Built in the early 12th century, Notre-Dame-du-Port in Clermont-Ferrand is a beautiful example of the Auvergne Romanesque style. It has an apse decorated with multicolored inlaid stone, a carved tympanum over the south door, and carved capitals throughout the interior.
History of Notre-Dame-Du-Port
The exact date is not known, but the Notre-Dame-du-Port was probably built in the early 12th century, on the site of several earlier churches. Its grand appearance and location in the commercial heart of Clermont illustrates the rise of a new class in medieval European society: the wealthy urban merchant.
The church was originally known as Sainte-Marie-Principale, the greatest church dedicted to the Virgin in the city. When Clermont Cathedral changed its dedication from St. Stephen to the Virgin Mary, this church became known as the Notre-Dame-du-Port after its location in the market area of town. The French name comes from the Latin portus, meaning "a place of commerce."
The 12th-century attracted pilgrims, including some on the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Clermont is not on a major route to Santiago, but received enough pilgrim traffic for UNESCO to include it in the World Heritage Site called "Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France" in 1998.
The crossing tower fell down in an earthquake in the 15th century and was replaced with the present tower in the late 19th century. The western end of the church was also demolished at some point and rebuilt earlier in the 19th century.
From 2006 to 2008, the interior of the church was fully renovated. This unfortunately included a pale-yellow paint job, which evidently serves the project's stated purpose to return the interior to its appearance in the year 1800.
What to See at Notre-Dame-Du-Port
The Church of Notre-Dame-du-Port in Clermont is a beautiful example of the unique Auvergne Romanesque style. The west facade is extremely plain, as with all churches in the region, and is topped with an incongruous tower from the 19th century. There were originally twin west towers, as at the similar church of Saint-Nectaire.
The main exterior interest of the Notre-Dame-du-Port is at the east end, which has been lavished with architectural and artistic beauty. Here the square shoulders of the short transept make a strong contrast with the soft curving lines of the apse and four chapels radiating from the ambulatory.
Around the tops of these elements are striking geometric designs in polychrome inlaid stone: eight-pointed stars on the apse and checkerboards on the chapels. Under the roofline is a decorative cornice that shows a strong Oriental influence. Completing the rich exterior decoration are Romanesque capitals with figurative carvings. There is also a carved capital on the south transept, depicting the Sacrifice of Abraham.
Over the south portal, which is not in the transept but next to it in the nave, is an elaborate tympanum carved with biblical scenes and retaining some of its original paint. The sculptures were badly damaged in the French Revolution, but their fine craftsmanship is still apparent. At the top is a semi-circle with Christ in Majesty flanked by two seraphim and the symbols of the Evangelists (only Luke and Mark survive). Under a pediment shape below are scenes depicting the Adoration of the Magi, Presentation of Christ, and Baptism of Christ.
The main entrance to the church is at the west end, which leads into a narthex or antechurch topped by a gallery that looks out over the nave. This is a recontruction of the demolished original based on the surviving example at Saint-Nectaire.
The main part of the interior consists of a central nave with five bays and a high barrel vault and side aisles with a lower vault. The nave is fairly dark, as there is no clerestory and it is lit indirectly by the windows in the side aisles. The gallery level features rare trefoil arches. There are carved capitals throughout the nave, both foliate and figurative. Notable among the latter is one showing a man with a monkey on a leash.
In contrast to the nave, the choir is brightly lit. Slender columns topped with narrative capitals separate the choir from a spacious ambulatory. One of the capitals is signed by the sculptor, Rotbertus. Each capital is sculpted on all four sides and illustrates a particular theme. One narrates the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; another shows the battle between the Virtues and Vices (Charity locks shields with Greed; Anger kills herself with a lance).
Two choir capitals are dedicated to the church's patron, the Virgin Mary, who brings redemption from these struggles through her Son. One focuses on the events surrounding the birth of Christ; the other shows Mary victorious in Heaven. Unusually, there is also a capital showing a donor named Stefanus presenting the capital to an angel.
The ambulatory has a groin vault and opens into four radiating chapels with colorful stained glass windows.
The small crypt under the choir contains a small statue of the Black Madonna that dates from the 17th century but is a copy of a much older Byzantine original. Many pilgrims came to the church in the Middle Ages to view the statue.
Quick Facts on Notre-Dame-Du-Port
|Names:||Notre-Dame-du-Port · Sainte-Marie-Principale|
|Categories:||churches; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||45.780651° N, 3.089548° E|
|Hours:||Jun-mid-Oct: daily 8am-8pm|
mid-Oct-May: daily 8am-7pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Notre-Dame-Du-Port|
- Personal visit (exterior only due to renovations; June 12, 2008).
- Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Giles de la Mare, 2005), 170-74.
- Vivianne Minne-Sève and Hervé Kergall, trans. Jack Hawkes and Lory Frankel, Romanesque & Gothic France: Art and Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000), 102-05.
- Frommer's France 2009.
- Basilique Notre Dame du Port - Ville de Clermont-Ferrand
- Notre-Dame-du-Port de Clermont-Ferrand - German Wikipedia
- Virtual Tour of Notre Dame du Port - an excellent interactive tour from the Ville de Clermont-Ferrand
- Notre-Dame du Port - Art-Roman.net (includes photos of capitals and interior before yellow paint)
- Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Photos of Notre-Dame-Du-Port - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Notre-Dame-Du-Port, Clermont-Ferrand
Below is a location map and aerial view of Notre-Dame-Du-Port. 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.