The cloister of Moissac Abbey Church in southwest France is one of the finest galleries of Romanesque art in the world and the oldest and largest cloister with narrative capitals. Completed in 1100 AD, it contains 76 capitals plus 12 large pillar reliefs in a large cloister measuring 31 meters by 27 meters.
Moissac's capitals are beautifully carved and in surprisingly good condition for their venerable age, except that virtually all the faces have sadly been smashed. Dramatically shaped like upside-down pyramids, the distinctive capitals of Moissac are carved over their entire surface, including the abacus (flat part at the top). Many of them have Latin inscriptions explaining the scene.
Subjects of the sculptures include delicate foliage, animal and human figures, biblical scenes and legends of the saints, all combined in an apparently random order that forms no narrative. Of the 76 total capitals, 46 depict narrative scenes from the Bible or the lives of the saints and 11 of those illustrate the Old Testament. Interestingly, none of the sculptures depict scenes from the Passion.
Below is a fully illustrated guide to the subjects of each capital and pillar in the Moissac cloister, using the modern numbering system found in the official visitor's guide and, e.g., the Blue Guide to Southwest France. The numbers correspond to the plan of the cloister at right, which is from the visitor's guide. Capital Roman numerals refer to pillar reliefs.
It may take a few moments for all the photos to load. Click on any photo to enlarge. To browse all the capitals plus general views of the cloister, please see our large Moissac Cloister Photo Gallery.
Quick Facts on Moissac Abbey
|Categories:||churches; abbeys; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||44.105434° N, 1.084750° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Moissac Abbey|
- Personal visit (July 10, 2009).
- Moissac Abbey. Book purchased at the Moissac Abbey shop.
- Blue Guide Southwest France, 333-35.
Map of Moissac Abbey
Below is a location map and aerial view of Moissac Abbey. 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.