Deep in the Dordogne area in France
sits an 11th century Romanesque church, Saint Caprais,
in the small town of Carsac.
As I reflect on good French design today,
I see it in these photos of an 11th century church.
The last time we were in France,
we rented a house in the countryside just outside Carsac
to use as our base to explore the surrounding
medieval towns and pre-historic cave drawings.
But, we did not want to miss seeing anything in the area,
including the local church from the 11th century.
How could we bypass a chance to explore such a treasure
only ten minutes from our house?
Beautiful in its simplicity, but undistinguished,
describes the exterior of the little church nestled in the
small town of fewer than 1500 residents.
From the back, the small limestone church appears like most other
Romanesque churches typical in other small French towns.
A small domed circular section lies behind the main rectangle
that is supported by buttresses on either side,
the same general pattern for many small French churches
built during the same time.
Yes, a beautiful design.
The most interesting part of the exterior design at the front is
the recessed opening with graduated stone arches
which is another familiar design seen in many Medieval churches.
Many other churches have elaborate carvings on each arch.
A simply-designed church on the outside with interior designs
common to most other 11-12th century French churches...
at first glance.
A winged angel holding a wreath supports one of
the interior ceiling columns and could be from any other
small Romanesque church in the region.
Then... in the dim light...
we saw a carving of a bust of a woman alongside an angel holding up the next column.
Using the flash option, I could see more details.
She is not a carving with generic features like the angel carvings.
Rather, her face, hair, and clothes are unique,
not seen in other churches.
The next column was supported by a carving of a man,
once again with detailed unique features of a pensive expression,
hair with a receding hairline, and a draped garment about his shoulders.
The stone masons used the church's parishioners as models!
I wonder how the masons decided which parishioner to choose.
Were the wealthy donors chosen?
Or, perhaps, those that exemplified Christian virtues?
Each carving is filled with rich details depicting different
facial expressions, clothing designs, and hair styles.
I love the high-necked garment and her hair wrapped with cords
to form ponytails that fall to her shoulder bones.
She looks so young.
What do you suppose the object beside her is?
Could the models have been selected for their beautiful features?
Near the back was a recessed nave with ribbed arches supporting a curved ceiling.
You can imagine how excited I was to see the beautiful French bleu ceiling
and the bleu patterned ribs supporting it.
More unique busts of parishioners support the columns on either side of the recess.
Do you suppose this man and woman are husband and wife?
See the delicate blue and green on the walls?
The church was restored in the 16th century,
and the colors in the ceiling and walls were repainted at that time.
A close up of the carved bust on the left side of the recessed nave
shows more color in the woman's hair and dress, on the column,
and in drawings under the woman.
How sad this woman looks.
As I study these pictures of the little church,
I see elements of
F R E N C H D E S I G N
that are still used today,
ten centuries later.
White and cream-colored stones
Delicate pastel bleus and neutrals
Columns with carved acanthus leaves
Simple, uncluttered overall design
Form following function
Unique pieces from a person's life
Good design never goes out of style.
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