Monday, 17 May 2010

Gold, Frankincense and... Mer?

I take great delight in finding pagan or magical imagery in churches. On a cliff near where I live is a church that contains no less than two mermaids. Naturally it overlooks the sea.

These sirens are on a carved stone column, dismissively described as un curieux pilier in the church itself, and have an escort of bizarre and brazenly secular heads: sun burst faces, feather-hatted noblemen and a vomiting sailor.

But the mermaids of Varengeville-sur-Mer aren't merely a legend, they were actually seen in the sixteenth century, playing in the waves. Whether or not those gawping sailors were sick drunk on rum or had merely stayed too long in the sun doesn't matter. They must have seen the mermaids, or they wouldn't have been carved in the church now would they?

In the graveyard, in the company of minor poets and composers that only the French know, the cubist George Braque is buried beneath a mosaic headstone. Back inside, his stained glass makes the light of the sun a deep-sea blue where the mermaids are.

The church at Varengeville was founded by St Valery, who carried the first stones up to this cliff top despite the advice of the locals. Fifteen centuries later the magical place he began is making its way back down, as the cliff subsides and the stone mermaids wait for the salty taste of the sea.

I collect places like this. But I see no reason why I can't share them.


  1. Cool images and I like the sketches. Pagan symbols in churches, yes, fun.

  2. Stunning images and wonderful story to go with them. The stained glass must be magical. I am not religious - quite the opposite - but I love churches for the light and I like finding little nods to paganism and past, pre-christian, times. As usual, the sxpressions of your sketches are brilliant!

  3. expressions!! Aargh - what is wrong with my typing!!

  4. Most definitely a place to visit, although I feel I've already met the vomiting sailor on a cross channel ferry! Love the blue stained glass.

  5. The (French) Wife18 May 2010 at 09:46

    "In the graveyard, in the company of minor poets and composers that only the French know" - MINOR?

    Surely, everyone's heard of Albert Roussel ;))

  6. Why is it that old churches are our most beautiful buildings? Why are modern churches not a patch on old ones? (Rouen excepted)

  7. Thanks for commenting everyone. I`m in the UK at the moment, running about like a mad thing when I`d love to be mooning about in Varengeville instead, indulging my interest in the top half of mermaids.

    Albert Roussel is, I`m sure, a household name in the Pays de Caux, French Wife:)

  8. Ooh! Isn't the weather nice today! said she changing the topic hurriedly. Hilaryx

  9. First- you live near a cliff?!?!?
    I want to get married on a cliff someday.
    Second- love this post! I felt like I went on a little historical get away.

  10. I'm glad you liked it, Anita. The cliffs near here look like this:

    And soon I'll be moving over the English Channel to live near cliffs like this:,_East_Sussex,_England_-_May_2009.jpg

    Let's just hope I don't fall off.

    Let me know if you need help arranging that wedding:)

  11. I know a merman! He has a magick wand. You do not really think mermaids really exist in the physical sense do you? It is a trick that has been played on the human race for at least 1000 years. It is the connection to Vessica Pisces, and dual rulership in Astrology


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