Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

Luxembourg Castle

One fine day we left Paris for a weekend drive to Luxembourg. The french countryside is so very beautiful, so very lush this summer, on account of all the rain. Abundant greenness everywhere, though not as wild and untamed as the more remote places back home in California.

old path and steps in the river bottom, near the castle moat

The french are so neat and tidy, so meticulous! I thought only the germanic tribes were like that! We took back roads and drove through village after village, each one so perfectly cared for, so historic. Here you can see the juxtaposition of three eras: medieval, eighteenth century and twentieth.

which era would YOU choose to live in?

Downtown Luxembourg was bustling; people were eating, drinking, shopping, listening to music. A street fair was bubbling over one of the plazas, with entertainment and a huge yard sale.

kinda like Farmer’s Market in SLO

Every building is historic and well-tended. There must be hordes of worker-ants crawling around every day inside and out, keeping it all so perfect for us lucky tourists.

a quiet plaza in Luxembourg

Part of the old castle fits like a jigsaw puzzle into the natural rock formations carved out by the river a few eons ago.

some good hidey-holes there

this gorgeous building caught my eye

I stole this photo of Luxembourg lit up at night:

looks prettier without the skyscrapers

We found more old rock walls on our way back to Paris. It was like the family field trip minus the kids; late afternoon and we were hungry. We took the turnoff  to Provins almost by accident: it looked big enough to have a restaurant that might still be open on a Sunday evening. As luck would have it, we drove into a medieval village le plus belle de tout. A middle-eastern café was still open and quite busy. While throwing down hummus, pita bread and baba ganoush, I couldn’t take my eyes off the church across the street, where a diverse clan of gargoyles guard ancient stone.

parts of it are more vintage than others

Eagle gargoyle

Big Bird gargoyle?

Old Woman Gargoyle with Message

Porky Pig?

I give up: dog-dragon-gargoyle?

I thought maybe some of them were griffins but Wikipedia says griffins have the body of a lion with an eagle head. Gargoyles, as you know, are there to protect churches from evil spirits and other wandering disembodied bad vibes.

a goat gargoyle

I thought THIS was a GRIFFIN. WHOA!! Please note!! CORRECTION!! Our good friend Adrian from San Luis Obispo, who happens to be British which of course makes him an expert on cathedral decor, writes:  “Incidentally, the creature you have at Font St. Michel is a wyvern, not a griffin, since it has the hind quarters of a serpent – preferably with a barbed tail.” Oh my gosh I had no idea!! Knowing this could come in real handy, especially if you time-travel to the middle ages, or have a nightmare where a wyvern is going to toast you if you don’t answer the riddle about how his tail came to be barbed.

detail of Font St. Michel, Paris, Latin Quarter

Wikipedia sure has some amazingly curious articles on a host of obscure topics! Our wyvern doesn’t have a dragon’s head, but a lion’s. In every other respect it is undoubtedly a wyvern. This oddity is “a frequent heraldic device on British coats of arms and flags… A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the ancient kingdom of Wessex.”

a golden wyvern

So why are griffins part lion and part eagle? “As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions.”  I think I want one!

Provins church: note the older portions mixed with more recent

The arched doorway of the church in Provins reminds me of Notre Dame de París, but with way less fuss: broad strokes as opposed to devilish details. Compare it with the doorway of this catedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona:

Barrio Gótico

And for more comparison here’s the lady herself: Notre Dame de París:

Notre Dame is famous for her gargoyles and her hunchback, from the story by Victor Hugo

Once you see one gargoyle, you start seeing them everywhere! Here are some from that cathedral in Barcelona.

A few gargoyles to protect from Dark Side flybys

Little Provins turns out to be a big stop on the European Medieval circuit…. remember the Renaissance Faire? This is where it lives. Time stood still here in 1429, when Joan of Arc went to mass accompanied by Charles VII.

Wow! She is one of my favorite saints… that girl really rocked the boat — and paid the price. My favorite, unforgettable painting of her lives in NYC, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

St. Quiriace was built in 1160, partly destroyed by fire in 1662, and is pretty much out of service these days, you can’t even get a peek inside. But the vibes there are amazing; we loved it. Here is a statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, wearing solid gold armor. I can’t seem to find my photos of her; this is off the web:

correction: this one is MY photo of Joan of Arc!

St. Quiriace

Here I am at the doors:

yes, I go to church occasionally!

wabi-sabi detail

the watchtower next door

This is the old keep, or watchtower, sometimes called Caesar’s tower. We circled it.

Ben likes ancient rock walls too.

Provins is an amazing place, definitely the spot for all you history buffs. I couldn’t stop taking pix of the old houses, they are so beautiful!!

a busy corner in Provins

part of the old moat

How cool is that!!?!

a pretty country cottage

on the outside, a rustic cottage

On the inside… I’d be happy to decorate it for you!

the banker’s mansion?

City Hall or an official residence?

Provins is a living town, albeit a tourist town: how convenient. However it is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! Its rolling green hills are like California’s wine country in spring. Just gorgeous. By the way, don’t get Provins, the town near Paris, mixed up with Provence, a wine-growing region in southern France, close to the Mediterranean coast: Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Monaco. Not a bad spot to combine vacation and business: just ask James Bond!

Thanks to all of you for your emails, comments and likes. I really appreciate news from home. It helps me feel connected and not adrift somewhere in the universe…. sometimes I wake up and it takes a few moments to get oriented…. where the heck am I?

Next blog up: Tango Festival in Sitges, and fabulous Barcelona!

Au revoir, Paris!

3 thoughts on “Medieval field trip: Luxembourg, Gargoyles and Provins

    • Karen, that’s too awesome! what grade? are you going over spring break? how the heck did you get that ball (& chain) rolling? will you be spending a few days in Paris as well? you’all are gonna have a lot of fun! ciao, willow

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  1. Glad you are having the time of your lives. Looking forward to when you return back to Cali. though. Love ya girl, Mary Y.

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