Saturday 13 October 2012

Another Poitevin Wednesday

Poitiers boasts a plethora of supereb Romanesque churches, all of which serve to underline its standing during the early Middle Ages. In many ways it reminds us of York, although in York the architecture is in the Gothic style of the later Middle Ages. The fact that both places are vibrant university towns adds to the similar 'feel'.
Le Clain at Poitiers
The heart of old Poitiers sits on a hill in the curve of the river Clain. Over on the NE side of the town at the bottom of the slope were a series of mills which used the water power to good advantage. In the past they milled flour, powered a forge, made paper and cloth. The mills were owned and run by the abbey of St Jean de Montierneuf, which is located just higher up the slope. Founded by Guy-Geoffrey Guillaume, Count of Poitiers as a mausoleum for him and his decendants, it was consecrated by Pope Urban II. He was in Poitiers in 1096 while on his tour to promote the 1st Crusade. Sadly for the count, only his son was laid to rest with him; so his grand plans came to nothing.

The abbey takes its name from the French for men's abbey: "moutier". It was only the second foundation in Poitiers. The first foundation was informally known as the "le moutier vieux" and St Jean as the 'new', which over time evolved into "montierneuf".

St Jean de Moutierneuf: Romanesque apsidal style below, Gothic with flying butresses above
The abbey church suffered over the years. As a result of instability the apsidal choir fell down twice, prompting a final re-build in the 13th century Gothic style with very delicate flying butresses to support the structure. As with many other religious buildings it also suffered during the Wars of Religion, the Revolution and in its aftermath, when it was put to alternative uses.  Finally, in the 19th century it underwent a 'rather zealous' restoration. Nevertheless, it has charm and we found the blind arcading with the elephants very appealing.

Blind arcading with elephants carved in the central capital
Detail: 12th century depiction of elephants
At the heart of the old town sits the Marché Notre Dame with the church of Notre Dame la Grande dominating proceedings. It isn't a large imposing ediface but what it lacks in size it makes up in the quality of its west facade. It depicts all of the familiar stories from both the Old and the New Testament, as well as one or two quirky additions. One of these is the fact that the twelve apostles have become fourteen! Probably this was done for political reasons to send a message to the clergy and what looks to be a pope and a bishop have been added.

Notre Dame la Grande, west facade

Interior Notre Dame la Grande: apsidal choir


the fly in the web said...

I always wonder how the stone carver decided what to put on capitals...was he told, or did he have his own ideas...

Poitiers is super...and you've enough material there for at least a year of posts!

Perpetua said...

Gorgeous! How wonderful to be within easy each of so much wonderful mediaeval architecture - Romanesque as well as Gothic.:-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - I suspect that there was a list of 'approved' subjects/patterns; but there's enough evidence of quirky ones to show that sometimes the carvers 'did their own thing' :-) We'd love to know where this carver saw the 'oliphants'. Our guess is via a MS in a scriptorium.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - it was nice to see a lovely example of Gothic especially juxtaposed with the Romanesque.

Leon Sims said...

One of our favorite French churches.
Like you said, not huge but still has a great presence.
Love the painted columns inside and sad we missed a night time viewing.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Leon & Sue - it has now become one of our favourites too.