, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 389

These are kind of fun, 6 postcards depicting medieval clothing, recreated by Patrick Dallanégra who specializes in historical artwork.   I found these cards in the gift shop at Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France during our visit there last October.  Even though this post is longer than most, I felt that all 6 cards should be shown together.  The artist has identified parts of each costume and on the reverse of each card has included a brief statement or notes about the picture.

The card above shows a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre from the 12th century.  Parts of his attire are labeled in French but I will attempt to give English equivalents.  The Camail means hackle.  Hackle generally refers to the feathers on the nape of the neck of a bird and became a term for a feather attached to the hat or neck piece of a uniform.  As can be seen from the illustration there is no feather at the nape of the neck and the material appears to be a continuation of chain mail that covers the knight’s head, arms and legs.  The Surcot is the sleeveless white overcoat with the symbol of the Holy Order of the Sepulchure.   The design has 5 crosses representing the 5 wounds that Christ received and the red color is for his blood.  The epee is the sword and the fourreau et baudrier is the sheath and belt for the sword.  Chausse et solier de mailes refers to the mesh shoes that also have eperon antique or 12th century spurs. 

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See with the Pope as the sovereign of the Order.  It was founded at approximately the time of the First Crusade around 1099 and officially recognized by Papal bull in 1122.   Originally these armed knights, both religious and secular, adhered to vows of poverty and obedience and were chosen from the crusader troops.  The primary responsibility was to defend the holy places including the Holy Sepulchre and support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.  Since 1949 the Grand Masters have been Cardinals.  There are several grades of knighthood and are open to both men and women.  Today there are about 30,000 knights and dames found around the world.

The artist notes add that the order was governed by the rule of St. Augustine and dealt with the redemption of the Frankish prisoners and the guard of the tomb of Christ.

This second postcard shows a member of the Order Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem also known variously as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, and Knights Hospitaller.  It is another order in the Roman Catholic Church that existed from medieval times as a military order.  Gerard Thom founded the order around 1023 to provide care for the sick, poor and injured pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land.  The Knights Templar and the Hospitallers built many of the fortifications in the Holy Land. The artist notes add that Raymond du Pury made it an order of chivalry in the 13th century.

The knight is shown wearing a 12th century conical headpiece with a large nose covering, a hauberk or long shirt of mail, that in this case falls below the knee, and mail that covers his throat and lower face.  He is has a black coat or cloak with a white cross, a thong belt that holds the scabbard for his sword, his shoes are mesh with spurs.  The shield has the sign of the order, red with a large white cross.  The cross has eight silver spikes with four visible on the illustration.  The cross on the black shield at the upper right of the card is a Rhodian Cross dating from the Siege of Rhodes in 1480 and was worn by senior knights.  Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) approved a standard military dress of a red surcot or long sleeveless coat with a white cross on it for the Hospitallers to be worn during battles.  The surcot would allow more freedom of movement than the black coat or cloak shown on the card.  

King and Saint, Louis IX (1214-1270) is shown wearing an azure armored (padded) coat with golden lily flowers and red lining over a mail hauberk that extends to about knee length.  He has a metal helm or helmet with small breathing holes and a narrow slit to look out.  I think it must have been very hot and uncomfortable.  He has metal greaves on his shins, a belt and a sling for the scabbard for his sword.  His shield is held on his back with a third belt.  He has mesh shoes and spurs with wheels on his feet.

Louis IX of France was also known as Saint Louis.  He was merciful to those who repented but some of his punishments for sins such as blasphemy, gambling, usury, and prostitution would be considered barbaric.  On the other hand he was renown for his charity and was said to have fed beggars from his own table, ministered to the wants of lepers, and daily fed over 100 poor people.  Often he served the poor himself.  A devoted, religious man he spent vast sums of money on relics of Christ and built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house them. 

