The cloisters of Carennac, built from plans furnished by that fountain of ecclesiastical art in the Middle Ages, the monastery of Cluny, must, judging from the remnants of tracery in the arcades, and the delicately carved bosses of the vaults, have been once a spot where the spirit of Gothic architecture found delight. Now the spirit of ruin dwells there, leading the bramble and the celandine to conquer, year after year, some fresh territory upon the ancient quadrangle’s crumbling wall. Above, where the sunbeam strikes upon the wrinkled stone, the lizard basks and the bee fresh from its hive hums as blithely among the yellow flowers of the celandine as if the blocks raised by men in their reaching towards Heaven were nothing more than the rocks that cast their shadows upon the Dordogne. Upon the ground, man, by using no rein of respect to curb the lower needs of life, has desecrated the spot with pigsties! Some inhabitant of Carennac, into whose hands the cloisters passed in recent times, thought that a place which was good enough for Benedictine monks to walk in might, with a little fresh masonry, be made fit for pigs to feed and sleep in. But an end had come to this idyllic state of things. The cloisters of Carennac had just been placed on the list of historic monuments. The adjoining church had been ‘classed’ long before.
This church, a small Gothic edifice of the twelfth century, has a far-projecting porch enriched with a specimen of mediaeval carving which is a long delight to the few archaeologists who find their way to the almost forgotten village of Carennac. The composition, which fills the tympan of the scarcely-pointed arch, represents Christ surrounded by the twelve Apostles. The influence of Byzantine art is perceptible in the treatment. Very few such masterpieces of twelfth-century carving have been so well preserved as this. The seated figure of Christ in the act of blessing His Apostles, the right hand upraised, the left resting upon a clasped book, impresses the beholder by its majesty and serenity. Very different are the figures of the Apostles: these are men, and of a very common type too, such as the Benedictines were accustomed to see in their own cloisters, or among their dependents at Carennac. But how animated are the forms, and how expressive the faces! The mouldings which serve as a border to the composition are much more Romanesque or Byzantine than Gothic, and the columns that support it have capitals which are purely Romanesque. In the interior of the church is a fifteenth-century group of seven figures, representing the scene of the Holy Sepulchre; an admirable composition, showing to what a high degree of excellence French sculpture had attained even at the dawn of the Renaissance.
Upon the stony plateau above Roc-Amadour is a cavern well known in the district as the Gouffre de Revaillon. It had for me a peculiar attraction on account of the gloomy grandeur of the scene at the entrance. When I saw it for the first time I understood at once the supernatural horror in which the peasant has learnt to hold such places. It responds to impressions left on the mind of the ’Stygian cave forlorn,’ the entrance to Dante’s ‘City of Sorrow,’ and that other cave where Aeneas witnessed in cold terror the prophetic fury of the Sibyl.