Having lost my boutique innocence in Chinon, I cheerily boarded the bus. I was basking in a splash of sun like a well-contented cat when it was announced that we had more Plantagenet exploring to do. Off the bus, then, and out for a walk along some troglodyte dwellings high above the city.
Having studied Latin in my youth (or having pretended to), I was transported by the word 'troglodyte' to images of enchanted Hobbit-like creatures living in twee caves far from the soul-numbing influences of civilization. But of course in France, the word troglodyte refers to dwellings dug into the rock faces of the landscape, and to the residents thereof.
Troglodyte caves like the ones that housed the tasting rooms of Domaine Fillitreau maintain a fairly constant 53 degrees Fahrenheit. That sounds nippy to me, but means minimal effort gets expended to heat the home in winter and cool in summer. The soft shellstone that characterizes this region was easily worked, and thus very much in demand for building. Working the stone had a potential double benefit: income from selling the quarried product whilst simultaneously creating living spaces.
There are many examples of inhabited troglodyte caves to be found in the Loire Valley, particularly between Saumur and Angers. These caves, aside from being practical and charming, also provided the region with an underground defense system. The Norman invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries prompted people to create underground passageways as escape routes from the local chateau, so they could hide in caves and forest.
When wandering the town of Chinon, I'd seen winding streets with signs like this one, pointing the way to caves beneath the castle mound.
You can follow a steep path which will take you on a 20 minute walk to the caves which house the Chapelle Sainte-Radegonde de Chinon. Lucky us, our big old bus hauled up the hill. We thus had a short but pleasant walk to the chapel.
There really is something that stirs the inner Hobbit when visiting a cluster of these caves. Tall people like me would have developed a permanent stoop from passing through the wee doors.
|Photo by John Phillips|
Knowing that troglodyte dwellings were ubiquitous in these parts, I was not surprised to learn that we'd be visiting the caves, but I didn't realize we were about to see something related to Eleanor. We found ourselves at the site of a
treaty with the Merovingians, and so lost kingdom and life when the Franks invaded Thuringia. Without their uncle's protection,
Marriage did not suit Radegonde but piety did, and she soon assumed the life of an ascetic. Radegonde eventually learned that her brother had led a revolt against her husband's rule of their native lands and been assassinated by order of Clothaire. She repudiated her husband, took sanctuary, and eventually became a nun. Clothaire did not take kindly to his wife's abandonment and Radegonde sought spiritual direction from at Poitiers, and was revered by the women who joined her there. The convent declined following her death in 587, but Radegonde's personal legend strengthened. You go, Radegonde! She was consecrated a saint in the 9th century. A number of towns, churches and chapels in both France and England were dedicated to her, including an abbey founded in Dover in her honor in 1191.
I can imagine that the legends surrounding this remarkable woman gave solace to medieval ladies who were betrayed by the men they had married, and that Radegonde's piety and strength of character must have proved inspirational. Perhaps her story had special resonance for Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married to a man she felt she no longer knew and whom she felt compelled to challenge on behalf of their sons. Certainly Eleanor would have been intimately familiar with Radegonde's legend given their shared city of Poitiers.
his so-called Plantagenet mural in the chapel dates to the 12th century.
Hmmm, not exactly. The Crucifiction window that we saw at Cathédrale Saint-Pier
But this scene is quite different and intriguing.
Is it son John's wedding? Ha, not much to celebrate there, although I suppose if you had to commemorate that event a drawing on a cave in deepest France would do.
Such was the gist of our group's discussion. We wanted to believe that the figure in the green cape was Eleanor. We really wanted to believe that.
Granted, there's plenty of room for doubt. The walls can't talk, after all. For all we know,
|Photo by Nicole Benkert|
|Photo by Nicole Benkert|