Saturday 16 June 2012

St Nicolas, Tavant

Today marks the official (re)opening of the crypt of the church at Tavant after the completion of recent restauration work on its 12th century frescos. We went to have a look round yesterday-- it had been on our "to visit" list for some time; but with the restoration/conservation work going on we had to wait. It was well worth the wait as it was as superb as we hoped it would be.

St Nicolas, Tavant
In 987 a knight named Thibaud gifted Tavant to the abbey of Marmoutiers near Tours. In 1020 the gift was confirmed in a charter by one Bouchard II, seigneur d'Ile-Bouchard. He had three sons and the eldest, Hugues died leaving a child, Bouchard III, as his heir.
detail: Romanesque carving around church door
The child's two uncles became his guardians. After ten years the elder uncle took holy orders leaving the youngest as guardian. At the end of his minority, Bouchard III tried to claim his inheritance; but his uncle refused to hand it back. In revenge, around 1070, Bouchard III took a troop of armed men and burnt down the priory of St Nicolas in Tavant.
capital: Adam & Eve being tempted by the snake
capital: doubled tailed mermaids or sirens
The abbey of Marmoutiers demanded that Bouchard III make restitution. Allegedly Bouchard III was stricken by remorse. True or not, he gave half the land belonging to the neighbouring parish of Riviere to Marmoutiers in reparation and two monks were dispatched to Tavant to rebuild the ruins of St Nicolas. By 1090 a new Prior, Adedelme was able to take up residence. This would indicate that the rebuild was well under way, or possibly complete.
choir celing
It is this rebuilt church which still stands [more or less] today and the frescos date to the first half/middle of the 12th century. Originally a classic Romanesque church with a three aisled nave, only the central aisle remains today. Filled-in archways show where the two aisles would have been.
detail: ox of St Luke
Both transepts were originally apsidal [rounded] although the southern transept apse has now gone. The choir is raised and is reached by 2 sets of steps flanking either side of the door which leads down to the crypt. The choir is off limits to the public but the frescos are still easily visible from the transept/nave intersection.
detail: angels & lion of St Mark
These are the only ones which remain in the main body of the church although it is very likely that the whole building was once vibrant with colour. The only other sign is a tiny remnant of polychrome painting to be seen on the richly carved capital of Adam & Eve being tempted by the snake in the Garden of Eden.
crypt, St Nicolas 
The real gems are the frescos in the crypt; some of which are extremely special as they show scenes which are very rarely depicted. You can visit the crypt; the visits are guided [English or French] and the guide is extrememly friendly and helpful. All photography is forbidden so we can't post any pictures. However, someone involved with the restoration project posted a video [commentary in French] of the crypt on June 12th which you can see here.

For those of you who have read our posts on St Savin [UNESCO world heritage site] or La chapelle Saint-Jean-du-Liget will recognise that the frescos at Tavant are of broadly the same period and similar in style.

As always you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.


GaynorB said...

Brilliant post.

This is my kind of history - interesting, superbly well illustrated and in small chunks.

You should think about doing some guided tours ...

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
This is all truly amazing, even more so when one considers the age of the frescoes. We are not at all surprised that to visit the crypt has been on your list of things to do and see for some time. We should feel exactly the same.

The video gives a very good idea of the extent of the paintings. How fortunate that they have been conserved and that they are available to be viewed by the public.

Susan said...

Re Gaynor's comment - if you want to pick our brains, feel free.

Pollygarter said...

Fascinating! It looks like a very sensitive restoration job too.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - thanks!! [both going slightly pink at the praise]

You have given us food for thought :-) [We both did guided tours many years ago when improvished students]

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - In our opinion it's another one of the jewels of our area.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - thanks, that's very kind.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Pauline - yes they've done a very good job.

the fly in the web said...

I am glad you made it to Tavant...and thank you for posting the video.
When I was there you could stump where you liked, no guides, just a lady with a key for the church!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - we tried once in the '90s when we were here on holiday and there was a sign to get the key at the mairie -- which was closed [it must have been lunch time I guess].
It is still quite low key -- no booklet; just postcards and although there is a schedule for crypt visits; predictably it is isn't really adhered to :-).

Diane said...

Great post. Fantastic photos and an interesting bit of history. Well done Diane

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - you're welcome. When you next come up our way you should go and see it yourself; and buy some Chinon wine at the same time :-).