Saturday, July 5, 2008

St. Medardus of Noyon

The parish church near our place is dedicated to St-Médard (c. 457-545), the Northern Wei, uh, Merovingian bishop of Vermandois best known for removing the seat of the diocese to Noyon. He is the St. Swithun of France, in that it is said that if it rains on his feast day (June 8) it will rain for forty days thereafter. (Unlike the French and the English, we Americans use a groundhog instead of a saint for the same purpose.) Somewhat awesomely, he is also the patron saint of lifelong male partners, so three cheers and a San Francisco wedding for St. Médard.

The church itself is a wonderful (but ordinary) historical pastiche: fifteenth-century nave, sixteenth-century chancel, eighteenth-century apse, windows from all different periods. I really love this quality of architecture in the lived places of Europe, that parts of the old are incorporated into the new. Many apartment houses in Paris, with staid Haussmannian facades and wrought-iron, have exposed seventeenth-century hand-hewn beams in the apartments; and the longest known section of the enceinte (city wall) of Philippe-Auguste was found to have survived only because it was reused as the back wall of some seventeenth-century tenements in the Marais. Naturally, from an engineering point of view, why would you tear down a perfectly decent stone wall?

Similarly, those who renovated the church of St-Médard in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries were not seized with the nineteenth-century impulse to tear everything down and start again; they merely extended the length of the church and fitted the new chancel to what could be saved of the old nave. There is evidence for a churchyard here since the time of St-Médard, though, since Merovingian graves have been found in the area. Now the churchyard is reduced to a small park and the square in front of the church is a market square, where vegetables are sold.

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