Not the usual Beaulieu

Our actual base on the trip to the south of France last summer I now seem to be documenting was a town called Beaulieu-sur-Mer, not to be confused with the home of my stock non-Catalan monastery example, St-Pierre de Beaulieu-en-Limousin (though you will be hearing more about that ‘ere long). Beaulieu has some ancient roots (as I’m guessing basically every plausible harbour along this coast must do) but you wouldn’t know it to look at it now:

Hills behind Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France

Hills behind the town as viewed from one of our flat’s balconies

Bay of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, with St Jean-Cap-Ferrat visible to the right

The bay, with St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat visible to the right, where there was nothing medieval visible but some ridiculous investment in artworks

Just setting this up makes me uncomfortably aware I owe the person in whose flat we were staying a fresh turn-around of our collaborative paper which I don’t currently have the spare time to do, so I want to express both thanks and apology to him if he reads this; it was gorgeous. But was it medieval, you ask impatiently, and there the answer inevitably comes in the form of a church.

The old and new Ste-Marie de Beaulieu

Exterior of Ste-Marie de Beaulieu, with tower sending confusing dating signals

Now, obviously we found out something about the dating of this building almost as soon as I saw it and my Romanesque sensors went off, but equally obviously if you know me I was all round it trying to figure a probable date by myself before agreeing to use the actual facts as presented, so you can share that experience now. First off, let’s disambiguate the complex. The tower you’re looking at there is by far the newest part of the building, but there is also a whole new church sat behind this one. This is quite hard to express in photographs:

The two Ste-Maries de Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Ste-Marie viewed from outside the apse. The nave is behind the apse you see here, and the structure at left that looks like a strangely-placed transept is actually an entire new church, working up the Romanesque style of the original.

Road between the two Ste-Maries de Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Alleyway between the portal of the old Ste-Marie de Beaulieu and the wall of its replacement

Once you get round to the actual portal, however, the gap sets apart the two fabrics quite clearly. It was also at this point that we discovered that the place is now the church hall to the newer church building, and that there was an exhibition of fine weaving in it which kindly requested us not to take interior photos. The interior mainly confirmed to me what you could already tell from the outside, though, that the whole thing has been quite messed about by repairs and rebuilding.

Junction between the apses of the old Ste-Marie de Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Junction between the apses of the old Ste-Marie

Its fabric is quite messy on the outside, even, telling of at least one patching-up, and there is a secondary apse on an odd presbitery on the north wall that doesn’t run the full length of the building. The junction makes it pretty clear that this and the nave do not stand in their original relationship.

Informational inscription on the side of Ste-Marie de Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Informational inscription on the side of Ste-Marie

Finally I agreed to check against actual information and found that what we have is an eleventh-century building to which bad things have happened, mainly a nineteenth-century rebuild. That suggests that the small arch in that junction disappears into it because the nave is now wider than it was and presumably only the outer wall remains original, though I think they may have tried to reuse the old stones where possible as it doesn’t seem very different in fabric, just messier. I presume that whatever did lie along the north wall of the nave was at this point sacrificed to make space, however. Old drawings might make it all a bit clearer, but not on this trip. So that was about the limit of the really old stuff in Beaulieu itself, but as I said, given the accessibility and utility of the area, pretty much all of it has been lived in for a long time so there were more medieval instances nearby of which you will hear in two further posts. As a final instance for this one, the possibility that some of the local inhabitants have been around nearly as long as the church:

Olive tree incorporated into a wall along the seawalk between Beaulieu-sur-Mer and St-Jean Cap Ferrat

There were some really old olive trees along this coast. No idea how old this one was but it wasn’t stopping…

2 responses to “Not the usual Beaulieu

  1. Pingback: Rue obscure et château-fort éminent | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Pingback: Seven men in a high castle | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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