Anzy-le-Duc is a rural village in the Brionnais region of southern Burgundy. Its church, once part of a priory, dates primarily from the 11th century. It has interesting sculptures on its west and south tympanums, lively carved corbels, and some unusual capitals inside.
History of Anzy-Le-Duc Church
The Priory of Anzy-le-Duc was founded in the late 800s by a local noble couple, Letbald and Altaric. The first prior was a prominent monk from the monastery at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe named Hugh, who would later become known as St. Hugh of Poitiers. Hugh was involved in the creation of the Abbey of Cluny and the priory subsequently had a close relationship with that great foundation.
St. Hugh died at Anzy-le-Duc around 930 and was buried in the crypt. His relics attracted so many pilgrims that a new church, the one that stands today, was eventually built to accommodate them. The present church dates mostly from the 11th century but incorporates the original 10th-century crypt and has some 12th-century additions. Its design may have influenced the church at nearby Charlieu, which was built around the same time and is quite similar.
The later Middle Ages were less kind to Anzy-le-Duc. The tomb of St. Hugh was descrated by Huguenots (French Calvinists) in 1576 and the church was set on fire in 1594 during the Wars of Religion. Lighting damaged the bell tower in 1652. The priory was dissolved around 1789 and the church was abandoned.
Things began to turn around in the 19th century. Four inhabitants of Anzy-le-Duc bought the abandoned priory church in 1808 and by 1818 it was in use as the village parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. It still fufills that role today. The cchurch was classified as a historic building in 1852.
What to See at Anzy-Le-Duc Church
Standing at the edge of the village overlooking a meadow, Anzy-le-Duc Church has a harmonius appearance. Its bell tower is octagonal, resembling some of the campaniles of Rome. The area to the east of the church is unfortunately privately owned, so it is difficult to get a good view of the chevet.
But stretching out to the south of the church is a grassy courtyard surrounded by some surviving priory buildings. From the courtyard there is a nice view of the church's south exterior, which is decorated with a fine collection of corbels featuring busy and sometimes suggestive human figures. They are difficult to see in great detail without binoculars or a zoom lens.
Be sure not to miss the south portal, which is not on the church but on the other side of the priory wall south of the church. You must walk back out of the courtyard and around the parking area to find it. Its tympanum, dating from the 12th century, is alive with sculptures. Subjects include the Adoration of the Magi, Adam and Eve, and a long, coiled serpent tormenting the damned in Hell. The capitals on either side feature scenes of execution - beheading on the left and hanging on the right.
The west tympanum is earlier but in much worse shape. It depicts Christ in Majesty within a mandorla held aloft by two angels. The lintel below has the Virgin Mary (in the center) and the apostles looking up at the Ascension. The archivolt and two capitals have sculptures of the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse, animated figures who each hold a musical instrument and cup of perfume. Most of them are missing but the few who remain are of high quality, probably indicating work by a sculptor from Cluny. The corbels flanking the doorway have altas figures holding them up and an animal on the side.
The nave has three aisles, round arches, and a groin vault. It leads to the apse, where the altar is located and which is covered in damaged 19th-century murals.
The highlight of the interior is certainly the capitals, which were mostly carved in the 11th century. There are a couple familiar biblical scenes - Samson and the Lion, Daniel in the Lion's Den (in which the lions are so friendly they lick him affectionately), and St. Michael the Archangel battling the Devil - but most of the narrative capitals are symbolic and fantastical. There are beard-pullers, acrobats, a devil playing a flute while conjoined twins dance, monkeys, lions, and seated humans pouring out the Four Rivers of Paradise. The oldest capitals are on either side of the choir, and are very similar. An atlas figure supports a great weight in the center, flanked by contemplative-looking men on the corners and monkeys on the sides.
A stairway in the north transept leads down into the 10th-century crypt, the burial place of St. Hugh of Poitiers. It was only recently discovered and excavated and it is a dark and atmospheric place.
Quick Facts on Anzy-Le-Duc Church
|Names:||Anzy-le-Duc Church · Anzy-le-Duc Priory · Church of Our Lady of the Assumption · Église Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (Assumption)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.321060° N, 4.061959° E|
|Phone:||03 85 25 03 07|
|Hours:||Usually open during daylight hours|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Anzy-Le-Duc Church|
- Personal visit (June 9, 2008).
- Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Gilles de Mare, 2005), 44-46.
- The Romanesque Church of Anzy-le-Duc. Pamphlet published by the Centre International d'Etudes des Patrimoines Culturels du Charolais-Brionnais (available in the church).
- Timeline posted in the church.
Map of Anzy-Le-Duc Church, Anzy-le-Duc
Below is a location map and aerial view of Anzy-Le-Duc Church. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.