Friday, June 18, 2010

Wirwignes : A Decorated Church . . .

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Just a couple of weeks ago Henk van Es, in Holland, who has created an excellent blog about outsider art sites around Europe, did a post about a church in northern France in the village of Wirwignes which had been intricately decorated by the parish priest, Paul-André Lecoutre from 1867 through his death in 1906. Henk's post about the church is here.
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As with many of the sites that Henk researches and writes about, I was considerably intrigued and desired to see the real thing, to find out what such a site might look like today. Checking the map, I realized that Wirwignes is just to the east of Boulogne-sur-Mer on the coast of the English Channel. As I had another mission I'd been meaning to accomplish in that immediate vicinity for some time, I realized that with a day trip two birds could be killed with one stone, if you will pardon that violent expression. The other mission was to find the grave of the ancestor of a friend in the WWI military cemetery at Etaples, which is just south of Boulogne.
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So I set out with a picnic lunch, and after visiting the military cemetery in Etaples, was in Wirwignes by mid-afternoon. The church was locked up tight, but a very nice lady in the town hall was willing to provide the key in return for my identity card. So I had the church all to myself that afternoon, and was able to discover first hand what had interested Henk enough to inspire his post about it. It was darker than I expected inside the church, and I was not properly equipped with tripod and external flash, so I had to make do with what little natural light there was, and the built in flash unit, which is a bit harsh and unforgiving at times. Hopefully the following photos will provide at least a small idea of what Father Lecoutre accomplished.
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Many thanks to you Henk, if you had not written about this unusual site, I probably would never have gone there.
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This first was on a wall in the village near the church, a type of sign one doesn't see many of in France any more, showing the two neighboring villages to Wirwignes and their distance.
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The exterior of the church, they obviously have a creative gardener even today . . .
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Apparently external chapels were added along the sides of the church by Father Lecoutre to accomodate his artwork . . .
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The WWI memorial outside the church, invoking God to protect France . . .
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Inside . . .
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There were some signs of wear and tear in places . . .
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A mosaic in the floor near the altar . . .
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40 comments:

K'line Bloom said...

Elle est incroyable cette église !
Que de couleurs !

Mary Ann said...

Wow, such marvelous painting inside. I wish all churches had such interior whimsy.

Isn't it nice to have blogging friends who tip you off to such unknown treasure? I'm glad Henk put you on to this one.

Steve said...

Stunning. Evidence of supreme craftsmanship whose like, alas, we so rarely see these days.

henk van es said...

Thanks Owen for making this trip, shooting a series of wonderful pictures and writing this story. It's relatively unknown that this church has such a charmingly decorated interior, made by a priest who had no training in painting at all. On the internet one can hardly find pictures of it, so this series you made is probably the first ever published in the blogosphere and isn't it an eye-opener? All the best. have a nice weekend.

Lily Hydrangea said...

this church is a real treasure! I love the mosaics inside and the chairs for seating. Most churches in the U.S. have wooden benches or pews.

mythopolis said...

Amazing post! I kinda got overwhelmed looking at the history of all that. The kind of devotion that seems so long ago. Someone so fully engaged and inspired to paint all this. The cumulative effort and similar devotion of many to even make this structure be there. It's pretty damn mind-blowing. Not sure about the gardener. The groundscape plantings appear to be a cartoonish depiction of someone running. It seems somehow, incongruous. Like Keith Haring on a field trip. But what do I know? Suffice it to say, on this visual tour, I found myself choking up. Thanks for yet, another history lesson.

James said...

What a wonderful old church. The inside is so colorful. You are correct about the farmer being "Pennsylvania Dutch".

I've been meaning to book a WWI tour, thanks for the reminder. :)

Alistair said...

Lovely photographs here Owen. It must have taken a lot of time effort and money to do all that work.

Interesting you had just been at a WWI cemetery. I just posted my thoughts on a visit a couple of days ago.

you can read it here:
http://crivensjingsandhelpmaboab.blogspot.com/2010/06/in-footsteps-of-others.html

Thank you for the interesting post.

the fly in the web said...

This church, completely painted within, reminds mwe that medieval churches were not white and cool as we now see them, but full of colour.

The military cemetary at Etaples was not the one attached to a military hospital by any chance?

Stickup Artist said...

You must've flipped when you turned the key and opened that church door! All that color, shape, and form exploding into view after the rather austere outer shell. How nice of that lady to let you go inside all by yourself and have at it.

