The luck of the Irish

John MacMahon, an Irish doctor born in Limerick was naturalised in France in 1749 and had the good sense to cure and charm Charlotte Le Belin, Dame d’Eguilly, just before her elderly husband died. They were married in 1750. What came with the happy marriage to Charlotte was her estate, the Château de Sully, now the ancestral seat of the fifth generation of the MacMahon family. Odd to find an Irish family resident in a French château, but that made it even more interesting.

No photos inside as this is still a family home, but the interior was the kind of jumble and occasional shabbiness that only time provides, and was charming and cozy, while filled with relics of the past.

But the exterior is spectacular, and even the outbuildings are worth craving. The site has been fortified since Roman times, and was first mentioned in a document of 1102. In the sixteenth century the duke de Sully added the Petit Château to one side of the castle to provide more agreeable accommodation. Sully bought the domain in 1602, enlarged the park and the fortress. In 1716 and 1719 the château sheltered Voltaire, when he had been exiled from Paris for affronting the throne.

Lucky MacMahons, to live here in such style.

Our next stop of the day was the nearby town of Autun. Originally called Augustodunum, it was founded during the reign of Augustus, for whom it was named. In 880 the Count of Autun, Richard of Autun, became the first Duke of Burgundy, and this seat of power was off and running. The town today is charming and filled with pretty lanes and picturesque plazas. We dined right across from the cathedral of Autun.

St. Lazare’s cathedral dates from the early twelfth century and was originally built as a pilgrimage church for the relics of Lazarus. The relics were mostly destroyed during the Revolution, and the church seems rather empty today. (Note the missing main altar.)

As a side note, it continues to astound us how violent and anti-religious that period was. Guess we have always thought that the anti-monarchy and royalty sentiments were the focus. But of course the Church was a key part of the power establishment, so chopping off the heads of statues and stripping the churches and monasteries does make sense. Just didn’t realize how much damage was done all over France to drive home that point.

Autun Cathedral is also famous for its architectural sculpture, particularly the tympanum of the Last Judgement, which seems to have survived quite nicely.

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