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Quick Facts on Saint-Benoît-Sur-Loire Abbey Church

Short URL
gohist.co/s/318867
Names
Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Fleury Abbey Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey Saint-Benoît-Sur-Loire Abbey Church
Address
Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Centre
Location
Loiret  county
Centre  state
France  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
c. 1071-1130
Coordinates
47.809538° N, 2.305874° E
Admission
Free
Phone
33 (0)2 38 35 72 43

Description of Saint-Benoît-Sur-Loire Abbey Church

The Abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire is located in a pleasant village of about 2,000 people close to a bend of the Loire River, 25 miles (40 km) east of Orléans. A good general view of the church can be enjoyed from across the fields to the southeast. Closer views of the fine Romanesque chevet are partially blocked by newer buildings, but worth seeking out.

Approaching from the west, where there is ample parking and an open plaza, visitors first come upon the large Tour de Gauzlin, named for the abbot who commissioned it. The boxy west "porch-tower" was begun in 1020, but may not have been completed until later in the 11th century.

The lower level serves as a porch for the west entrance, while the taller upper level houses the Chapel of St. Michael (not accessible to the public). There was once a third level, but this was removed in the 16th century and replaced by the present unusual roof and belfry in the 17th century.

With three portals on each side, the tower is as a model of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation 21: "And it had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates... on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates." The bottom level is open and divided into nine squares by pillars and transverse arches.

The columns of the narthex are decorated with interesting Romanesque capitals (c.1070-80). One Corinthian-style capital bears the inscription: UNBERTUS ME FECIT ("Unbertus made me.") Thus we know the name of the master sculptor who oversaw these Romanesque masterpieces in the narthex. Their subjects include: biblical scenes such as the Annunciation and Flight into Egypt; scenes from Revelation including the Seven Seals and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (fitting with the architectural theme of the New Jerusalem); the glorification of St. Martin of Tours; symbolic scenes of temptation and sin; and foliage with occasional human figures.

Before going inside, be sure to have a look on the north (left) side of the church, where there are intriguing Romanesque reliefs set into the tower wall and a fine Gothic north portal of the early 13th century. The sculptures are of very high quality and retain some traces of their original paint. The tympanum depicts Christ in Majesty with the Four Evangelists, while the lintel tells the story of the discovery and transport of St. Benedict's relics to Fleury.

The nave and side aisles are later than the rest of the church, dating from the late 12th century. The nave vault is a Gothic addition of the early 13th century; it may have previously had a wooden roof.

The north aisle is home to an interesting discovery made during restoration of the north portal: an unfinished sculpture ensemble of the Virgin and Child with eight saints, dating from the mid-12th century. Only the Madonna in the center and a few of the figures on the far right were completed, providing an interesting glimpse into the process used by medieval sculptors.

The eastern part of the church, including choir with ambulatory, crypt and transept, were built from the late 11th to early 12th century. The transepts each have two apsidoles in their east wall; those in the south transept are modern reconstructions. The north transept has a relief of the face of Raynaldus, the Norman chief of the Loire. The transept crossing is occupied by a fine set of choir stalls dating from 1413.

The sanctuary (or presbytery) is exceptionally large, enclosed within a tall, U-shaped triforium with blind arches and carved capitals. It is paved with an intricate 4th- or 5th-century Roman mosaic floor in polychrome marble, which was installed in the previous abbey church around 1000 and preserved in the present church. On the north side is the effigy tomb of King Philip I of France (d. 1108), a benefactor of the abbey. He died just five months after the church was consecrated.

The relics of St. Benedict have been enshrined inside a massive pillar in the crypt since 1108, when the high altar was dedicated. Built in 1067, the crypt is an atmospheric place, with large cylindrical pillars and a double ambulatory supporting the choir above.

Connected with the crypt but on a higher level is the Hall of Saint Mommole, dating probably from the 10th century. It is divided into two aisles of three bays each and covered with a groin vault. The cushion capitals are decorated with Carolingian designs.

Holly Hayes
September 2, 2012

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