Alberto Oliver said...

Extraordinary place,,moreover if someone is (like me) a huge fan of church architecture. then again, Henk has shown that art, real art, is closer that we could figure out, but that we must have the eyes wide open in order to discover it. Great shots Owen.
Have a nice weekend.

namaki said...

I don't usually like churches but this one is very coloured and it's nice !

Clytie said...

Very beautiful. Both the exterior and interior - I'm so glad you were able to go in.

The amount of work it took to decorate and furnish this church is astonishing. But of them all, I think my favorite is the mosaic near the alter. So painstaking and obviously hand worked. Just to be walked on!

PS - did you ever locate your friend's ancestor?

cheryl said...

Such a beautiful church Owen. The paintings were done with love.

Nadege said...

It is father's day today and you are the one giving us a wonderful gift. Thank you for those beautiful pictures.

Owen said...

Bonsoir K'line ! Des couleurs partout... même dans le mi-ombre les couleurs étaient resplendissantes, un régal !

Owen said...

Hi Mary Ann,
I've never seen a church so thoroughly decorated as this one...

And absolutely, I've been very pleasantly surprised over the past nearly two years of blogging, at how rich the blogosphere is in wonderful, generous, intelligent, creative people. Henk's was one of the first blogs I started following when I finally discovered the universe of blogging, and he never ceases to surprise with the places he findes to write about. Since starting this little blogging experience here, I've been able to meet several people from behind some the these blogs, and without exception, it's been a real pleasure each time. Best to you all in Beirut...

Owen said...

Steve, you're not joking... the other day in Paris I went by a church that looked like a concrete bunker from a war zone, nothing to recommend it visually whatsoever. Don't know how its architects expected it to be spiritually inspiring in any way, shape, or form... and they call it progress...

Owen said...

Hi Henk,
You are very, very welcome, and again, if not for you, I'd probably have never heard of this place. It was a real pleasure to go up there and look around, and am looking forward to discovering more of the sites you've already written about, and the ones yet to come... Keep up the great work !

Owen said...

Hi Lily H.,
Glad you enjoyed the visit, and could sit for a while in one of the wood chairs... I like places like this best when I'm alone there, and if one is very still, the silence can be quite complete...

Owen said...

Hey Mythopolis,
Glad you enjoyed the field trip here, you are so right about the kind of dedication people had hundred years ago versus today. This gentleman clearly was not distracted by much, he put a huge amount of time and tender care into making this happen. I'm sort of thinking the gardener was trying to depict a dinosaur, but why ? Couldn't say, and I may be wrong...

Owen said...

Hi James,
What's this about a WWI tour ? Does such a thing exist ? If not maybe I should start a WWI tour guide business ? There are a wealth of sites to visit, the history is still very present in alot of places not very far from here... After visiting this church the other day, I stopped at two places on the way home I'd been meaning to see for quite some time : the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge, and the national cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette, where 100000 men perished during various attacks to try to take the hill... a sobering site.

Owen said...

Hello Alistair,
I just went over to your place and read your compelling and compassionate account of the visits to the area around Ypres, thanks very much for passing the link on to me here. Over the past several years I've read quite alot about WWI, yet somehow the more I read, the larger and more incomprehensible the madness seems to me. Yet I persist in both visiting sites and reading new material. Last November I spent a few days walking and exploring in the Verdun area, coming away with emotions similar to what you have described in your post the other day. There remain vast expanses around Verdun where the ground was not leveled after the war, shell holes as far as one can see, very difficult walking through the woods which have grown up since the war. During the war there were practically no trees left standing. I will be posting very shortly about the cemetery at Etaples, which I went to the same day as this church.

Owen said...

Hello Fly in Web,
The cemetery in Etaples was largely supplied by the deceased from large military hospitals in the immediate area during WWI. Etaples was also one of the largest base camps for newly arrived soldiers from the UK heading for the western front. There are also some tombs there from WWII, but the vast majority are from WWI. There are also graves of female casualties among nurses at the hospitals which were bombed by German aircraft during WWI.

And yes, it's true, many medieval churches were quite colorful, but the decoration faded, disappeared in most cases, and was not renewed. So this is one of the most colorful churches I've ever seen.

Owen said...

Hi Stickup,
Absolutely ! Flipped, and did a handstand or two for good measure. I was so afraid that the town hall would say "no visits", and the trip would have been in vain... but good fortune prevailed. I really would have been disappointed if I'd been unable to get pictures of the place for Henk...

