Friday, January 05, 2007

Church crawling

It rained yesterday, and so skiing was out of the question. After a leisurely lunch, Martin took me on a tour of the villages, churches and organs of the Vallon de Saint Imier, which was interesting, despite the rain. The church at Courtelary, where Laura is organist, is as old in its origins as the Colègiale in St Imier, dating back to the eleventh century. It's particularly interesting to me as, unlike the other churches of the Vallon, which have either wooden or stone altar tables, it has an octagonal infant baptismal font in the prime position. Admittedly it is covered over by a board with a white embroidered cloth, so that it can double up as an altar, but it also sports a paschal candle.

I've also seen a font where one would expect the altar to be, in churches of Eastern Switzerland, also hybrid stone altar tables with a bird-bath type hollow in the middle to contain baptismal water when needed, in the Canton de Vaud, although stone altar tables dating from the early eighteenth century are fairly common. These église reformée buildings are generally simple in design, with prominent pulpits and lots of seating - they often have wooden galleries - Courtelary is an excpetion with a stone gallery built in the 1930s, matching the ancient style of the rest of the building. The sanctuary areas of these churches, pre- or post- reformation is generally quite large, spacious and uncluttered, despite the dominance of the pulpit. Few have stained glass, mostly the windows are plain, making it possible to see out, although it's not unusual for windows to be slightly opaque, to raise the distraction threshold for listeners within!

In the evening, Eva Jos, the pastor of the German speaking reformed diaspora in the Vallon came to supper. She once studied in Sheffield and speaks English well, in addition to French German and Italian, so once again conversation floated between languages, occasionally with amusing consequences. We finished the evening with a glass of wine listening to some amazing oboe and organ duets by a contemporary Swiss composer called Hummel, recorded by Martin on the St Imier organ. He's hoping to find a publisher for these, as they've not been recorded before. It's good to hear modern music that is not so outlandish as to be unintelligible, but which stretches one's musical perceptions in new ways, and evokes the numinous, as I believe all good music really should.

Laura and I got up early enough to go out and ski this morning. Conditions were still good in spite of the rain, but we had less time since both Laura and Martin had funerals early in the afternoon. We were back back noon, and I was able to surrender my skis and pay my dues at the hire shop, before sitting down to a pasta lunch. Tomorrow, I take my leave and go west to Baulmes, to spend the week with Valdo Richard, my ski buddy for the past eleven years or so. What piste conditions are like on the 'balcon des alpes' remains to be seen.

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