Blog Description

A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Good Design Never Goes Out of Style

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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 

11th Century 
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 
Vaulted ceilings 
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. 


  1. Oh Judith,

    I remember so well, when I was younger and I was trying to find my style for decorating. I knew what I loved, but couldn't identify it until I started to study French. Then I KNEW. I knew that this medieval style with stone, tapestries, natural elements all put together to create this understated beauty was what I wanted. Little by little, we started to add these elements in our home. I have several tapestries, several stone angels and I also prefer simpler lines in furniture, but certainly NOT modern. A worn wooden church bench sits right under a tapestry in my dining room. A gray French farm table serves as a buffet as well. And yet I feel this OLD FRENCH ambience in my home.

    We love La Dordogne; we enjoyed Sarlat to the hilt, Les Ezyies and Le Gouffre de Padirac....and it wasn't until we got HOME that I learned of the gorgeous château and gardens of Marqueyssac! ONE DAY, we shall go back.

    Have a fabulous day, Judith! Anita

  2. How true! And how wonderful to see the originals of these lovely designs. Enjoy your week! Hugs!

  3. As I viewed your photos, I was reminded of one of my all time favorite books, Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet. It took decades to build churches and cathedrals in those days because of all the intricate details.

    Thanks for the lovely tour!

  4. Judith, I can see how the Bleu here in the ceiling was so captivating to you, this French wash of bleu washed into the stone with a limestone effect is so me as well, yet achieving the effect and design is not as easy as it comes in a more modern developed home. I could so design around this history if given the right home with this estestic appeal. The carved angels are divine, can you imagine being able to find one with these kind of history authentic with age...we would have them placed where all attention was on them. The beauty in France is like non other to me and what you have inspired here in your post is calls out to me, to return.

    Thank you for a beautiful morning tour.



  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photography of your time spent in the Carsac area. The Medievel church is breathtaking ... Especially the painted ceilings restored in the 16th century that have acquired faded grandeur. The columns and architectural details everything so beautiful.

  6. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing these images.

  7. Very beautiful - good classic lines are timeless! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! Nothing like a quick trip to France, if only in our minds! Someday maybe our bodies will get there, too!

  8. Wow! How breathtakingly gorgeous. It must have been amazing to see in person!

  9. Such beautiful pictures! And how interesting that the carvings were actually the church parishioners! Such a lovely tour of a beautiful old church. Thank you for sharing! ~Amy

  10. I agree with Susan above~ this is a fabulous post. You introduce your readers to places and things we may never see in person. The faces are the most fascinating detail. The bust of the young woman is beautiful but yes, her expression is sad. Perhaps she is overcome by emotional adoration, or sustained a significant loss. We will never know. You are so right about good design. This chapel underscores your point and thank you for the tour.

  11. What a pretty church. It is in such good shape for the age! Thank you for joining Home Sweet Home.

  12. Your weblog is so lovely and fresh and pretty, its lightened my heart visiting here. :-)

  13. Judith,
    Return visit to once again look at your beautiful photos of the amazing 11th century church. Simply breathtaking. Hope your weekend is fun.


To leave a comment, you must complete Word Verification to show you accept my privacy policy regarding comments. See my full disclosure and privacy policy by clicking on it in my menu bar at the top of the blog. Your email address is NEVER shared. THANK YOU FOR LEAVING A COMMENT.