Saturday 23 March 2013


On the southern bank of the river Vienne about 4kms from Chinon is the small village of Rivière. Driving along towards Chinon you'd ignore it as all you mostly see are new-build houses on their little plots. The original village lies slightly further away from the road, right on the edge of the river.
Follow the labyrinth!
If you turn right and follow the familiar 'Monument Historique' sign you'll end up dead-ending at the river's edge. However, if you look to your right you'll see a small parking area surrounded by buildings and facing you is a building with a 3 bayed porch:- the entrance to the ancient church of Notre Dame. It too is completely enclosed by other buildings and if you want to get a glimpse of some of its external Romanesque architecural features you need to follow the signs along the river path and round the back.

It's been here a long, long time, as a shrine to the Virgin Mary was established on this site in the 3rd century. According to the literature it is the oldest in France. In the 4th century  St Martin of Tours, whom we've written about before, established a church here. The current building is much more recent, it "only" dates from the 10/11th century!
A neatly wrapped Lazarus
When you enter the porch the first thing you notice high up on the right-hand side wall is a wall painting dating from the 11/12th century depicting the resurrection of Lazarus. On the right side, he's all neatly bundled up in his shroud with cross-straps more like a swaddled child than a body. It has recently been restored with the help of grants; something we hope will also prove possible for the Chapelle de Tous-les-Saints in Preuilly-sur-Claise with its Danse Macabre wall paintings.

A riot of colour!

Inside the first thing that hits you is the cacophony of colours, they 'shout' at you from all sides. In 1864 one Count Galembert had the church interior re-painted in what people imagined, at the time, a medieval church would have looked like.
Barrel vaulted ceiling, 19th century painting
The ancient crypt, underneath the raised choir is made of 3 naves. Mostly white-washed it is more austere than the rest of the church although there is still some faded 19th century blue paint on the ceilings of the left-hand and right-hand side naves. Off the right-hand side nave, in a chapel lies the tomb with [rather damaged] effigies of the Seigneur de Basché, his wife and child.
Crypt with the tomb & effigy of the Seigneur de Basché
A faded hand-written notice tells the story of the Seigneurs de Basché. The were a prominant local family who were Huguenots [Calvinists] and they found that when the countryside was being ravaged by plague their minister was so terrified he fled. With no one to give the vicitims of the plague a proper burial the Seigneur turned to the near-by Catholic priest of Notre Dame and asked him for help. He agreed. The Seigneur de Basché, says the text " saw the error of his ways" and re-converted to Catholicism. He asked for his tomb to be built in the church and gifted Notre Dame with an annuity in thanks. The effigies date from 1583.


Craig said...

What a beautiful church! Not easy to get good photographs I imagine so well done for doing so.

the fly in the web said...

We were here on a walk years ago...but the ramblers wanted to ramble not to explore thank you for this super post.

Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

I feel saddened by the fact that we missed this magical church when we were staying in this region of France. Thank you for alerting us to its presence. Bon weekend.

Aussie in France said...

What an astonishing place! We were at Chinon very recently. What a pity we didn't know about it, but we intend to go back when it's sunnier so will definitely visit.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Craig - too kind :-). It was a bit of a challenge and to be honest I'm not overly satisfied with the quality.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - shame. BTW there's more to come on this church [in a future post sometime]

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Elizabeth - there's just so much isn't there? You'll just have to visit again :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Aussie - definitely worth a stop on your way to Chinon. Even nicer in summer [if we ever get a summer let alone spring!!] with a picnic by the river.

It was nice to meet you recently. :-)

Perpetua said...

What a marvellous building. You're surrounded by so many places of historical and architectural interest that I'm green with envy here. :-) I love old churches, the older the better, especially if they have crypts like this. What a perfect read for a snowy Sunday afternoon.

Niall & Antoinette said...

Perpetua - locating these places is a bit like truffle hunting--you never quite know if you're going to strike lucky, but often we do! :-)

Diane said...

What a great post and an amazing church. It is fantastic that it has been restored so well. Bravo for the great photos. Hope that you week is a good one, take care Diane

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - they have certainly done a great job with the 12th cnetury wall painting.
Have a good week :-)

MorningAJ said...

I'm not sure how I missed this post last week (it's been a tough week - I'm being kind on myself this week!) but what a fascinating church. I love church architecture and this seems to be very ornate.
Thanks for showing us the pictures.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@AJ - sorry to hear you've been having a rough week, hope things are better now it's the weekend :-)
Place was really interesting and colourful--the photos don't really do it justice.