The Église Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers is a magnificent Romanesque-Byzantine church from the 11th and 12th centuries. Its wide facade is flanked by pinecone-shaped towers and covered in carvings of saints and biblical scenes.
History of Notre-Dame-La-Grande
The early history of this fascinating church is something of a mystery, but the first recorded mention of it dates from 924 AD. The present Notre-Dame-la-Grande is thought to date from the late 11th century to the middle of the 12th century. The facade dates from the latter period. The church is not particularly large, so the name probably indicates there were less impressive churches dedicated to Our Lady in medieval Poitiers.
Since at least 1428, every Easter Monday a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary known as the "Virgin of the Keys" was carried in procession around the ramparts of the town. This statue survives today and is kept in the choir of the church.
The church was thoroughly cleaned and restored in 1996; its stone is now a gleaming white. Interestingly, most of the dirt and damage to the facade was caused less by pollution and pigeon droppings than by the salt from the nearby market, which seeped into the ground and up the facade.
What to See at Notre-Dame-La-Grande
The west front of Notre-Dame-la-Grande (c.1150) is one of the finest Romanesque facades in France. It is flanked by turrets topped with conical spires, which, along with the rich sculpture, are the hallmarks of Poitou Romanesque architecture.
The sculpture of the west front is divided into three tiers. The middle and top tiers are a jumbled array of carved saints, prophets, creatures and foliage. The bottom tier tells the story of Jesus from right to left, based on The Drama of the Prophets, a fifth-century sermon. From left to the right, the carvings depict:
In the middle tier, the word of God is spread by the Twelve Apostles (eight seated below; four standing above) and two local bishop-saints on either end: Hilary and Martin. Only a few apostles still have distinguishable faces; among them is St. Peter, with keys in his left hand. The top tier features a richly-carved oval medallion of Christ in Glory (now headless), surmounted by the sun and moon and surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists. There are interesting carvings of creatures and foliage in thearches at eye-level, too.
The interior consists of a dark, barrel-vaulted nave with no clerestory, narrower side aisles, a transept crossing topped with a tower, a small choir, and a groin-vaulted ambulatory with radiating chapels. A faded 12th-century fresco survives on the choir vault. The rest of the murals, which cover the nave columns and other surfaces with garish geometrical designs, date from the 19th century. There is only one narrative capital, which depicts the Ascension of Christ with angels.
Quick Facts on Notre-Dame-La-Grande
|Names:||Église Notre-Dame-la-Grande · Great Church of Our Lady · Notre-Dame-la-Grande · Notre-Dame-la-Grande de Poitiers|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.583266° N, 0.343977° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Notre-Dame-La-Grande|
- Personal visit (July 14, 2008).
- The Collegiate church of NOTRE-DAME-LA-GRANDE Poitiers - French Ministry of Culture
- Peter Strafford, Romanesque Churches of France: A Traveller's Guide (London: Giles de la Mare, 2005), 224-25.
- Rolf Toman, ed., Fiona Hulse, Ian Macmillan, trans. Romanesque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting (Ullman & Könemann, 2004), 153 and 257.
- Medieval Poitiers - Images of Medieval Art and Architecture
- Rough Guide to France 9 (April 2005).
- Darwin Porter, Frommer's France 2007 (October 2006).
Map of Notre-Dame-La-Grande, Poitiers
Below is a location map and aerial view of Notre-Dame-La-Grande. 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.