Twenty-four Hours At Fontevraud Abbey

Oct. 12, 2019:

In the quiet of the Grand-Moûtier at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, the wind carried on it the constant whisper of a thousand years.

I sat, regretful in my exhale, as the Abbey sleeps.

It is the silence when I am the most terrified and at peace. I lingered on the waxing moon, just three days short of full release, and shook.

This place—this holy, sacred, venomous, cruel place—soothed me in the darkness, and I submit.

Midnight, at Fontevraud.

The twenty-four hours I spent in seclusion at Fontevraud reshaped me as a person and also reshaped the storyline of Woman On The Wall in profound sorts of ways.

It was here that I learned of the legacy of the Boubons, of the underground river of Fontevraud, the cloisters, the immense power of the Abbess of Fontevraud, and the remarkable features of this place that help us all reach beyond the veil.

It is my hope to return to Fontevraud soon and spend a significant amount of time doing some serious study of the site, as it has emerged as the Mother House—the pivot point—which every story/novel that comes from my work on the Woman On The Wall will revolve.

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The moon rising over Fontevraud

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The galleries of the Grand-Moûtier

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The Grand-Moûtier

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L’eglise abbaye

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Royal crypt

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In the refectory

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Walking the galleries at Midnight

 

Atop The World With Da Vinci

“Can’t you see it?” she asked me.

“I’ve been walking for like an hour and I’m exhausted. I’m going to sit on this bench over here for about two days,” I told my ephemeral guide.

“Perfect. Right over there. Nope, one more bench over. There, you got it.”

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I gasped.

There, at a tiny grove of trees just above the marked remains of where the Château Royal d’Amboise used to extend into a far greater complex than what remains today, I could see what she offered up.

A new whispering in my ears began to shift from mere chatter to a conversation overheard and a vision of an old man alongside two others stationed at wooden easels. Amongst the shady plane trees and Gary oak, he guided their hands to sketch and capture the scene in front of them.

I stepped forward to take a closer look, and a young woman stretched her neck around the closest easel to make sure I saw her.

A quiet wave.

A knowing, modest smile.

The old man waived a gentle finger at her and everyone returned to their work. Something pricking me on the shoulder forced me out of the vision and around staring back at the river.

An arched bridge.

A wild river.

Rugged hills and shifting light.

I caught a glimpse of the landscape they had been painting in the background.

By the time I turned back around, the group of painters had vanished from view, but not from my own knowing of who I’d had the chance to watch at work that day—Melzi, Salaí, and their Master.  Who was their muse? What else had they learned to paint on that hill in the magical light of Amboise?

Just beyond it on the trail, it would seem others may have a bit of a sense as I dd that something truly remarkable took place there.

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My guide pointed out that it is marked in plain sight, for those of us who know to use as a guide.

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I nodded and acknowledged her gift, then suddenly stood.

My attention redirected itself by force, and I moved toward what appeared to be the remains of a moat or battlement at the top of the castle where I was offered another vision.

This time men and women fled a burning castle, but it was too late. The bodies piled up, filling the space, the screams and panic swarming my senses until my mind snapped back and I stood in the sunshine shaking.

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It would take a week for me to understand the final message of that time at the top of the world with da Vinci.

My guide spoke in a solemn tone, offering up an explanation of what I’d seen.

“Not even his power could stop what came for us.”

My Ladies and Their Unicorns

A Mon Sevl Desir – According to my will only.

There she stood—a queen, a goddess, emerging from her royal pavilion to return the magnificent jewels once bestowed upon her to a faithful servant for safekeeping. Fantastical bestiary of the forest ensure her passage to and from this place. The lion and the unicorn, watching over the doorway; the dog and the monkey, companions underfoot.

Before me hung the sixth, most enigmatic, panel of the famed La Dame à la licorne tapestries at the Museé de Cluny in Paris, and I found myself deeply overwhelmed for the second time that day.

Exhaustion and jet lag, I told myself as dabbed at my wet cheeks.

Then, my eyes rose up to land upon the words woven in the pavilion rising up in the background of the tapestry. I leaned into my constant state of verklempt and understood that France with all of the moments I chose to open fully to would transpire according to my will only.

“A mon seul desir,” I whispered, and it was if my lady and her unicorn whispered hello in return.

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A Mon Sevl Desir – the sixth panel of La Dame à la licorne

 

I’d waited years to take in the absolute wonder of this allegorical series of tapestries that have been the source of heated debate and endless interpretation since their rediscovery at Château du Boussac in 1841.

Still in the throes of my first twenty-four hours in France, I would only come to understand the significance of the tapestries within the context of my novel research almost two weeks later. The thrill of knowing now that this proved the first piece in a provocative puzzle of revolution, duality, and mysteries of the French Renaissance shoots me right back to that moment.

As I write this, I wish only that I’d spent more time at the Cluny with these magnificent works, listening to them speak as so much else would speak to me through the places and artifacts I discovered in my research.

