Every September there’s a Patrimoine – local history – weekend in France. Monuments and museums are open to the public, usually for free, so it’s a great time to go and discover something new.

Yesterday Chris and I visited the Commanderie at Lavaufranche. This historic building, which is as commanding as it sounds, isn’t usually open to the public so this was an opportunity not to be missed. The owner and his family were showing visitors around.

commanderie whole

The Commanderie was founded by the Ordre des Hospitaliers de Saint Jean de Jérusalem. This order grew up to care for the many pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem. When Christianity became established early on in the 12th century, the order took on a militant aspect. I’ll refer you to Wikipedia for a proper discussion of the Knights Hospitaliers, their history and their function.

commanderie deco corner

The Commaderie was built in the late 12th century, starting with a chapel and a keep. It was considerably extended in the 14th century under the supervision of Commander Jean de Grimeau, with wings and towers added.

commanderie courtyard

The revolution was bad news for the Commanderie. Two of the towers were truncated so that the building looked less seigneurial, and more like a house (albeit a very large one!).

commanderie trunc tower

One tower was dismantled altogether and the stone sold off. You can see its base, all that remains, in the photo above. Half of the chapel was also taken down and the remainder at one point used by a farmer. His cattle rubbing against the walls rubbed off some of the exquisite frescoes that were there!

commanderie chapel1

It was fascinating to see this wonderful old building, even though we only got to peer into the chapel and walk around the exterior. It would have been great to see inside but fair enough, someone lives there and it was nice that they let the public in at all.

commanderie back

I don’t envy the owners the task of keeping this ancient place in good condition. It must be a never-ending and expensive job. It’s the only Commanderie in this part of France, and there aren’t many in the whole of the country.

commanderie carved stone

So I feel very chuffed that I got the chance to see this one at close quarters. A bit too close – I’d stepped up onto the remaining foundation of the tower that was dismantled but was politely asked to please get down! I don’t think my tiny frame will have done any damage to the substantial eight-hundred-year old tower base, and I don’t imagine I was the only visitor over the weekend who hopped onto it to have a look at the hollow it surrounds. At least, I hope I wasn’t! My bad!