Louis left his duties as king to fulfill his obligations as a son of the Church and went on two crusades, the 7th in 1248 when he was in his mid-30s, and the 8th in 1270 when he was in his mid-50s.  He was captured during his first crusade and freed with a ransom sum of 400,000 livres tournois or about ¼ of the annual revenue of France.  He died in Tunis in 1270 while on his second crusade as a result of a disease epidemic that had broken out in the camp.  His bones were carried back to France and were interred in the royal necropolis at Saint-Denis in 1271.  He was married to Margaret of Provence and they had eleven children including two who died in infancy.  His son, Philip III became king upon the death of his father.  Louis IX was proclaimed canonized in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII.  He is the only French king to be named a saint. 

Artist notes on this card refer to the king as a diplomat who developed royal justice.  He is the 9th king of the House of Capet. 

The 14th century woman’s costume on the card above shows the woman wearing a horned head covering with a veil.  The rather strange, to us, hairstyle under the veil has the hair tightly wound into two horn shapes.  All married women of this period would have worn some type of head covering.  She is wearing a fur trimmed vest-like garment decorated with jewels, a plate belt, the cuffs at her wrists may have some metal, and a double open cloak or coat fastened with a chain. The cloak extends from her shoulders to her feet.

 The artist notes say that this type of clothing was worn from the 12th to the 15th centuries.  It was reserved for noble ladies and worn during festivals and ceremonies.

During the 13th and 14th centuries buttons were widely used as fasteners on snug-fitting garments such as the one shown on the card above.  If you look closely you may be able to see the buttons at the wrist of the sleeves.  More noticeable buttons are found going down the middle of the dress.  She has bands of cloth or metal at the elbows, and embroidery and appliqués with gold thread and material.  The belt falls below the waistline and appears to have silver decorations.  She has a ribbon in her hair but no veil, suggesting that she is an unmarried woman.  Her hair is coiled on each side around the ears reminiscent of the Princess Leia style we saw on an earlier Thursday postcard.

The artist notes point out the wide neckline and mentions that it was fashionable in large families to wear embroidered or appliqued weapons on the clothing as is seen on the red side of the dress.  The notes also say that buttons were a novelty on women's clothing.

This last postcard shows a dress from the 15th century.  The cap is described as having butterfly wings on a conical bevel.  It looks like the type of hat usually associated with fairy tale princesses.  The dress has a fur collar and fur trim at the cuffs and the hem.  Her belt is silk, the dress is made of velvet.  Many early clothes were lined with fur, mostly squirrel fur, for warmth.  Since there was no central heating and the stone buildings were often drafty and cold with only a fireplace or brazier to heat the rooms, fur lined garments would be desirable. 

The artist notes on this dress point out that the triangular piece that hides a deep neckline is what gives the dress its name.  The long train and high waist were typical of the first half of the 15th century.

For additional information, see:

Also, to see more artwork by Patrick Dallanégra, see:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 388

La Rocca di Vignola, Italy

The castle fortress pictured on this week’s postcard is every bit as impressive and beautiful in person as on the card.  Vignola was one of the places our friend took us to see when we were visiting Italy in October.  The photographer is not identified on the unused card but the distributor is listed as OK Spedisci Qualita, Garami.  This was one of the places that had little or no English version booklets available.  We purchased a book with Italian text for the interior photos since no pictures were allowed inside the structure.  However, we did take a few photos of exterior views.  

Aerial view of the complex and surrounding countryside
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 87, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Vignola did not even rate a footnote in our Italian tourist guidebook and is somewhere we would never have visited or known to visit without our friend.   It is located southeast of Modena not far from Bologna and near an ancient Etruscan road that connected Bologna and Parma.  The fortress or castle was first mentioned in 826 to protect the lands of the nearby Abbey Nonantola.   It would also have been a place of refuge for the townsfolk during times of medieval feudal struggles.  Grapes are grown in this area, we saw several small vineyards, and the name Vignola is derived from the Latin “vineola,” which translates to tiny or small vineyard.  It is not too far a stretch to think that the abbey was growing grapes.

