Doors to the Imagination
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
What's behind that door? Not that I'm overly interested in today's occupants–that feels too nosy, invasive. What intrigues me is who built this home in this particular fashion? I want to know more about the intention behind a structure's original design–including the door. Surely they were made with the work and the living that would go on inside in mind.
We have some pretty epic doors here in St. Hippolyte du Fort. Grand, ancient, weathered, polished–they come in many versions. Most of them open into interior foyers, dating back to more formal times. Some are incredibly high and wide, others so short that even I (at 5'3" or 160 cm) have to watch my head when entering. Some were servants' entrances, but others are clearly the main door. Were people truly that tiny at one time? Was it a lack of consistent nutrition? Or was it for purposes of guarding precious heat inside?
Behind every door is a story: one past, one present, and on into the future. On the "Grande Rue," now called Rue de l'Amiral Sap, the elegant doors, decorative knockers, and knobs, and the intricate wrought-iron door toppers all speak of the town's wealthy decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This one is my personal favorite and is set in a majestic house that belonged to Admiral Sap himself. I love the arched stonework, the scale, the carved wood, the door topper. They all speak to me of elegant living: "I'm substantial, serious, presenting a strong face to the world. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."
What we now call "French" doors originated in 17th century France (surprise!) Influenced by the Italian Renaissance and a desire to let in more light. Originally, they were tall windows that opened onto balconies and then evolved into doors that include some sort of window, letting in as much natural daylight as possible.
There are endless varieties of wrought-iron latticework in the windows above the doors in our town. Often entwined in the scrolls, swirls and curlicues, are the initials of the ironworker artist. Since many of them carry dates from the end of the 19th century, I'm guessing that was a great time to be in the wrought-iron business.
Inside, many of these houses are grand winding central staircases with more beautifully detailed wrought-iron railings. I lived and worked in one of those homes for our first year here, and while elegant, that central staircase was an incredible funnel for noise. One time to prove my point, I stood at the bottom and said my colleague's name in a normal voice. Almost immediately, she peered over the 4th-floor landing. "Did you call me?"
Most often made of brass or iron, the door knockers that adorn these doors more than adequately fulfill their duty. Incredibly heavy, they don't make much effort to create a booming sound heard into the far reaches of the largest mansion.
In the southwest of France and certainly, all over our town, the "Hand of Fatima" design is one of the most popular. They were likely brought to southern France by Moors fleeing Spain in the 15th century. Named after Mohammed's daughter, they were initially used to show that the occupants were Muslim and to "ward off the evil eye." Since St. Hippolyte has been predominantly Protestant for centuries, these knockers were adopted for their beauty and have evolved into a south-of-France tradition.
You'll notice that like actual human hands, each one is slightly different. Left and right hands are depicted, rings appear on the third or fourth fingers, and with various cuffs and bracelets. Fascinating!
While most of the doors are shades of brown, with a heavy varnish over chestnut or oak, we do have our spots of color here and there, reflecting, I think, the owners (past or present) personality.
By definition, doors are passages from "outside" to the interior. They offer privacy and protection. When opened in welcome, we pass from one space to another, from the public to the private––never knowing what we'll discover. Uncovering the mystery of what exists on the other side requires an invitation and a step on our part.
As I've mentioned before, I live in the ancient Château de Planque. And yes, we have a lovely, heavy entrance door. Like all doors, it opens into a whole world of daily life; in our case, learning and serving as a Christian community.