THE VILLAGE OF SAINT CHARTRES
The quaint little village of Saint Chartres, together with its hamlets Jay and Ayron, counts approx. 110 inhabitants. Nestled in the tranquil Vallée Divine it is well hidden and on your approach through the wide stretching fields of barley, wheat, corn and sunflowers you would never guess its existence, until the road winds down into a green oasis which stretches out all along the river Dive.
Saint Chartres is a traditional French rural village of picturesque beauty and charm, a welcoming and socially active community which is proud of its identity. Built around the 12th Century Church of Sainte Julitte, the village passionately protects its heritage of old homes and barns which are constructed of mellow stone and surrounded by pretty gardens and productive vegetable plots. Its beautiful habitat is created by the crystal clear waters of the river Dive which flows through tranquil marshes and woodlands. You can just lose yourself here. But wherever you roam, there's always a friendly 'bonjour' from those you meet on your way.
Saint Chartres is home to three ancient water mills which back in time were fed by the river Dive - the Moulin de Lauray, the Moulin de Chollay and the Moulin de la Seigneurie which is situated directly behind the church and our home. Between Saint Chartres and Jay, the river Dive runs parallel to the road for about two hundred meters and then splits into two waterways, one towards La Grimaudière (south) the other to Moncontour (north).
The surrounding agricultural fields dominate the river by approx. 40 mtr. Today they are used for growing wheat, barley, corn, melon, rapeseed and sunflowers but in the 19th Century they produced chanvre, used to weave the beautiful wonderfully tough French linen sheets and clothing, and most families kept small vineyards. There used to be a quarry in the area of Chollay, just on the outskirts of Ayron, where the Jurassic limestone was cut and used to construct the local barns and houses.
The inhabitants of Saint Chartres are called "Saint-Chartrains".
THE CHURCH OF SAINTE JULITTE
Saint Chartres' small romanesque Church of Sainte Julitte dates from the 12th Century and features a stained glass window which depicts Saint-Cyr and his mother Sainte Julitte, whose gruesome story allegedly goes as follows:
Around 304 AD, Julitte, her 3-year old son Cyricus and two maid servants fled to Tarsus in Asia Minor where they were identified as Christians. Because Christians were being persecuted by the Roman emperor Diocletian, Julitte and her child were brought in front of the governor of Tarsus where Julitte refused to renounce her religion. Cyricus was killed by being thrown down some stairs and the governor decreed that Julitte’s sides should be ripped apart with hooks and that she should then be beheaded. Her body, along with that of Cyricus, was flung outside the city on the heap of bodies belonging to criminals, but the two maid servants rescued the corpses of the mother and child and buried them in a nearby field. The bodies were later brought to France.
Saint Chartres' church houses a remarkable statue of "Notre Dame de Bon Lait" (Our Lady of Good Milk) dating from the 18th Century. It shows a bare-breasted Mary feeding her baby Jesus in a bid to make church attending wet-nurses pray for abundant milk. There is also an engraved tombstone from the 13th Century which holds the remains of de la Frebaudière, 16th Century Lord of Saint Chartres, who died in the Battle of Saint Denis in 1567.
In Saint Chartres' cemetery, a Hosannière cross dating back to the 7th Century still stands tall and serene and you can find several gravestones dating back to the same time. The cemetery's ancient graves, many several centuries old, tell the history of the local families throughout the ages.
THE CHURCH BELLS OF SAINT CHARTRES
Marie Armance Angélina Métais, the last bell ringer of Saint Chartres, was born at the beginning of the 20th Century. She was married to Philibert Delisle, the village blacksmith, and was known as always being very alert, courageous and smiling, a slim figure with a high pitched voice who wore her hair in a bun under a hat. She was always there, reliably pacing the life of the village with her bell ringing.
Known and appreciated for her kindness, Angélina rang the angelus every single day without fail. For years it was a daily ritual that she would never miss, whatever the weather and in any season. She rang the angelus three times a day, at 7am, noon and 7 pm, but also at masses and vespers, weddings and baptisms and funerals, and even in the event of an accident. Locals recall that she "grabbed the strings like a man and set off the voices of the three big bells." At the height of the motion, she would be lifted from the ground and then come back down again, flying up and down with the ropes.
Angélina had a donkey called Piston. She attended church and taxied the village children around in her wooden car. She was the first woman in the village to drive, not even 30 years old. After her death in 1970, Angélina's son took over for a while but then the bells fell silent. In 1992, the village bells were automated.
There has been another brief spell of silence recently, due to the complaints and subsequent lawsuit brought by an inhabitant who visits his house only once or twice a year. But the sounds of church bells, dogs, tractors, cockerels and other farm animals have always been part of life in rural villages and have recently, at long last, been declared protected - long may they remain so.
Credits: The late Michel Martineau, a lover of old stones - Thérèse Rinuit, press correspondent.