Owen said...

Hi Alberto,
You know better than almost anyone what an extraordinary job Henk is doing researching and blogging about all these sites. We are very fortunate to have such a talented and generous guide in him ! And you are right, there is almost always art around us, closer than we realize... Many thanks to you...

Owen said...

Hi Namaki,
It is rare that church interiors, other than cathedrals or other really exceptional sites, stir my imagination, but this place had something special in the air inside it... the soul of the artist who decorated it lives on there...

Owen said...

Hi Clytie,
Indeed astonishing, imagine spending nearly 40 years on such a project ! Mind-boggling...

And yes, I did indeed manage to track down the grave of my friend's ancestor, and will post about it here very shortly...

Owen said...

Hi Cheryl,
Many thanks for dropping in here, glad you enjoyed this...

Owen said...

Dear Nadege,
Well, all of the kind thoughts that have flowed in here to this comment box are a wonderful Father's Day gift for me, so share the wealth, I say ! Many thanks for stopping in.

Also, I'm trying to remember, I would have sworn you had a blog that I'd seen, but when I click your name here it just goes to a Blogger message saying your profile isn't public... but do you still have a blog we can visit ?

Deborah said...

Trust you to track down something so unique, Owen! There seems no end to your curiosity - what if the whole world was like that?? Wonderful thought.

thank you for the mini-travelogue. I'm sure you could put together a book of One Thousand Most Original and Rarely Visited Places. Could be a major hit!

Jesson And Rey Ann said...

those are quite beautiful, like those photo's!

Peter said...

Just fantastic! A real treasure! ... and I admire your idea to go there! That's really in line with a perfect blogsphere attitude!

Contrary to the catholic ones, protestant churches are often without any extravagant decoration. I have seen some exceptions in the Nordic countries, where old wooden churches are sometimes beautifully painted, inside, all over.

lailani said...

Wow! All the painted detail is amazing, I don't believe I have ever been in a Church emblished in any way like this. I like it!

sylviane louvet said...

bonjour , je m'appelle sylviane decroix et j'habite prés de wirwignes je connais donc bien cette église qui est un vrai joyau ! pour la petite histoire , l'abbé lecoutre est décédé ,suite à une chute de son échafaudage , lorsqu'il mettait la touche finale à sa voûte étoilée ! il est tombé juste devant le maître autel ! le signe que son chef d'oeuvre était achevé ?????ilest enterré juste devant son église !merci pour ces magnifiques photos .l'église est maintenant classée depuis 2006

Owen said...

Chère Sylviane,
Merci infiniment pour ce petit mot, je suis très touché par ta gentillesse. Je suis également impressionné que tu as pu trouvé cet article que je viens de faire, sur mon blog qui est assez obscur et relativement peu visité. Oui, effectivement, on pourrait se demander si sa fin personelle à la fin des travaux de décoration n'avait pas un sens, au moins symbolique.

Merci encore et meilleures salutations. J'ai bien aimé ma visite à Wirwignes, l'accueil à la Mairie était chaleureux, et le site est une merveille.

Owen said...

To all who may look in here :

The above comment from Sylviane Decroix provides a fascinating bit of information related to the church and Father Lecoutre, which I'd like to translate to English. It says :

"Hello, my name is Sylviane Decroix, and I live near Wirwignes, and therefore know the church quite well, which is a real gem. For your further information, Father Lecoutre died after falling from his scaffolding, while putting the finishing touches on the starry decoration of the vaulted ceiling. He fell just in front of the main altar. Perhaps this was a sign that his work was finished ??? He is buried just in front of his church. Thanks for these magnificent photos. The church is a classified historic site since 2006."

Many thanks to Slyviane for this message !

Rima said...

Wonderful Owen!
Thanks for these pictures.. what beautiful wall paintings :)
Outsider Environments is a great blog isn't it!
And thank you for your kind words on my blog as ever :)
Happy summer days to you
Rima

Owen said...

Hi Rima...
Indeed, indeed, I really like Henk's blog, it's one of the first blogs I found that seemed animated by an intelligent, curious mind... You are very welcome, your blog is an immense pleasure to visit...

Lynne Rutter said...

what a brilliant find! thanks so much for sharing your photos of this amazing place. this is the kind of interior that makes my heart sing and to know the artist's name is so rare.

Lynne

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