The Dove Room
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 24, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Detail of the design, Dove Room
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 25, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Most of the castles and fortresses that we have seen were partial ruins or all ruins but this one is one of the best preserved and looks much as it did originally.  Since the 15th century the fortress was used as a military structure.  Careful restoration began in the mid-20th century and is continuing with modern historical research providing new insight regarding the frescoes that decorate the ground and first floor halls.  The six named halls are:  the Lion and Leopard Room, the Dove Room, Ring Room, Dame Room, Coat of Arms Room, and the Tree Trunk Room.  The paintings cover not only every inch of the walls but the ceilings as well.  

Entry into the courtyard

The Contrari family owned and lived in the castle from 1401 to 1577.  Their family coat of arms can be found on the walls of the Coat of Arms Room and tell the family history.  A bank purchased the property in 1965 and later transferred it in 1998 to the Foundation of Vignola that is authorized to keep it maintained and opens it to the public free of charge.  The building is also available for cultural, social and educational activities in Vignola.  When we visited we noticed posters advertising events to be held there.  

There was a walkway all around the top of the tower.  The floor was uneven and sloped, perhaps intentionally, since we noticed drainage pipes for rain water runoff.  Nevertheless the uneven surface made it more difficult to walk without fear of tripping.

 Looking out and down on the courtyard and toward one of the other towers

Looking straight down from the walkway around the top part of the tower

One of the window views from lower down in the tower

 We climbed all the way up to the top of one of the taller towers.  The stairs became steeper and narrower as we ascended but there was a railing on one side that helped some.  As mentioned previously, I do not like heights and could not really bring myself to get that close to the open window holes to look out, just leaning forward enough to take a few photos.  There was one connecting hall to a cell where prisoners were held that had a grated floor.  My two companions crossed over and looked around but I did not.  I also needed a bit of help getting down from the very top.  Bob suggested going down backwards, like climbing on a ladder, but I wanted to be facing forward even though I could not really see the steps or my feet.  My two strong male companions put me in the middle so that one could catch me if I fell or one could grab my hand if I slipped.  Fortunately neither was needed but it was nice to have friendly hands guide me down those steep, narrow and dark steps. 


Down on the ground looking up at where we had been

For additional information, see:
La Rocca di Vignola, Fondazione di Vignola [the foundation book in Italian with photographs of the exterior and interior of the fortress]

Thursday, February 7, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 387

Castle ruins, Crozant, Creuse, France

Here is another postcard shared by my French friend.  This unused one has a color photograph of the castle ruins of Crozant on the River Creuse in France.  The card is a Photo Edition “France Regard” issue.  The ruins are on an islet located at the confluence of the Creuse and the Sédelle rivers.

The Eguzon dam built in 1926 altered the landscape from the time when the castle was in use.  Paintings and old photographs from before 1926 show the differences.  The castle was built on a rocky outcropping between the Creuse and its tributary the Sédelle.  It is estimated that a fortress was built here between about 997 and 1018 AD.  The current ruins shown on the card date from the 13th century.   When the Catholics took the castle in 1588 one of the towers was ruined.  During the early 1600s the local people used the castle for building materials and by 1640 the king’s inspector noted that the remains were in a sad state.  The ruins cover a large part of the spur; have several ramparts, a square donjon and two 13th century towers plus a chapel.  It also has a water tower where water could be raised from the river undercover and safe from attack.  In modern times the ruins were acquired by the local community and have undergone major reconstruction.  Beginning in 2008 the site opened to the public for a fee. 

During the 19th century this area was a favorite with artists and there are many paintings of it.  One of the artists mentioned was Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927) who painted about 140 landscapes and who resided in Crozant.  The Eguzon dam created Lake Chambon and paintings done after 1926 now include the lake.  Boat tours and dinner cruises around the lake are also available.

Thank you to my friend as always for sharing postcards.

For additional information, see: