BOSCHERVILLE - Saint Georges abbey
The Abbey of Saint-Georges de Boscherville in Normandy allows a journey in the past comparable perhaps only to the Baieux carpet.
It is a wonderful example of Romanesque and Norman style, surrounded by one of France's best historic gardens (4 hectares).
Built between 1080 and 1125 has preserved in the stone important traces of the way of thinking and living of those years.
The abbey, managed by the Benedictine monks and later by the Maurists, rises on earlier religious settlements dating back to the first century.
Among the abbots who run the abbey are two members of the Italian family of Estensi (but probably they have never even visited the abbey ...)
The capitals of the church nave, the figurative modiglions, and the chapter room decorations are a magnificent essay on the Norman Middle Ages
The themes are common to all of Europe's Romanesque: beasts from bestiary, biblical scenes and popular tales written by industrious cutlery that have the intent of confirming the faith of the observer.
The animals and scenes represented have little to do with the almost standardized design that can be found in the Italian Pievi or in the margins of the great medieval roads (Via Francigena, Camino de Santiago, ...): in Normandy there were no groups of stonemason specialized in the decoration of cathedrals and pievi (one for everyone, the Campionesi masters) operating in most of Europe.
The capitals are illustrated by local stonemason who receive deliveries very similar to those of other "colleagues" Italian and European, but they can see only few or no examples. Also because the local imagery does not sink its roots into a multi-century Greek-Latin-Christian culture.
Conversion to Christianity was recent and still very present Viking and local deities somehow recycled in the new faith.
Those familiar with the Italian churches and cathedrals of that time will notice the absence of elements of the Greek-Latin world in decorations, replaced by a powerful Norman imaginary: snakes look like the prows of Viking ships, men wear clothes with horizontal stripes (probably padded clothes to withstand blows of edged weapons ...) which makes them similar to Bibendum (the little man - mascot of the tire manufacturer Michelin).
Capitals are in local stone extracted from the Seine Valley: a white limestone that includes volcanic black stones.
Among the capitals are wild boars, sacrifices of Isaac, bearded man (see St.Flavian church), blessing monks, female figures of martyrs (with pleated skirt and long braids), men fighting the snake of vice, manticore, centauri archers, and - could not miss - local interpretations of bicaudate mermaids (hands and fins are made with similar the ones that you can see at St. Paul in Vendaso).
You can admire a wonderful little man attacked by a basilisk beside a weasel (the only animal capable of having a basilisk), horn players, long-braided women, discussions with the donkey, anfisbenes, ...
On the modillions the best of the stonemason's culture.
Not always these stories stone can be interpreted: the stonemason who created these works were probably illiterate and certainly not cared to leave adequate documentation. And time has often degraded their work by adding difficulties to interpretation.
These figures talked to contemporaries with the liveliness with which a beautiful film can talk to us: there are certainly a lot of details escaping us but they certainly can intrigue and fascinate us.
A description deserve the decorations of the chapter room.
At the entrance to a pillar, three great figures are represented: a disturbing suicide who is throwing his throat, a beautiful lady with long braids and a prelate.
The suicide carries a scroll that reads EGO MOR HOMN JUGULO CORRIPIO (I am the Death - I cut the manīs throat), the nice lady carries the inscription on the scroll VITA BEATA VOCOR (I am called the happy life) and the abbot bears the inscription FILI SUSCIPE DISCIPLINAM (Son learn discipline).
The three statues were to remind the brothers who entered the chapter the inevitability of death and the opportunity to opt for the blessed life (eternal life).
Obviously the choice between the beautiful lady and the suicide had to be almost off-set, but the lady's pricing was obedience to the abbot. (the abbey also had a prison where the bad friars were guests ...).
In the chapter there are also other capitals of great interest related to music.
Unlike Strasbourg (where musicians are represented with animal bodies) at Boscherville music is recognized as an important part: the priests in the sound of horns and with the arch of the alliance lead to the fall of the walls of Jericho.
A capital represents King David playing a rudimentary carillon (a series of hanging bells).
But the positive value of music is undermined by improper use: a scene represents a donkey playing the harp (the donkey representation was reserved in general to heretics ...). But rather than musical heresies seems that the good friars were often guilty of composing indecent songs ... and the Abbot punishment remitted everyone in line!!
Other capitals pay tribute to the most popular saint, Saint Hubert, patron of hunters (his symbol is the deer with the cross between the horns. In the Greek-Latin world the deer with the cross remembers Sant'Eustachio)