St Christophe, Inières, France

As you head over the undulating landscape into the hidden valley of Inières, the Flamboyant campanile of Rodez cathedral is just over the northern horizon. Ahead, the dwellings huddle round a little castle, as if for shelter. No castle this, but a fortified church; medieval France was a dangerous place, and the Hundred Years’ War brought new uncertainties. You are following in the footsteps of the Grandes Compagnies, the original Routiers, men who roamed the land in search of plunder and would have known John Hawkwood, the English mercenary.

In 1442, the Bishop of Rodez ordered the church’s reconstruction and fortification, to be a strong place in the little hamlet, though the English were long gone from the Rouergue. Complete by 1455, it is a rectangular building topped by a belltower, with a covered walkway on high and two turrets at the western corners. The ground floor is the actual church. Above that are chambers of refuge for people and their goods in time of crisis.

But the surprises of Inières are not yet over. As you enter the ground floor, go over to the little chapel on the left. Above the altar is a delicate Annunciation; kneeling at her prie-dieu, Mary turns to hear the message from the Archangel. Sculpted for Rodez cathedral by Pierre Viguier c.1470, just after this church was built, it was brought to Inières much later, maybe for safety at the time of the Revolution. Truly ‘out of the strong came forth sweetness’

[Judges 14.14].

Reflect on Psalm 144: ‘Blessed be the Lord my strength…my goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust.’

Remember in prayer all people who lack a safe place to lay their heads.

Simon Cotton