Quarante is a hillside town in the Languedoc region of southern France. We arrived on a windy day, buffeted by the Transmontana winds that sweep this region, only to find the church being used for a funeral. The Abbatiale Sainte-Marie is one of the first Romanesque structures in the Languedoc, a very early example (consecrated in 1053) of the Lombard Romanesque style. From the exterior, the church looked quite interesting so we decided to wait out the service.
When the Quarantais had completed their service and left the church, we were able to enter the interesting narthex from the south in the town square.
The first thing that we noticed when entering the church were the pure Romanesque lines – the barrel vault with the pronounced supporting bands repeating to the chancel crossing. The nave is broad with two side aisles. The austere interior has no sculpted decoration to distract the eye away from the superb structural elements.
The nave elevation shows wide even bays, with two clerestory windows at the base of the vault in each bay. These are almost certainly later additions. Beyond the arcade arches are the high, narrow side aisles, groin vaulted with windows
The austerity of the interior is highlighted by the interesting wooden crucifix affixed to this unadorned pillar. I particularly like the contrast of the organic wood cross on the severe geometry of the stone.
Notice how the heavy cruciform pillars of the nave have no capitals, but simple beveled impost blocks. This contributes to the purity of the lines and accentuates the banding across the vault.
After several hours shooting, PJ and I had progressed to the area around the apse and transept. We turned back to the west and were greeted with the sight of the late afternoon light streaming through west window and striking the first nave pillar on the north.
These two shots were taken about five minutes apart and the quality of the light changes considerably in that time.
The abbey church is about a half hour drive due west of Beziers, but worth a visit if you are in the region. We particularly liked it because there are not a great number of churches in this area that preserve their original Romanesque structure without later modifications and additions. In this case, the remoteness of the town contributed to the preservation of the remarkable Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Quarante.