Sunday, 20 November 2016

11 : Romanesque Architecture

Saint-Martin - Chapaize
This part of Burgundy is famous for having very many Romanesque churches. The fact that Cluny was one of the most influential and prestigious monastic orders in the early middle ages is most probably one of the most important reasons why this is the case. Cluny’s influence reached far wider than just Burgundy, you can even find Cluniac monasteries in England. Throughout Saône-et-Loire there are many towns which have a sign post saying “Site Clunisien” but there are also numerous sites which were more or less independent of Cluny. This is just a small overview of what there is to see around here in the Romanesque style.

The Saint-Philibert Abbey in Tournus is a beautiful example of the Burgundian Romanesque building style. The church has an interesting crypt and around the choir, there are some 12th century floor mosaics. The refectory, the provisions store and the cloister of the original monastry are all still intact. The facades of the church have characteristic Lombardian decorations. More simple, but no less impressive, is the church in the village of Chapaize (Saint-Martin). Just as in Tournus, the roof is supported by heavy columns built with small pieces of stone resembling bricks.

Transept - Cluny III
A number of other churches in the area that are worth a visit are: Saint-Hippolyte; Malay; Ameugny, Chazelle,  Brancion and Lys (Chissey-lès-Mâcon). This is just a random sample of our favourites. In most churches around here there are maps of the various Romanesque church routes you can follow.

There is one other small church that is not to be missed and that is the Chapelle des Moines in Berzé-la-Ville. This chapel, built by Saint-Hughes - one of the Abbots in Cluny (1049-1109), is not necessarily so special for its architecture, but for the exceptionally well preserved frescos. The walls and ceiling around and above the altar are completely covered with different scenes. In the corridor leading to the chapel, there is a side room where a very interesting, short film shows how frescos are made. For a few pictures of churches in the vicinity, click here.

Model of Cluny III
Of course the Abbey in Cluny itself more than merits a mention. In 910 Guillaume d’Aquitaine set up the first abbey of Saints-Pierre et Paul. Between 1088 and 1130, the early Romanesque abbey (the Maior Ecclesia) was built on the remains of the original Carolingian style building. The abbey church was the largest in Christendom at that time and has since only been beaten in size by St Pauls Basilica in Rome. Between 1793 and 1823 the abbey was sold off literally piece by piece, the stones that once were the great Basilica were used around town and elsewhere in the area as building materials and today all that remains of the Basilica are two towers and a little chapel. The large cloister and some of the other buildings did survive and are now used by the National Stud and the Grande Ecole ENSAM. Having said that, a tour of the abbey is an absolute must and even with so little left in place, you can see how great it once was. This is helped of course by the short and spectacularly made 3D film shown at regular intervals at the start of the visit.

In the town of Cluny itself there is the gothic Notre-Dame and the Romanesque church Saint-Marcel, but there are also some very interesting Romanesque houses to be seen. A number of these houses still have their characteristic Claire-Voies, which were richly decorated window openings on the first floor separated by delicately carved columns. Well worth just wandering round whilst looking up.

This is obviously a very concise summary. For those who would like to have a good and reasonably complete overview of Romanesque architecture in Burgundy I would strongly recommend the website "Le site sur l'Art Roman en Bourgogne" (in French). I stumbled upon it by accident, and this site has a rich collection of photographs and historical information of everything related to Romanesque architecture.
The above mentioned site contains a very interesting glossary (also in French) of terms used in Romanesque architecture. I have made an English illustrated version of it, and those who are interested in browsing through it can click here.
Apart from this, I am also keeping a blog about the lesser known churches (or remains there of) in Saône-et-Loire. Every so often a new "discovery" is added to this blog.

The Romanesque churches in Saône-et-Loire
And finally, recently an interactive map has become available, on which (almost) all Romanesque churches in the département 71 are indicated. The map itself contains a link to a description explaining how the map has been set up and how it can be used, and it has links to interactive maps of the bordering departments. 

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