The funerary Chapelle Ste-Catherine is in the small village of Jouhet, in the Gartempe Valley. It is across the road from Église Notre Dame de Jouhet on what used to be the old cemetery. The chapel is kept locked but the key can be got from Le Val de Gartempe restaurant, just up the street, which is closed on Mondays.
From the outside, the chapel is a very plain stone building with a slate roof. Above the door is a carved cross and a small niche which had bright red geraniums in it when we visited. The chapel was used for holding services for the deceased and for housing sepulchres.
Steps lead down into the Chapel which is empty apart from a modern table and chair and a notice about guided tours in the summer months. There are the remains of old tombstones on the floor. It has a barrel ceiling. There is a 15thC stone altar with a low stone retable. The two long thin windows at the east end provide the only light.
There is a shelf round the wall about seven foot above the ground which is painted in bands of red and orange with a narrow white line separating them. This colour scheme extends to the walls of the recessed windows.
The 16thC frescoes are painted above this in shades of yellows reds and blacks and are some of the best preserved in the area. There are scenes of the creation, with Eve getting the apple from the serpent. There is a depiction of the Annunciation. There is a lovely scene of the nativity with a cow and horse looking through the window of the stable. There are scenes of the angels telling the shepherds about the birth of the Saviour and the adoration of the Magi.
On the roof is a painting of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists. There is a large picture of the Three Living and the Three Dead, here represented as three men on horseback hunting hare with speech bubbles above but the writing has gone. One has a hawk. Below are the hounds chasing rabbits. The three young huntsmen suddenly meet three corpses who warn them of the fragility of life and the vanity of material things and advise them to be converted. The message is simple "what you are, we once were and what we are, you will be”.
There is plenty of parking by the church. This is a simple 11thC Romanesque building. There is nothing special to attract the visitor but is worth a quick glimpse if visiting the Funerary chapel. Read more information about the church. We didn’t eat in the restaurant. There were plenty of locals and the food smelt good.
This is just one of the churches with frescoes in the Gartempe Valley. This is an area well off the tourist beat and the local tourist office is trying to promote tourism. We spent a day visiting churches with frescoes and there is more information here.
It is a delightful area and unspoilt by tourism.