Église Mont Saint Vincent (Dennis Aubrey)

Burgundy has one of the greatest concentrations of Romanesque churches in France. At its historical epicenter was the Abbey of Cluny, now unfortunately almost completely destroyed, the seat of power of the Benedictine monastic world for centuries. At the height of that power, the black-robed monks could boast over a thousand dependencies, monastic institutions which were considered as an extension of the “mother” house.

One of those dependencies was a priory only 20 miles away and built on one of the highest points in the Saône-et-Loire, a granite outcropping 601 meters high that dominates the beautiful and rich Charolais countryside below. The church, built around 1100, was dedicated to Saint Vincent.

PJ shooting the valley, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The town of Mont Saint Vincent (population 334) hosts the beautiful Église Mont Saint Vincent, a priory church for five centuries until the monks left in 1506. Because the church possessed an important relic, a fragment of the True Cross, it was an important pilgrimage site.

PJ and I liked the church very much because it is the epitome of the Romanesque monastic church. It is heavy and massive, built as a Latin cross with a nave of four bays with side aisles. And unlike many of the Cluniac churches and attesting to its age, the nave and side aisle arches are perfect semicircles, and not ogive.

Nave, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The main reason that we visited the Église Mont Saint Vincent was that it is one of two churches that feature transverse barrel vaults built perpendicular to the axis of the nave and supported by semicircular diaphragm arches. With its Cluniac sister of Saint Philibert in Tournus, we have the only examples of this unique solution to the stresses imposed by a barrel vault. Instead of a single long vault running the length of the nave and transmitting the stress outwards to the side walls, the four vaults cross the nave and transfer those stresses to the adjacent barrel vault, canceling each other out.

Transverse barrel vaults, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

One of the structural advantages of the transverse barrel vaults was that fairly large windows could be built in the walls of the nave at the clerestory level.

Nave, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Because the side aisles are covered with groin vaults, windows could be placed all along these passages as well. The combination of the clerestory and side aisle windows allows a great deal of light to penetrate into the church.

North side aisle, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Mont Saint Vincent is very large and tall structure but no longer has a crossing tower, which makes it seem truncated. After the collapse of the vault of the choir in 1773, the pillars of the crossing were reinforced but they weren’t capable of sustaining the weight of the tower. It was was razed twenty years later in 1793 during the French Revolution.

The west face of the church is sheltered by a porch which is the same height as the nave and consists of two floors. The bottom floor is an open narthex with large arches and features a remarkable sheltered portal with a tympanum showing Christ in majesty between Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The sculptural style is very archaic, indicating that this is probably one of the oldest tympana in the region.

South view, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

All in all, the Église Mont Saint Vincent ended up as one of our favorite discoveries of the 2011 trip. The church was beautiful in the transition to the late afternoon light. While it has not been so well restored as Saint Philibert in Tournus, the purity and perfection of her lines make the church a masterpiece of Romanesque design and workmanship. We respond to this purity and perfection and it recalls in us the great reason that these churches were built with such love and attention to detail. They were built to last because the faith on which they were based was eternal, and because of all things of the earth, only stone could approach that eternity.

Side aisle, Église Mont Saint Vincent (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

To see more posts on the individual churches, follow this link.

19 thoughts on “Église Mont Saint Vincent (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. I am struck by the simplicity and dignity of the space! And what a meticulous workmanship of the masons! As always, your photographs capture the essence of the architecture so movingly. Mont St. Vincent has to be added to my itinerary now for our next busman’s tour. Jong-Soung

    1. Jong-Soung, thanks so much for your words. Amazing dignity, what a perfect word! We are going back to France in September and hope to return to Mont Saint Vincent again.

  2. Hi Dennis–I was at Mt St Vincent in May 2010 around the same time of day but of course my interior photos are not as clear as yours! Did you go see the famous fallen stone down the hillside? Both the townspeople and the cows were so friendly here and everything was so beautiful, I wanted to stay. I shot more photos of lovely details in the quaint town than the church on this stop I think! Keep me posted on your plans for May in case we can meet up about the Z books.

    1. Thanks, Janet. We didn’t see the fallen stone, what is that? There were no townspeople around the day we were there because of a big wedding in the restaurant just across the parking area. It seemed that everyone in town was there. Didn’t have much time to discuss things with the cows 🙂

      We have dozens more shots of the church because it was such a great subject. We are under the gun here in Massachusetts and not sure of our travel plans. Think we should probably do some kind of video conference. I’ll contact you directly.

  3. Hello,

    Beautiful pictures and descriptions! Is don’t know whether you walked down on the hill side of the church but there is a small ruin/shed that we bought in 1998. When me and my siblings are older we want to rebuild the house next to it. But in the meantime we are looking for photo’s and background information about the place. There is the story about the fallen stone which i’ve never heard of. Is there some more information about that. And is it possible that you share or send me the other pictures you made?

    Kind regards,

    Robin van Rijn

    1. Robin, thanks for your note and kind words. I have contacted a friend of mine who might be able to provide some information on the fallen stone and I will get back to you when I have the information. As far as our photographs are concerned, we only shoot the churches in normal cases, so we don’t have much else. Let me know if you would like to see some other pictures of the church.

      1. Dennis, when I was in MSV a few weeks ago I saw the rock indeed. It’s at the end of our ‘street’. Did you already found out some more about the story?

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