This month’s walk will be held on Sunday 14th April and is organised by Bernard. It is at Fenioux which is north of Saintes and is a distance of about 8kms. We plan a 10 o’clock start. Please bring a pîcnic which we will have after the walk. Although there is a picnic area maybe bring picnic chairs? Please try and car share, contact me if necessary.
Ce mois la balade est prévue pour le dimanche 14 avril à Fenioux, au nord de Saintes. Départ à 10heures pour une balade d’environ 8kms, et ensuite un picnic. Il y a quelques bancs et tables mais prévoyez peut-être des chaises pliantes. Me contactez pour détails, directions et co-voiturage.

GETTING TO FENIOUX FROM ROYAN

Allow a good hour for the drive from Royan. From where I live, I
normally have a choice of pretty approaches via St Savinien. Your best route is
probably as follows via Taillebourg – a place which stands for a great French
victory in the 100 Years’ War, although the chateau was ultimately sacked by
the Fronde uprising in 1652.

Take the expressway to Saintes and the rocade clockwise (to the left,
towards Rochefort); at the end take the highway left towards Rochefort.
At the next roundabout (after crossing the motorway again), turn right
towards Ecurat, passing through Varaise. At the intersection immediately as you
enter Ecurat, turn right towards Taillebourg. – 5 km on, at the stop
sign in St James, turn left and immediately right. You pass through the
flood zone and cross the river Charente at Taillebourg. Carry straight on
towards Annepont and St Jean d’Angély, with a pronounced left bend in an
intersection after again crossing the motorway. Beware the road humps in
Annepont. Then you have a stop sign as you cross the road from Grandjean to St
Hilaire de Villefranche followed by a lesser intersection also marked for
Grandjean. Carry on through a homestead called La Sablière, followed by a
downhill stretch, where you find and take the sharp left turn to
Fenioux. God help you if you encounter a lorry here. You might fancy parking at
the former station on the left as you enter the village, but we meet at the
main parking place – not oversized – beyond the steep bit just in front of the
church.

The walk is just over 8 km by my reckoning, and it contains a few steep
stretches which may be stressful for folk used to coastal walks.

FENIOUX CHURCH & LANTERNE DES MORTS

Notre Dame de l’Assomption, 12th century, limestone.

The façade and the tower are considered jewels of Saintongeais
Romanesque art. The single West portal is set deep in a funnel of five
archways, whose sculpted figures present
the “Saintongeais sermon” (from outside to inside):- the labours of the
months and signs of the zodiac, the foolish and wise virgins, the angels’
adoration of the lamb, and the virtues conquering the vices. The entrance is
further framed by impressive bundles of columns. Above, a balcony carries six
statues under a cornice of leafwork, and a Romanesque window is surrounded by a
band of marguerites.

Some sections of the lateral nave walls show the small-scale stonework
of a Carolingian predecessor building; these contain thin window slabs (fenestrelles)
with finely sculpted pierced stone strapwork.

On the East, seen from its old cemetery, the church presents a flat
chevet which replaced the Romanesque apse in the 15th century. The church
tower, square for most of its height, changes to a circular form by means of a
storey of arches and bracing pinnacles, all of which contain slender columns.
Above is a circle of 35 small columns, then a spire covered by stone scales.

The North wall of the church contains a lesser portal in a set of three
archways supported by elaborate column capitals. The archways and their
intrados surfaces are finely sculpted with graceful plant motifs.

The interior of the church still shows damage from the collapse of the
barrel vault in the 19th century. In falling, it took with it a Romanesque dais
whose thickset supporting coumns are still visible.

Lanterne des Morts, 12th century, limestone.

Lanterns of the Dead were lit up after funerals to represent the eternal
life of the soul as opposed to the passing of the flesh; the cross at the apex could
also serve for the Palm Sunday celebration. They were common in Saintonge
cemeteries in the Middle Ages. That of Fenioux, considered the most beautiful
in France, has served as a model for monuments in memory of victims of the
World Wars. It is formed of a bundle of eleven tall and delicate columns,
within which a tiny spiral staircase gives access to the lantern chamber: this
is formed by a circle of thirteen separate pillars, surmounted by a short
conical spire covered by stone scales and braced by four small pinnacles.

(Not much is known about the chamber next to the Lanterne des Morts: a
funerary chamber or ossuary?).

Below the Lanterne des Morts, an ancient homestead once contained a mill
powered by the stream from the Fontvieille spring, and a bread oven which has
now been restored.