Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Dennis Aubrey)


We have often remarked about how many Romanesque gems are found in the Puy-de-Dôme department of the Auvergne. Last week we posted about the small abbey church Église Sainte-Croix in Veauce. Today’s post is the 12th Century Église Notre-Madeleine in the tiny town (population 307) of Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix, just eight short miles due south of Veauce.

Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Originally the Église Notre-Madeleine was the church of a small convent dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Today, despite the reconstructed 16th Century convent buildings attached to it, the church still has a great deal to recommend itself to us – a beautiful location nestled in the Combrailles hills, a well-preserved Romanesque structure, a finely sculpted north portal, a column-swallower (one of our favorites), and a large wooden crucifix with a story of its own.

North entrance with font, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

The interior has a strong affiliation with Cluniac Romanesque with its ogive arches, engaged columns and finely carved capitals. We can see the repairs done to maintain the banded vault, including the iron bar across the nave.

Nave, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

As can be seen by the 1888 photograph, the restoration of the church appears purely structural, and to us it is very successful. Nothing new or untoward was introduced into the church and we can see it much like it must have been eight centuries earlier.

Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme), Photo by Eugène Lefèvre-Pontalis. Credit: Société Française d'Archéologie et Ministère de la Culture (France) - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine - diffusion RMN

To the east, short transept arms terminate in echeloned chapels while the raised apse is simple and elegant. The clean lines reflect the monastic origins of Notre-Madeleine.

Chancel and transept, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

The north portal features two fluted Burgundian-style pillars, eight columns and a tympanum with carved palmettes and seven characters including Mary Magdalene, patron of the church. The scalloped frame over the door is superb.

North portal, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The Romanesque-style crucifix has its own story and in our own time. It was stolen in 2006 but recovered in 2007 when the thief tried to sell it to a collector in Belgium. It happened that the thief thought it was twelfth century but it is actually a contemporary work in the Romanesque style. Here is a link to a news video (in French) that describes the return of the crucifix to the town of Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix.

Crucifix, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

While this theft was successfully resolved with the return of the statue, it illustrates the on-going problems of theft that plague these country churches.

Column swallower, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Finally, we end on a more pleasant note, with a picture of one of the two column-swallowers that flank the door of the north portal. We have done a previous post on these wonderful medieval characters. In the case of the Église Notre-Madeleine, this pair seem to guard the entrance to the church and protect the members of the convent from all attackers. At least, that is my fancy, and I’m going to stick to it.

Side chapel, Église Notre-Madeleine, Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

If you are interested in seeing a list of the churches that we have individually featured in the Via Lucis blog, please select this link.

7 responses to “Saint-Hilaire-la-Croix (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Elliott, thanks. It was one of those great days in the French countryside – beautiful weather, nice drive, and then you arrive at the small town with the extraordinary church. There is also a fine tympanum on the south side of the church.

    • It is old and breath-taking, but not forgotten. Inside are dozens of small touches that show that Notre-Madeleine is loved, from flowers and statues to votive candles and ex-votos. Thanks for taking the time to consider the church and to recognize her beauty.

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