We are all accustomed to see Romanesque and Gothic churches with their austere bone-white pillars, walls, and vaulting and assume this look was the intent of the builders. When modern churches in the classical style are built, they usually follow this aesthetic guideline. The truth is that the churches were often brightly painted with geometric patterns, frescoes, and polychrome capitals. In many churches we can see the remnants of these paintings, like in the Basilique Saint Julien in Brioude, among others. The colors may be faded now, but we can still make out the oranges, reds, greens and blues that once adorned the structure. But in one church in particular, we can see the effect of the originals. The Abbatiale Saint Austremoine of Issoire in the Puy-de-Dôme, the mountainous center of the Auvergne, was restored in the 19th Century in almost shocking style. This monastic church is a riot of deep, rich color.
PJ’s shot of the morning sun streaming through the transept windows is one of the best photos of our 2010 trip. It perfectly illustrates how the combination of shape, color, and light can create a stunning view of the church. To the medieval monks who worshiped here, this must have been a sight of transcendent beauty.
In addition to the painting, there are a number of stained glass windows that throw great swatches of colored light across the interior walls of the church. The effect of the light from the windows invests a second layer of color on the polychrome surfaces.
Even without the effects from the exterior lighting, the painted interior emphasizes the structural beauty of the church. The polychrome patterns reinforce the receding arches, pillars, and groin vaults, demonstrating the harmony and balance that are the hallmark of this 11th century Benedictine abbey church.
If you are interested in seeing more of these images, please see the
Via Lucis website.