3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

March 15, 2002 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on March 15, 2002.

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3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


FYI France: Auxerre, online.


A tour through the phenomenal "L'Abbaye Saint - Germain d'Auxerre" site,


can give satisfaction to anyone interested in France and Europe, the history, architecture, archaeology, and the motivations of early Christian and medieval life -- or to anyone wanting to see what information technology truly can accomplish, something better than Infotainment bump 'n grind... or to anyone with a little time to kill on a rainy afternoon, who simply wants to explore something online which is beautifully done and really interesting...

The site is available in English as well as in French. Its graphics are done dramatically but simply -- stark contrasts instead of all the quirky colors and designs which can distract on a little screen, and spare iconograpy in place of wordswhichconfuse -- and the site is filled with glorious manuscripts and photos and other images, of this ancient abbey which played such a central part in the earliest history of Europe.

Touring through the website you get a sense, almost better than you do on a personal visit, of the reasons why the early Christians built their building, and decorated it as they did. On an in - person visit it always is hard to keep your focus -- on the rapid - fire French tour guide droning along from about 30 tourist heads away, in a busy modern French town with bus noise and fire engine klaxons going off in the background, while you are worrying about where the kids have wandered off to and where you will have dinner, and the German tour is pushing by you and the Japanese tour is waving their flags and flashing forbidden photos -- and the architectural mishmosh of nearly 15 centuries of subsequent French history is obscuring what you really wanted to see of the earliest stuff...

It is a lot easier imagining being a 6th century Christian "believer" when you are alone -- just you and your little computer and the Web, plus the tender guidance of a multitude of French archaeologists and art historians and Web designers all tailoring the presentation to your own hypertext whims -- the relics need protecting so they may be worshipped, now the comte de Nevers is rattling his sword again, the folks down at Ve'zelay are running to Cluny for protection... no klaxons or kids or 19th century renovations, yet... just you and the history...

This Auxerre Website -- of which the French are proud (it is a feature of their Ministry of Culture's "Grandes Sites Archéologiques" offering, along with "La Grotte de Lascaux", "La Grotte Chauvet - Pont - d'Arc", "La Vienne Antique", "Vivre au Bord du Danube il y a 6500 ans" and others) -- is organized around five themes:

  1. "15 Centuries of History" -- the story of "Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre", plus the chronology, dramatically presented via the floor plans of the structure as it developed over five historical periods -- with illustrated panels showing "before / after" structural renovations (try imagining _that_ when you are standing in the nave amid the tourist crowds), and pop - up explanations of key terms ("What is an 'oblate'?"...), and Burgundy cartography;

  2. "The Carolingian Apogee" -- "intellectual influence", "liturgy", and "architecture" -- the intellectual life of the Carolingian Renaissance, and the crucial role played by the School of Auxerre within it -- featuring wonderful online manuscript illustrations and texts, both thumbnail and enlarged to legibility: examples --

      Haymo, Commentary on Ezekiel, Paris BnF lat. 12302 f1v

    the description reads,

      "Au registre inférieur à droite un ange transporte le prophète à Jérusalem. Il est ensuite représenté dans le temple de Salomon où il assiste à des rites d'idolâtrie devant les statues de la Jalousie (à droite), d'Adonis (à gauche) et de représentations d'animaux (en haut). Dans le temple à gauche les Hébreux tournent le dos au Saint des Saints..."

    also --

      Heiric, Florilegium of John Scottus Erigena, BnF lat. 13953 f1v

      Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Virgil, 4th c, BNF lat. 7960 f154

      Saint Jérôme traduit la Bible en latin, première Bible de Charles le Chauve, BnF lat. 1 f3v

    and there are others.

  3. "The Archaeology of a Monument" -- subtitled "a polymorphic study... a tripartite orientation, at once archaeological, architectural and historical" -- You can say that again: they even count the tree trunk rings on the wooden beams in the crypt, to establish chronology -- something which French specialists call, wonderfully, "la dendrochronologie". "Reading the building", studying the era's construction techniques, analyzing the paintings -- also, digging through the stratigraphy and 15 centuries of written resources -- a quick online tour through this section of the site can give any student or sceptic a fine appreciation of just how complicated "history" can be now.

  4. "The Abbey Today" -- le marketing -- the sales pitch at the end, to get you to make the trek in person and see the site, and the town, and its cafes, and its shops -- a very convincing pitch in this case, with pretty pictures of old buildings and modern museums and clock towers and nice gardens and the river Yonne... Burgundy...

  5. "A Pilgrim's Virtual Visit" -- the final and most impressive part of this Auxerre site, I think -- a chance for a "virtual walk - through" of the early Christian / Carolingian crypt, with close - up detail and description of the paintings, architecture, and structural detail to be found there. For impatient kids, for future visitors wanting a preview or veterans wanting a reminder, for anyone neither francophone nor anglophone if there are any left out there?


All this without the use of a printed book.

An introduction, you might say... one to begin, or perhaps at most later on to supplement, a study which eventually must lead to the printed word to be complete?

It is interesting, though, that the men and women who actually built the marvels at Auxerre, and who worshipped there, did not rely so greatly on the printed word as we do now...

And here we are again -- not relying on the printed word but instead enjoying, and learning from, images and paintings and architecture -- online, via this Internet / WorldWideWeb thing.

And they will have sound, one day soon, at this online site: if not songs of the period, which may have been lost, perhaps Gregorian chant?, plus the birds in those pretty Auxerre gardens, and the echoes of ghostly footfalls in the tiny corridors of that ancient crypt.

And experiments are under way to bring even smells to the Internet as well, now -- so... the musty odors of an old church, the smoke of candles and the sweat of the crowd on a feast day, the baking bread scents from the town outside -- all so much a part of an Auxerre visit to pilgrims today as they were 1500 years ago, now once again perhaps to become part of that which the printed book could not convey.

(Anyone who has visited Madurai will attest to the importance of sounds and smells to the experience -- medieval European places were closer to modern India's, than anything which the 19th century cleansed and rendered antiseptic for us.)

So perhaps Victor Hugo, in this bicentennial year of his birth, may be found to have had it backwards. Perhaps his "ceci tuera cela" held true for only a few centuries.

Once Auxerre is fully online here, will the images and sounds and smells thereby assembled any longer be the mere adjunct to a printed description? Or will that relationship become reversed, and the printed descriptions wither for lack of use as more and more people, all over the world, come to know this chapter of French and European history through its online multimedia depiction, of which this site is such a fine representation?

Well, find me a "book" on Auxerre -- even now, already -- which is this graphically impressive, this much fun to use, and this inexpensively and easily accessed.


The Auxerre W3 site is wonderful: links to it should be provided by any other site, anywhere -- francophone or anglophone or other -- with interests in France or Europe or the Medieval histories of either, and also by any which address distance learning, online education, and really fine W3 conceptualization and design. This is a site of which their Ministry of Culture justifiably is proud, one of many outstanding websites being designed now by the French.




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M. Eiffel

Copyright © 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
W3 site maintained at http://www.fyifrance.com
Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: March 18, 2002