Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

La Prieuré Saint Léonard

1999 – Before the internet era, preparing a holiday in the Loire Valley wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays. At the time the company I'm still working for was located in the centre of Brussels, right across the Royal Palace and within walking distance of the Avenue Louise (Brussels’ ‘Champs Elysées), the city’s most exclusive and expensive shopping boulevard.
The boulevard leading to the Avenue Louise is called ‘l’Avenue de La Toison d’Or’ (boulevard of the Golden Fleece). On it is the ‘Maison de la France’, the French House of Tourism. During lunch break I used to walk over there and gather all the brochures and leaflets that I could find about the Loire Valley and the places to visit. These documents only mentioned the most famous châteaux such as Chambord, Chenonceau, Amboise
, Villandry, Chinon, etc. though.
During our first visit in 1999 we were on our way to Chinon when a signpost with the name ‘L’Ile Bouchard’ caught my attention. ‘L’Ile’ (the isle) is one of those words that always tickle my curiosity. So I urged my friend to take the next road on the left in the direction of l’Ile Bouchard. It turned out to be a charming little town with less than 2000 inhabitants. The Vienne River cuts it in two halves called Saint Gilles and Saint Maurice
. In the middle of the river are two islands, to which the town probably owns its name. The town square, with a modern market hall all made of glass and steel, is located on the larger of these two isles. We stopped there for a drink in a bar, from where we had a lovely view of the bridge and de town’s flower decorations.
We had entered l’Ile Bouchard coming from the north. Leaving it by the road leading south I noticed another road sign. This time it was one of those brown/white things that indicate the presence of a tourist site. It read: La Prieuré Saint Léonard (Saint Leonard
’s Priory). I glanced through our tourist guide book of the Chinon area, but found no mention of this edifice. Arriving at the spot, the place was completely deserted. The ruins only consisted of the church’s choir section and its side chapels.


We were looking around when a small yet buxom lady arrived carrying a little cardboard box. She looked at the license plate of the car and shouted “Ah, des Belges!” “Would you like a guided tour?” As she didn’t exactly look like a professional tourist guide we hesitated. “Come on” she said and herded us in the direction of the choir. She told us that the Priory church was built in the 11th century and then explained in detail the religious significance of the small statues that decorate the top of the pillars. She seemed to be very knowledgeable about what she called ‘her’ priory.
The ‘guided tour’ took half an hour, after which the lady said that she lived across the road - that she was an active member of the local association that tried to ‘save’ the priory from further decay - and would we please like to contribute by making a small donation? During the entire visit she had held on to the cardboard box as if it was a valuable treasure. Now she opened it and took out a colourful pin representing the silhouette of the priory. “Here,” she said “that’ll be five francs (+/- 75 eurocents)”, leaving us very little choice about a possible donation! We gladly gave her the money, however, as thanks to her we had learned something about the priory that probably very few tourists knew. I wonder if she's still there giving guided tours to gullible tourists venturing that way.

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3 comments:

chm said...

You might imagine how beautiful it must have been when it was complete. Whatever is left is very interesting and worth preserving.

ladybird said...

chm, It was very beautiful and totally unspoiled. There were no fences nor gates and anybody could just walk in. I hope it hasn't fallen into the hands of vandals ... Martine

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