Sunday, 23 February 2014

Our local colombier

Our village also has a colombier. Now part of a farm, appropriately called 'Le Colombier', it lies at the end of one of the little chemins which run up the small valleys just outside the bourg.
Last vestiges of the mediaeval donjon
The colombier in Charnizay would once have belonged to the original mediaeval castle. Now all that remains of that is a semi-derelict donjon, much altered. In its last incarnation it served as a 'ferme fort'. However, plans are afoot to see if the donjon could be brought back to life  --sometime in the future-- as it forms part of the greater complex of buildings which includes our new Salle de Spectacles.
Charnizay's colombier
Charnizay's colombier is a relatively modest affair. It has about 450 niches. Simply constructed as a small square tower it had a drive-through double doorway. This allowed the horse and cart to enter on one side. The pigeon droppings could then be easily swept out of the niches directly into the cart before it was driven out the other side.  Keeping the pigeons was not only a matter for having a handy food source, their droppings provided valuable fertilizer for the fields.

The pigeons are long gone, the current inhabitant is a barn owl
The current owners of Le Colombier farm goats and run a lovely eco-friendly gite; you can find out more if you like here on the Gites de France website. They undertook some restoration work of the colombier and opened up one of the doorways which had been closed up by a previous owner. While this work was being done they found a stone which commemorates the completion of the dovecot. Their house is dated to the same year.

Inscription recording the completion of the colombier
The date, 1539, is significant in French history. In the same year Francois Ier signed the
Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts. This piece of legislation, specifically articles 110 & 111,  played a significant role in the move towards a linguistic and ideological unification of France. 
Nous voullons et ordonnons qu’ilz soient faictz et escrits si clerement qu’il n’y ait ne puisse avoir aucune ambiguïté ou incertitude, ni lieu à en demander interpretacion.
 Et pour ce que telles choses sont souventesfoys advenues sur l'intelligence des motz latins contenuz esdictz arretz, Nous voulons que doresenavant tous arretz ensemble toutes autres procedeures, soyent de nous cours souveraines ou aultres subalternes et inferieures, soyent de registres, enquestes, contractz, commissions, sentences, testamens et aultres quelzconques actes et exploictz de justice ou qui en dependent, soient prononcez, enregistrez et delivrez aux parties en langage maternel francoys et non autrement.

Above: the two relevant articles in Old French

The clauses required that French was used in all official documents, replacing Latin. [Although Latin did continue to be used to some degree in Catholic church registers]. The knock-on effect was that the articles also impacted on the other languages and dialects spoken in many regions of France and thus played a role in the linguistic unification.

Thursday, 13 February 2014


Last month we posted some views of the village of Montrésor. You can see them here. What we didn't post was a photo of what was stood on the opposite side of the small rural road we'd pulled over on.
Colombier à pied  at Montrésor
The building is a pigeonnier or colombier. Colombier is the more traditional term, which began to go out of use in the 19th century and historically referred to the 'stand-alone' towers which form such a lovely part of France's rural patrimony. Colombiers were a sign of the affluence of the seigneurie and from 1368 a royal decree set out the who could own one and of what type; the 'droit du colombier'.

The highest level [seigneur haut justicier] could have as many colombier à pied [towers] as they wished. Nobles one level lower in the pecking order could also have 'colombier à pied' but they had to meet a minimum requirement of 50 arpents [1 arpent = 5,000 m2] of arable land and they had to build the colombier on their own land. Presumably therefore, that meant that the highest ranking nobles could build them on a vassel's property. Nobles, individuals and commoners on the next level down were only allowed a colombier d'etage [parts of larger buildings; a loft in a barn for example] and had to have at least 50 arpents of land.

Unsurprisingly the whole system was open to abuse and the ordinary person suffered. They were forbidden to undertake any action when flocks of voracious pigeons, often several hundred strong, stripped their fields. If they did kill, trap or injure a pigeon severe fines were imposed. As a result the whole 'droit du colombier' was one of first things which the National Assembly abolished in August 1789 at the start of the French Revolution.

We know that even tiny birds can be voracious-- we have a plethora of blue and great tits; and the amount of bird seed they consume is impressive and proof enough :-)!
Who are you lookin' at?
Diving into the food

Saturday, 1 February 2014


All this wet and sometimes windy weather which has visited us since December has caused trees to fall. We've seen a number of uprooted specimens while out and about the departement.
Looking SE towards the toppled pine
Looking roughly in the same direction [a little further away] August 2013
Now it has taken its toll of one of our pine trees. To be fair, the tree was pretty much deceased already, but we'd not chopped it down as it was a favourite of the woodpeckers and home to plenty of invertebrates of all kinds.

Looking NE [above] and N [below]
We'd decided to let it slowly fall apart in its own time. As quite a few branches had already fallen off it wasn't too much of a risk. However, boggy ground and some windy weather have speeded up the process and two days ago it just keeled over. It must have happened during the night as Niall spotted it when he went to get wood from the woodshed in the morning.
Stump broken off at ground level
We'll leave it for now as it is so wet. Once things dry out we'll decide how much we want to clear and how much we want to leave to rot into the ground.