On the Dordogne River near the pilgrimage center of Rocamadour in the Lot, there are three abbey churches within twenty-five miles of each other and all three feature magnificent sculpted tympana. They are Sainte Marie de Souillac, Saint Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, and Saint Pierre de Carennac.
Carennac itself is a small, picturesque village with the 11th century church as the centerpiece of the town. One approaches from the main road through an arched gateway to the stone-paved street leading to the church.
Like the other two Saint Pierre churches, the 12th century Carennac tympanum is a marvelous piece of sculpture, mounted on the portal above the entrance to the narthex, showing Christ in Majesty surrounded by the four Evangelists and the apostles. There is also a beautiful figurative border surrounding the tympanum. The traces of polychrome paint show that this was once brilliantly colored.
Inside is the classic Benedictine abbey church featuring a barrel vaulted nave and two side aisles leading to the apse.
There is no hemicycle or ambulatory in the apse, which would lead one to believe that this was not a conventional pilgrimage church like Saint Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne or Saint Pierre de Souillac. But I have also read that the renovations of the church in the 16th century resulted in the demolition of a hemicycled apse and replaced the chapels there with two chapels in echelon on either side of the altar and a pair of chapels on the north side aisle.
This shot shows the Mary Chapel on the north side aisle. In this shot it is also possible to see the beginnings of the banded barrel vault in the aisle itself and the unorthodox termination of the nave banding. I am fairly convinced that this is a result of that 16th century renovation.
The chapel itself is a lovely little Gothic addition to the Romanesque church itself. The vaulting in the chapel is particularly attractive.
We spent quite a lot of time at the Église Saint Pierre de Carennac, but the town itself has much to offer, including the adjacent Gothic cloister and a wonderful mise au tombeau (entombment) sculptural ensemble by Jean-Claude Ayrolles.
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