Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Secret Place


When I’m in France I go into churches and sit by myself and think and pray.  They’re all good for this, whether a large cathedral or a small village church, because most of them are open during the week.  It’s a privilege I don’t enjoy here in Australia where I live.  Inside these ancient structures it’s surprisingly quiet, even if the church is situated in the heart of a city.  The stone walls block out most noise and it’s very easy to focus without distraction.   Because I experience this particular solitude only in France, it came to mind immediately when Ailsa proposed a ‘secret place’ for her travel photo challenge.  See hers here:

The churches in French villages are particularly peaceful and very often are empty on weekdays.  This photo is of l’Église Saint Mathieu, the church in the beautifully restored mediaeval village of Oingt, north-west of Lyon.  I went there with a couple of friends one day in 2010 and we were the only people around, except for a few staff in the small restaurant and art gallery.

It reminded me of another day a few years before:  I was a student in Lyon, and my brother died but I couldn’t get back to Australia for his funeral.  Another student suggested that if I wanted to get away to somewhere peaceful for a day, I should go to the ancient village of Pérouges, also north of Lyon.  I went on a Wednesday and was all alone for about two hours, walking the cobblestone streets and narrow ways, the ruelles, between buildings.  But the most precious gift that day was half an hour alone in the church, l’Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Pérouges, sitting in the back row of old wooden pews and looking at the stone floor of the aisle, grooved from centuries of footsteps.  It was comforting to know that in the 1400s, people were worshipping and praying to God exactly as I was, looking at the same stone walls and walking down the same aisle.

Eglise Saint Mathieu, Oingt, France

26 Replies to “Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Secret Place”

  1. Yes, looking at your photo, I can just imagine the tranquility of that church; just the place to find peace and healing for the soul, Trish.

  2. Thanks. I love these churches; they always reward me for just coming through the doors. I’m really interested in and encouraged by Via Lucis Photography, a blog by Dennis Aubrey about French and other Romanesque churches. Have you seen it?

  3. The village of Oingt itself is a still, quiet place from where you can see for miles across a green picturesque valley. It’s a secret place that even many French people from nearby towns have not heard of.

  4. What a lovely post. Those old churches, even the simpler ones, were built with such faith and devotion. I’m sure their builders would be thrilled to know that this far on, comfort is still being found there.

  5. Yes, it would be amazing to know that something you’ve made is being used centuries after, and for the same purpose (unlike some small abandoned country churches in my region that people are now renovating as quirky houses).

  6. old places of worship have something timeless and serene about them, that’s why they have survived for so long. Next time we drive south maybe we’ll divert to Oingt and Perouges of which I’ve never heard

  7. I went to Oingt with a friend who has lived in Lyon, half an hour away, for 70 years, and she had never heard of it. There are a lot of villages in France…

  8. What a wonderful contrast this little church is to the more famous churches in Paris, with their stifling crowds and long queues. I think I waited in line for 90 min just to be herded in and out of Saint Chappelle.

    Thank you for giving me one more reason to make a second trip to France 🙂

  9. Yes, you must go back. Go to Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. They do food! And are extremely competitive, saying they’re far better at it than Parisians!
    When I was in Paris I passed the queue you’re talking about, on several occasions, and wondered what was the big attraction. I hate queues and crowds so I didn’t find out, but I’ve since seen les fameux vitraux, the stained glass windows, on the Sainte Chapelle web site. If you go to the villages you can see thousand year-old churches often all by yourself. You have to stay for a while, sitting in the pews off to the side or down the back where tourists never go.

  10. I travelled by train. However, there’s usually some walking involved once you’re off the train. For example, it’s a kilometre from the train station in Meximieux to the village of Pérouges. And it’s all uphill. But I took my time and enjoyed being in the French countryside. When I went to Oingt, I went in a car with some friends I’d met on my first visit to France. I wouldn’t drive because I’m afraid of driving on the other side, but you’d probably feel ok. The trains are an easy way to get around.

  11. Your observation about whispering made me think. If someone’s on their knees in the pews, then visitors whisper, not wanting to disturb that worshipper’s thoughts and prayer, but even if the church is empty, visitors still whisper (well, most of them).

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