While no one entirely agrees on what these mysterious panels mean, who created them, or why they were crafted, the general consensus is that the six panels are an allegory of the senses (Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch, and the final sense of Heart or Soul).

Oh, how I want to get into all of the academic knowledge surrounding them. To me, the debate and the analysis make me ravenous for more. However, I’d much rather tell you about my own fictional interpretation that leads to these being included in the novel.

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Panel 1: Sight

I’ve long pursued a more fanciful interpretation (and totally fictional, as I have nothing more than my imagination and anecdotal research to thread together the concepts I’ve chosen to pair up). One in which these panels represent the story of a lost time and the lost society of the Sibylline.

The mythology of the Sibyls is more than 11,000 years old and weaves its way through at least a dozen civilizations of North Africa, Mesopotamia, and Europe. Five appear on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Vestal Virgins are thought tied to them. The Sibylline Books, great records of the oracular visions of the ancient world, are thought lost to the politics and religious fervor of the 5th Century, re-written later to suit the re-telling of history through the lens of Abrahamic religions. For generation after generation, kings and pharaohs sought them out and relied upon their oracular powers to guide everything from warfare to marriage, and then they were wiped from history.

Or were they?

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Panel 2: Hearing

 

From King Arthur to the Dames Blanches, the Medieval era is steeped in mysticism. The line between this world and the next revealed itself as little more than a light veil, through which all manner of creature and being often passed.  I like to entertain the idea that these tapestries reveal the existence of the Sibylline to us.

While many today attribute illuminated manuscripts bursting with spells and rituals, bestiaries from which headless armies of Blemmyes walked and dragons of all manner took to the sky to nothing more than fantasy, I am not so easily convinced that we have not somehow severed ourselves from the passages that once were open between the world.

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Panel 3: Smell

Evidence of the Sibylline mounting a resurgence of their culture and extrasensory abilities is ample within the Middle Ages. These tapestries to me reveal their revered place in Medieval society, particularly in France where Humanism and the exploration of the self attached to that sensibility found itself fostered by common man and royalty alike.

Within their world, a new Sibyl could rise and take her place as the oracle of humanity every thousand years. The last Sibyl had been brutally murdered at the beginning of the 5th Century.

So, the time of da Vinci and Michelangelo, of Francois I and Marguerite, was the time once again for a Sibyl to rise after this female-driven society remained cloistered in abbeys, underground, hidden away while rebuilding for a millennia.

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Panel 4: Taste

Through each sense elaborated upon in the tapestries, the Sibylline reveal their ability to renew the world, to end humanity’s suffering, and to bring us all back to a greater understanding of the power that lives within ourselves.

Away from the Christian interpretation of these panels, there is plenty of pagan and ancient goddess iconography. The baby rabbits are associated with Artemis and cannot be killed in the hunt as they are under her protection. The chalice is an ancient goddess symbol of fertility and rising up from the Mother blood.

The crescent moon within the banners of the tapestries is the epitome of the divine feminine power on Earth.

That one might once again be able to develop spiritually enough to manifest and fortify personal power according to their own will was widespread in the 15th Century. This esoteric link between human and divine is not unlike the new age movements today that are opening people to new levels of mental and spiritual development.

We all can begin to understand why panels such as these and women such as the Sibylline vanished.

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Panel 5: Touch

Returning back to the final panel and the phrase sewn into the pavilion.

Nearly everything in that time period, especially if it might have subverted the doctrine of those who murdered to keep their dogma in a primary place of power, was encoded to be deciphered by those who knew the way.

I played for a long time with the anagram of those words until the code I needed to emerge from it made itself evident:

A Mon Sevl Desir – According to my will only.

Voir des l’ansem: See the Ansem, the descendents of angels.

 

Lapidary of Sacred Stones & My Grandmother’s Amber

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I’m finishing up research on Medieval and Renaissance uses of stones of all kinds (even stones like gall stones and kidney stones) for the purpose of religious worship (including all Abrahamic religions), healing, and protection.

The stones you see in the picture are a string of raw amber my grandmother brought back for me from Częstochowa, Poland. She made a pilgrimage to see The Black Madonna of Częstochowa 30 years ago and returned a very different woman after that experience. They carried so much energy in them that I locked them away and lost track of them until recently.

According to the lapidary, amber or Cymbra as it was called is thought to be engendered from the breath of a whale, found at the bottom of the sea and the mouth of rivers. It guards the virtues of the body, sharpens the memory, and banishes sorrows.

In The Thousand and One Nights, all sorts of stones are pitched into the sea by a fountain, swallowed by fish and spit back out as amber.

Pliny offered us a fanciful creation story, stating that amber was produced by the sun’s rays that would leave it behind as they struck the ground at the end of the day.

In folk medicine, it is used to tranquilize the mind.

Amber plays a key role in The Woman On The Wall, As does the Cult of the Black Madonna.

More on that soon.