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DAY 10: Lusignan to Melle, Aulnay and St Jean d’Angely 85 km

Today it will be a highlight of Romanesque art with the visits of Melle and Aulnay. In the B & B, the retired firefighter, artisan, Alain Philippe, offers us a sober but tasty breakfast with as much coffee, toast and jam as we want. We leave at 9:20 am after first admiring his collection of timepieces in paper and SD paper drawing / constructions. He is possessed by the East and everything in his lovely one-room B&B cottage exudes that too. It is the best B & B so far. We cycle through a grand but gray landscape to our first destination, the town of Melle with three unique Romanesque churches: St Hilaire, St Pierre and St Savénien. St Hilaire is named after the first bishop of Poitiers, who died in 367. It is the largest of the three and the only one still used as a church. Originally the church was made of wood. It was replaced in the twelfth century by the current building. It was built in two phases: around 1109 the choir and transept, and around 1150 the nave and facade. The construction was financed by a certain Aimericus Abelini, whose name can be found on a capital of the choir aisle.

Melle: choir wit absidal chapels, the famous stone horseman and the central nave

The whole building has an unusual grace thanks to a clever artifice: the buttresses were replaced by columns to resist the thrust of the vaults. From the east side you have a beautiful view of all the radiating chapels. The north entrance is notable for its sculpture. The stone horseman (from 1870!) in a niche, is said to symbolize the victory of Constantine I over the pagans and below you can see the battle of vices and virtues, on the outer part of the arch. The bell tower is square and stocky. It is decorated with columns and two blind arches. It was completely renovated in 1850. In the 19th century, many monuments were saved from destruction thanks to Prosper Mérimée and Viollet Leduc, but also many other architects. At the back of the church there is a staircase of 17 steps. The carved decoration is abundant: 282 Romanesque capitals representing musicians and monsters (Sagittarius centaur, basilisk, dragons). The carved decoration is thus particularly rich in the aisles. To the right is a very beautiful portal decorated with 31 carved keystones. In the center a Christ blessing with his right hand. In his other hand he holds the Book of Wisdom. Peter is also there. All the capitals of the ambulatory are beautiful with rich iconography: a wild boar hunt, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a juggling scene, birds drinking from a cup, dragons, elephants. On the transept: an octagonal (symbol of resurrection) dome on trumpets. In the old choir, a new choir was designed by the artist Mathieu Lehanneur from many layers of white Namibian marble, a mound with a baptismal font.

Melle: Saint Hilaire, choir with modern baptismal font and and capital

Most of the stained glass windows are from the 19th century. Saint Hilarius can be seen in the axis chapel with also Saint Peter and Saint John plus Mary and Saint Radegonda (Poitiers). You will also find Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Jeanne de Valois there. It strikes me that there are few people everywhere or rather many tourists in the village to eat and drink, few to visit churches and abbeys. Castles seem to be popular. I see a family of four arriving: the parents enter the church, the two boys around 14-16 stay outside with their phones. Our dear Floky is also very similar. We get on our bikes and cycle to the next church: Saint-Savinien. It is the oldest of the three churches of Melle and the only one built within the walls of the feudal castrum. The choir rests on the old defensive wall of the city.

Melle: Facade of Saint Hilaire and interior of St Savinien

Churches were often an important part of a city's defences. the church became a prison in 1801. The prisoners left behind a lot of graffiti, among other things. In the 1960s the church was restored to a temple of culture. e.g. for the Festival de Melle (classical music and others), every year in May-June. In 2012, new stained glass windows were installed by the artist Rémy Hysbergue.

The 3rd Romanesque church, the 12th century Saint-Pierre is built in ocher limestone on the site of an oratory dating from 950. The church was restored between 1965 and 1966. The plan is very simple: a wide nave and a transept. In the choir two side-apse chapels plus the central apse. A square tower and a pyramidal roof from 1466 decorate the whole.

Melle: Saint Pierre, south facade, central nave and an angel on a capital

The western facade is very simple with windows whose archivolts are covered with an abundance of geometric motifs. On the entrance of the south facade you have arches with the animals of the Apocalypse and the signs of the zodiac. in a niche is a mutilated statue of Christ, with Mary and John. The cornice of the roof has many corbels or modillions: centaurs, the Paschal lamb, the symbols of the evangelists, etc. The capitals of the choir are decorated with original motifs: stars, batons, diamonds, palmettes, cylinders and under the cornice, human masks , animal heads. The nave has a broken barrel vault. On the back of most columns are beautiful scenes such as the Entombment of Christ, a bearded mask, an angel (our Rientje), birds, a griffin. The crossing has an octagonal dome. On the floor of the nave of the church you see many tombstones because (rich) people had themselves buried close to God. There were so many that it sometimes stank, hence "filthy rich".

Aulnay, Saint Pierre, facade, an angel on the facade and Hosanna Cross

After these three beautiful churches back on the bike to Aulnay. Flokey will take his adventurous road I'll take the fastest down the D road. I will take all the pictures there and then we will rest together. He has already eaten two pizzas in Melle. He arrives 45 minutes after me, just after my last photo. The 12th century Saint Peter's Church of Aulnay is one of the finest examples of Poitou Romanesque art. The western facade with Saint Peter on the left, crucified inverted and flanked by two lanterns, has a beautifully decorated central portal. The south portal contains apostles, characters and animals. Inside there are many beautiful capitals. On the east side outside, to the left and right of the apse window, is an image of an original labyrinth: between the twisting branches, people cling to the stems of the plant and try to get through. The symbol of the Christian who ascends to his salvation, through the difficulties of life.

In front of and behind the church is a former Merovingian cemetery, with many stately cypresses (symbol of death and resurrection). There are also tombs from the 14th century and on the west side a beautiful Hosanna cross from the 15th century. Two gardens have been created around the church: a medieval garden with various medicinal and vegetable plants, and an archaeological garden, with the remains of a Gallo-Roman temple. I need to stop writing and doing an injustice to this church. Magda insists that I should not write more than two pages. Look at the photos and admire all that beautiful inside and out.

Aulnay: St Pierre: tympan with St Peter and capitals

Floky and I cycle on to the abbaye Royale de Saint-Jean-d'Angély . In this former abbey, the city reserves 5 rooms for (max. 15) pilgrims with a credential. Magda was able to book a room for us (12 euros per person). You must bring a sleeping bag and towels. We are blissfully alone. There is a kitchenette with a microwave oven, so we can warm up something. We eat together and talk about our day. Tomorrow we continue towards Bordeaux to Mirambeau, back 80 km. Only the two towers of the former abbey church next to our sleeping place are still standing and they sparkle in the setting sun. After a super day, a nice night to gain strength to continue cycling for our Rinus Fund. yet again a BIG THANK YOU to all generous donors and to all who continue to support and follow us.

Abbey of St Jean d'Angély: central building, tgate and towers and opi having his dinner

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