On the outskirts of the town on Mimizan on France’s Atlantic coast there’s a fascinating bell tower which is all that remains of an extensive medieval priory, l’ancien Prieuré de Mimizan. At first glance, the tower itself is interesting. The sign says it’s all that is left of a Benedictine Abbey of the 11th to 13th century. It’s clearly a great pity that there isn’t more of the priory that has survived the passage of time. Another sign spells out the impressive investment that is being made to restore the larger site.
It’s difficult to imagine these days, but during the 7th century it appears that this small village was a port, and one of the busiest on France’s Atlantic coast. Gradually, the sand advanced and the coast left the village high and dry. Since the 11th century, successive developments turned the original church into a priory of some importance, but what remains today is an impressive porch and bell tower.
As if to signify the special status of this monument, one complete side of it has been dressed with chestnut shingles, making it the most astonishing wall that one could possibly see.
It takes a while to appreciate the full beauty of this work. Each shingle is small and together they cover the complete wall. Rectangular ones have been used everywhere except where the arch (voûte) of the long-disappeared church’s nave (nef) is neatly marked out in a wide band of diamond-shaped shingles.
It’s mind-boggling to imagine how this was designed — and executed. It’s quite astonishing. Hats off to everyone who was involved! These wooden tiles, sun-bleached and unevenly weather-worn, are reminiscent of chain-mail or the scales of a fish. They are just wonderful!
Go and visit the bell tower! You will not be disappointed.