The Sculpted Miracles of Souillac (Dennis Aubrey)


My favorite place in the world is on a small tributary of the river Dordogne  near the town of Lacave, about ten miles from the great pilgrimage site of Rocamadour.  It is the hotel Le Pont de l’Ouysse, which I have been visiting since 1986.  It is my omphalos, the navel of my world, where everything comes into balance and harmony.  Near this wonderful rustic hotel is the commercial town of Souillac, unexceptional except for a stunning abbey church, Sainte Marie-de-Souillac.

Nave, Sainte Marie de Souillac (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Over the interior door of the west wall is a carved tympanum that depicts the story of Theophilis selling his soul to the Devil.

Tympanum, Sainte Marie de Souillac (Lot) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This superb sculpture alone would be a treasure for any church in the world, but there are two additional works that make this one of the centers of the Romanesque universe.  The first is a large statue of the prophet Isaiah, dancing in a swirl of robes, a miracle of movement and ecstasy captured in stone. We believe that this is carved by the same sculptor who created the Jeremiah on the trumeau at the nearby abbey church of Moissac.  It is simply a work of genius which takes the breath away.

Isaiah, Sainte Marie de Souillac (Lot) Photo by PJ McKey

The second work is a trumeau, the center pillar from a set of double doors that once led into the church.  Now set into the interior west wall of the church, this piece is one of the most wildly imaginative and evocative works I have ever seen.

Trumeau, Sainte Marie de Souillac (Lot) Photograph by Dennis Aubrey

Cut from a single block of stone, some of the figures are so deeply cut that they seem independent of the rest of the carvings.  What we see is a vision of writhing, twisting, ravening beasts and fantastic monsters, coupled with the story of the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac.  This image embodies the mystery of art and its ability to express our deepest fears and doubts.  That this expression has been chiseled out of that great block of stone is proof of the greatness of the artist and the beliefs that motivated him.

On a technical note – have tried for years to get an effective shot of this trumeau, but success eluded me until 2010. The solution? The right lens, the new Canon 17mm tilt shift. It made all the difference in the world.

A large selection of the high-resolution images can be found to view or to license at our website.

13 responses to “The Sculpted Miracles of Souillac (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Have you been to the museum attached to the to the Cathedral in Jaca, Spain? Seeing the empty walls made me think they were once covered with wonderful frescos. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pictures!

    Phyllis

  2. I just need to tell you this: THANK YOU. I am a student of Art History, I have a retake exam tomorrow, and as I missed this particular lesson I had no notes on the sculpture in Souillac other than the mention that there was romanesque sculpture to be seen in Souillac. You may just have saved my exam. So thank you.

  3. bonjour les photos sont magnifiques grace a mes recherches j ai retrouver l origine d un bas relief que je detiens qui a été fait sur mesure de isaie .merci

  4. Hi!
    I´m a student from the University of Murcia and I´m doing a research work of the Trumeau.
    I would like to know if you have more photos of the trumeau of Souillac and if you could send them to me.
    Thanks.

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