Friday, 21 June 2019

France 1979 - Tourism Series (Part 6)

For several centuries it was considered one of the richest, if not the richest, of Abbeys in France. It was the hub of intellectual life in the French Catholic church, housing one of the most important scriptoriums in the country. It was pillaged and burned by Vikings, then like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it  was restored to its former glory only to have portions blow up, towers collapse and other forms of atrocious wonders. This is the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris.


Founded in the 6th Century by Childebert I, who was the son of Clovis I, the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was built on the outskirts of early medieval Paris, in a region of the Left Bank that was quite prone to flooding from the Seine. Consequently, it was established on slightly raised meadow land, known in French as a prés. Hence the name it has been given. By the 9th Century it was already considered one of the richest abbeys in France, as evidenced by its polyptych (an inventory of properties owned by the church). It was also in this century that  it was the victim of several Viking onslaughts, which left parts of the church grounds little more than smoking ruins. By 1014 it had risen from the ashes and was restored to something akin to is former glory, possibly even more glorious. 

Over the course of the next two centuries, its riches and stature grew, and by the 11th Century, the church contained what was considered an "important" scriptorium, a polite way of saying a kick butt library! In fact, the abbey was the hub of the Catholic church's intelligentsia right up until the French Revolution when it was disbanded. But this wasn't the end of the destruction inflicted upon the abbey. In 1794 a fire broke out completely destroying its library. And at some point (I'm assuming around this time but haven't been able to find a date yet) an explosion of stored saltpeter totally levelled the abbey and its cloisters. Only the church itself was spared in this particular disaster. To this day the abbey church remains as the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is one of the oldest, and perhaps one of the most unlucky, churches in Paris.


On 9 July, 1979, France issued a set of seven stamps in their ongoing Tourism series. To read the previous five parts, simply click on the relevant link. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. In this blog I'll take a close look at the 1,40 stamp, which depicts the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This stamp was designed and engraved by Jacques Gauthier. This stamp has been executed in a 2D front elevation style akin to an architectural drawing. Personally, I'm not very partial to this design. For an abbey with such a remarkable history, I would have thought a stamp with a far more dynamic representation of the building was in order. I'm sure there are those out there that love its detailed simplicity. And that's totally fine. But I don't. I consider it rather boring. 

Until next time...

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