Valley of the Frescoes- Bucolic Villages of Amazing Frescoes
The Valley of the Frescoes extends from Saint-Savin to Saulgé. There are five stops on this route: Abbey of Saint-Savin, Antigny, Jouhet, Montmorillon and Saulgé. We based our stay in Montmorillon and from there explored these frescoes. You can read about Montmorillon here.
Valley of the Frescoes – Saulgé
On our first day, we went to Saulgé as we were traveling from Oradur-sur-Glane to Montmorillon. We knew we would need to get the key from the mayor’s office but we didn’t anticipate that the one day we would be there would be the day the office was closed. So we have no pictures of the church there, just some information we gathered from the sign outside the church.
Dedicated between 1087 and 1092, these frescoes of geometric and plant-life motifs date from almost 800 years later,1859, the time of renovation. The sign gives you just of taste of what is inside the church in terms of frescoes.
We spent one day exploring Montmorillon and then headed out the next day to Saint-Savin with the intention to visit the remaining stops in the Valley of the Frescoes trail before returning to Montmorillon for dinner.
Romanesque Sistene Chapel – The Abbey at Saint-Savin
The Abbey at Saint-Savin, a World Heritage Site closes during the lunch hour so we wandered around the abbey grounds and ended ,up at the back of the abbey by the river. Oh my goodness! Underneath the living area of the abbey we discovered these frescoes. I have no information on them other than this. We opened no doors, crossed no prohibitive barriers except the threshold and the rooms basically looked like a construction zone. I have no idea what is going on but looking closely at these frescoes makes me think they are modern day works of art. This slide show is of all the frescoes we saw beneath the abbey. [placing your cursor over the slide will pause the slides]
That abbey building dates back to the 11th century. I’m always in awe of things that have survived the acts of men and weather for this length of time!
There are three rows of frescoes on this ceiling, 42 meters (almost 138 feet) in length. The ceiling is 17 meters (almost 56 feet) above the floor! That is 460 square meters of frescoes. Multiple painters worked on these frescoes that date between the 11th and 12th centuries. At this time period, frescoes such as these told biblical stories to a predominantly illiterate populace.
We found stories from Genesis and Exodus, the Passion of Christ and the Apocalypse. This is my favorite one from the old testament. A list of all the tableaux can be found at this Poitou-Charentes site. The slideshow is of the center aisle ceiling frescoes.
About 15 years ago I visited the Sistene Chapel and I remember not wanting to leave the beauty of the paintings, fearing I might never see them again. I had the same difficulty leaving the Abbey at Saint-Savin. The beauty in these frescoes is simply indescribable.
Next Stop Antigny, Valley of the Frescoes
However, we did leave and drove the short distance on a lovely winding country road to Antigny in search of Eglise Notre Dame which is also part of the Valley of the Frescoes. The church consists of two parts: the seigniorial chapel which was added in the 15th century to the side of the church and the church itself. The seigniorial chapel is dedicated to Saint Catherine. Frescoes here were added when the chapel was built. Later, other frescoes were added to the main church.
These frescoes found in the church itself date from the late 12th and the 14th centuries.
On to the Chapel of Saint Catherine where the frescoes date from the 15th century.
Another interesting feature here in Antigny is the Lanterne des Morts located in the small park across from the church. Erected in the 12th century on the site of an ancient cemetery, old lantern towers such as this one served as funeral beacons. A lantern in the top of the tower indicated the location of the cemetery. The towers are found mainly in central and western France.
Final Stop Jouhet, Chapelle Sainte Catherine
We easily found the Chapel of Saint Catherine in Jouhet, but again we needed a key to enter. This we retrieved from the mayor’s (the Mairie) office. As is common in many small French villages, the mayor’s office and the local school are side by side in the same building. Look for the fenced school yard next to the main church, kitty corner to the chapel.
The frescoes here date from the late 15th century and are reminiscent of those in Antigny. A restoration took place in 2005.
According to the sign, this stone retable beneath the windows below also dates from the 15th century and is the oldest example of its type in the Vienne department. Note the barrel shape of the ceiling in the image.
So the question that arises is ,why is this little chapel across the street from the church? In the 15th century the chapel adjoined the church and served as a funerary/cemetery chapel, located in the heart of the cemetery. Today is serves still as a funerary chapel and also houses sepulchres and I still don’t know why it was moved.
Jouhet is one of those villages I want to return to, rent a gite, and spend the days cycling little back roads. This is truly a lovely area.
Getting There: Valley of the Frescoes