Chauvigny Church

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.

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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

Site Information
Names:Chauvigny Church · St-Pierre de Chauvigny
Country:France
Categories:churches; collegiate churches; hall churches
Styles:Romanesque
Dedication: St. Peter
Dates:c. 1130-1230
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:46.570692° N, 0.648773° E
Address:Rue St-Pierre
Chauvigny, France
Phone:05 49 45 99 10
Email:chauvigny@cg86.fr
Website:www.chauvigny.fr
Hours:Open daily
Lodging:View hotels near Chauvigny Church
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visit (July 15, 2008).
  2. Information about the capitals posted in the church.
  3. Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Giles de la Mare, 2005), 210-14.
  4. Kenneth John Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800-1200 (Yale University Press, 1993), 274.
  5. Les églises :  Collégiale Saint Pierre - Chauvigny.fr
  6. Eglise collègiale Saint-Pierre - Chauvigny - Tourisme en Poitou
  7. Chauvigny - Art-roman.net

More Information

View of the medieval town of Chauvigny, with its castle ruins and Romanesque church of St-Pierre, from... © Holly Hayes
View of the chevet from northeast. 12th century. St-Pierre de Chauvigny, Poitou-Charentes, France. © Holly Hayes
Detail view from southeast, including the unusual roofs of the radiating chapels, a square bell tower and an... © Holly Hayes
View of the chevet from southeast. 12th century. St-Pierre de Chauvigny, Poitou-Charentes, France. © Holly Hayes
Floor plan of St-Pierre de Chauvigny, Poitou-Charentes, France.
Nave looking east. 12th-century architecture; 19th-century paint. St-Pierre de Chauvigny, Poitou-Charentes,... © Holly Hayes
Barrel vault in the ambulatory. 12th century, with a dizzying paint job from the 19th century. St-Pierre de... © Holly Hayes
Narrow colonnade and fascinating capitals at the east end of the choir. 12th century. St-Pierre de Chauvigny,... © Holly Hayes
The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), with the Archangel Gabriel handing holding a cross out to the Virgin Mary.... © Holly Hayes
The Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:9-12), including the Star of Bethlehem on the left and the Hand of God on... © Holly Hayes
A dancer, who splits into two bodies from the torso down. He holds the back feet of two small lions who gnaw... © Holly Hayes
Dragons with wings, front feet, and a human-like shared head devour a human, presumably meant to represent a... © Holly Hayes
Satan holds a square object and squats over a flaming cauldron, while two frightening demons seize human... © Holly Hayes
Sphinxes or manticores (lions with human heads) with wings, tails that turn into human hands, curly beards,... © Holly Hayes

Map of Chauvigny Church

Below is a location map and aerial view of Chauvigny 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.