Today, Sandra and I visited our nearby market town of Ligueil in the South Touraine. Our visit inspired me to write a little about its parish church.
The first record of the town was in 775 when it was called Lugogalus. Its name then changed to Ligolium and finally it became the strangely spelled and difficult to pronounce Ligueil.
By the 8th Century the Abbey St-Martin-de-Tours owned estates around Ligueil and the dean of the canons of the Abbey had the title “Baron of Ligueil”.
The church in the centre of Ligueil is called St Martin’s – named after the Abbey and its founder, St Martin of Tours. St Martin was a 4th Century Roman officer who became converted to Christianity. The normal image of St Martin is of him sitting on a horse and cutting his robe in half to clothe a beggar. This image can be seen both within the splendid interior and on the exterior of the church.
It was St Martin himself who established his Abbey in Tours and, after his death, he became a huge nationalist and militarist cult figure. Through the middle ages and up to the present day he was, and is, frequently put forward by right-wing Catholic establishment figures and reactionary monarchists as their symbolic emotional rallying point. So, baring this in mind, perhaps it was the town’s republicans and anti-clerics who had the civic urinals built against the back of the church? I’d love to know! (I’ll add a picture of the urinals at a later date ~ do call back!)
As a converted Christian zealot, St Martin of Tours was fiercely anti-pagan and anti-druid. He had pagan temples, symbolic trees and places of worship destroyed across the Touraine. Commonly, in Europe, Christian churches were often built upon old sites of pagan worship. One wonders, therefore, what used to stand where the present church of Ligueil is built. Today, despite some 1,700 years of repression, pagan and folk law traditions do live on in one form or another. To realise this, one only has to witness attendees at the Ligueil church on a festive spring Palm Sunday as they bring in sprigs of evergreen box plants to be blessed by the parish priest ~ curious indeed.
All of which brings me to the crib displayed inside the church. It is one of many traditional cribs in the town – for example you’ll find them in various cafés – and no two are the same. But, if there was a competition for the most kitsch crib then the one in St Martin’s would win hands down. I presume its decoration and adornment of various china animals was assisted by local children, it is a sight not to be missed.
So, if you ever find yourself in Ligueil then do take time to wander around the town. It has some splendid buildings and country cafés, restaurants, bars and people. Stroll through its side streets, ponder over its waterways and experience its small, but sufficient, market held every Monday (or should that be Moon-day) morning.