Not far from Chinon, tucked away up a small valley to the north of modern day Cravant, lies the vieux-bourg complete with its ancient church. The nave is formed by the original 9th century Carolingian church. It underwent two extensions. The first took
place in the 12th century when the apse at the east end of the original
church was opened up and the building was extended to create an apsidal choir and then secondly in
the 15th century a south transept chapel was added.
|Looking east down the Carolingian nave to the apsidal choir|
The building is a lucky survivor. The village of Cravant moved to its current location in 1863 and built itself a new church. Hence its old church, dedicated to St Léger, became redundant. It escaped demolition and was put up for sale in 1865 when it was bought by the 'Societé Archéologique de France'. It is now owned by the Association 'Amis du Vieux Cravant'.
|12th century apse: you can just see the little angels painted [much much later] on the rounded vaulting|
We visited the church in September during the 'journées du patrimoine' on a day when the rain was teeming down. There wasn't a soul in sight, but the door stood open so we made a dash for the entrance and had a look round. On that day entry was free; normally there is a simple "turnstile/pay as you enter" system in operation.
|Grotesque, possibly a harpy on a capital|
Inside you can see that the Association has a continual struggle to keep damp and other ravages of time at bay. Nevertheless, there are some lovely things to see.
The stars of the show are the two Merovingian pillars [Merovingian period: mid 5th - 8th century] which frame the entrance to the choir and pre-date the earliest part of the church. They are carved with lovely knotwork patterns. The first mention of these two pillars is in the 15th century when a porch was built which ran the length of the exterior of the south side and incorporated these two pillars as the supports to frame the entrance. It was removed at the end of the 19th century.
|Merovingian pillar on the left, sarcophagi bottom right|
In the 15th century lady chapel [south transept] is a partial wall painting, somewhat naive in style, depicting figures venerating the Virgin Mary under a sky of eight-pointed stars.
|15th century wall painting: venerating the Virgin Mary|
The Carolingian nave houses a collection of sarcophagi from around the Touraine region, other odd items and a cabinet with some lovely bits and bobs of sculpture.
Sadly no photos of the exterior as it was raining far too heavily to get the camera out. An interesting way to spend time on a very "driech" afternoon.