With fascinating Romanesque sculptures and a spectacular location in a medieval town overlooking a river, the collegiate church of St-Pierre de Chauvigny is well worth a visit. It is located just 23 km east of Poitiers in western France.
History of Chauvigny Church
The history of St-Pierre is not terribly clear. A chapter of ten canons is mentioned in records of the early 11th century, indicating there was an earlier church on the site. At that time the Bishop of Poitiers was lord of Chauvigny (one of the town's five castles was built for him) and the canons of St-Pierre were under his authority.
The present church was probably built over the course of about a century, from 1130 to 1230, starting at the east end.
The church was badly damaged in the Wars of Religion and was privately owned after the Revolution, but several restoration campaigns were undertaken in the 19th century.
What to See at Chauvigny Church
St-Pierre de Chauvigny is Late Romanesque in style with some Gothic elements (including the cornice at the top of the bell tower and the pointed arches at the west end of the nave). It stands cozily on a small medieval street, its east side facing the center of town.
The radiating east chapels have unusual lid-shaped roofs and an attractive little turret has a conical roof with the fish-scale design seen also at Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers. The corbels of the chevet are carved with a variety of human and animal figures.
Decorative reliefs adorn the chapel windows and some archaic sculptures taken from the earlier church have been inserted in the chapel roofs. One of the window arches is carved with an alphabet.
Entrance is at the west end of the church, from which there is a fine view over the town (including another Romanesque church) below.
Once your eyes adjust to the unusual red-and-white paint job from 1856 (recently restored), the elegant architecture of the interior can be appreciated. Like many other churches in Poitou it is a "hall church," meaning that the side aisles are almost as tall as the nave.
The interior is illuminated by windows set high in the aisles rather than a clerestory above the nave, which is topped by a barrel vault. The transverse arches of the vault become increasingly pointed towards the west end of the nave, which was built last, around 1230 when the Gothic style was beginning to emerge.
There are some notable capitals in the crossing, including a lion and a mermaid.
The greatest attraction of Chauvigny Church is in the choir, where the columns of the ambulatory are decorated with a set of fascinating capitals sculpted by one Gofridus. The imaginative sculptor left his signature in an inscription above the Adoration of the Magi capital: GOFRIDUS ME FECIT ("Gofridus made me"). The images he carved are naive in style and rather odd in subject. Starting from the left (north) side and working clockwise, the eight capitals depict:
Quick Facts on Chauvigny Church
|Names:||Chauvigny Church · St-Pierre de Chauvigny|
|Categories:||churches; collegiate churches; hall churches|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.570692° N, 0.648773° E|
|Phone:||05 49 45 99 10|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Chauvigny Church|
- Personal visit (July 15, 2008).
- Information about the capitals posted in the church.
- Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Giles de la Mare, 2005), 210-14.
- Kenneth John Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800-1200 (Yale University Press, 1993), 274.
- Les églises : Collégiale Saint Pierre - Chauvigny.fr
- Eglise collègiale Saint-Pierre - Chauvigny - Tourisme en Poitou
- Chauvigny - Art-roman.net
- Photos of Chauvigny Church - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Chauvigny Church
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