Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 25, 2007
Seven Sleepers in a French crypt
Stone markers honour pre-Christian dwellers
The Seven Saints – July 27
By TED FITZGERALD
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Chapelle des Sept Saints is dedicated to third century men.
Other ornamentation in the building is mainly associated with St. Isidore the Farmer who, accompanied by his implement-carrying angel assistants, is venerated in the south transept.
Visitors to the church will have noticed that the floor of this transept is several feet higher than that of the nave. This uncommon feature can be explained by the fact that the transept was built on top of a megalithic monument.
The west coast of France is noted for the abundance of stone markers that were placed by people of the Neolithic period between 5000 and 2000 BC. Most are upright stones known as menhirs, while others are compound structures called dolmens, passage graves, or in Breton, stone tables.
The one at Sept Saints is the latter, formed of four two-metre high upright stones and two capstones to form a crypt which serves now as a little shrine to the Seven Sleepers. Entry is by way of an exterior door beneath the south transept of the church.
That the church was built to include this old structure indicates that the builders desired to acknowledge those pre-Christians that lived and died here long ago. An explanation for the elevation change in the church floor could be that the original chapel was built beside the passage grave, and at a later date was enlarged by means of the transepts to provide a cover for the megalith.
They were allowed by God to sleep for more than 100 years.
This ancient structure, known as the Dolmen of Stivel, had been declared an historic monument as early as 1875.
On entering the crypt, the four great upright stones topped by the two large capstones to form the crypt roof, are readily identifiable.
Christian adaptations of the dolmen are in the form of old, time-worn statues of the seven holy sleepers in a row, with Mary and the Christ Child arranged on a ledge on the ancient stone.
Years ago, when the crypt/shrine was first established, statues representing the seven were acquired from several sources so that the assemblage shows great variation in the shapes, colours and sizes of the sleepers.
Seeming almost out of place in the simple display are a brightly-coloured boat ex-voto and a modern portrait of petitioners.
Although the chapel is in use year-round, if it is closed, a key may be obtained from the Mairie in Vieux Marché. The main annual observance here is the Pardon celebrated on the fourth Sunday of July to approximate the feast day of the Seven Holy Sleepers of Ephesus.
Elsewhere, excellent historical guides to the town are available from the most helpful and knowledgeable staff at the Lismore Library, as well as information regarding the Catholic parish.
It's an impressive monument in its own right, a gift of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie of uniquely Irish Hiberno-Romanesque architectural style.
The old classical style courthouse, now the Lismore Heritage Centre, offers audio-visual presentations highlighting the town, its heritage buildings and Lismore Castle, once home to renowned chemist Robert Boyle.
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