Anzy-le-Duc – the Great Survivor (Dennis Aubrey)


We have often remarked how astonishing it is that France still holds 5,000 Romanesque churches from the 11th and 12th centuries. They have survived war, accident, nature, religious strife, revolution, and age while standing proudly in the French countryside.

One of these survivors is the priory church in Anzy-le-Duc. The first church on this site was founded in Carolingian times, in 876, as a gift from the noble couple Letbald and Altaric. Their purpose was to establish a monastic institution dedicated to the revived Rule of Saint Benedict. The first prior was Saint Hugues of Poitiers, whose fame brought the priory into great repute. Hugues “died in great veneration” in 930 and was buried in the crypt of the church. His relics attracted many pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. This influx of pilgrims resulted in the construction of the Prieuré de la Sainte Trinité in the late 11th and early 12th Century.

This great priory church announces its presence from a distance with a stunning octagonal bell tower, one of the finest in Burgundy.

Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

However, the pious motivations behind the construction of the church have not protected it during the years. In the “calamitious 14th Century” (thank you, Ms. Tuchman) the furies unleashed by the Hundred Years War reached deep into southern Burgundy. In 1368 the troops of the Black Prince attacked and sacked the church.

In 1576, the religious wars that divided France made their mark when the Protestants desecrated the tomb of Saint Hugues and mutilated sculptures of the western portal. In 1594 the Catholics of the League, set the church on fire.

Crypt, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Not to be outdone, nature lent a hand. In 1652 lightning damaged the signature bell tower.

Mankind returned to its destructive ways during the Revolution when great scars were inflicted on the sculptures on the west portal. In 1789, almost out of exhaustion, the priory was dissolved and the church abandoned. About 20 years later, the citizens of Anzy-le-Duc bought the structure and converted it to the parish church, dedicating it to Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.

The church survived, and what remains is quite interesting. The nave is narrow, with three bays and rounded arches. Each bay is separated by a thick rounded diaphragm arch that helps support a groin vault above. The two side aisles are also groin vaulted. This is the same vaulting schema that occurs at the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay.

Nave, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The chancel crossing features a fine painted dome resting on squinches.

Crossing vault, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The west portal’s richly sculpted tympanum has, unfortunately, suffered greatly over the years. As previously mentioned, the Protestants mutilated some of the figures in 1576, but the greatest damage was done during the French Revolution. One of the citizens of Anzy-le-Duc, in his revolutionary fervor, invited his fellows to fire guns at the statuary.

The figures on the lintel, representing the Elders of the Apocalypse, various figures carved onto the archivolt, and the Christ and the angels of the tympanum were all mutilated by gunfire, which was rewarded by “a modest premium of three sous for each head shot.”

West portal, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The statuary inside, especially the fine historiated capitals, have survived much more successfully.

Nave capital, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Somehow, the Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption has withstood the assaults of history and changing currents of religion. It stands today as a monument to the faith of Hugues of Poitiers and the pious Benedictine monks who followed his footsteps.

Altar, Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Anzy-le-Duc (Saône-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.

✜If you are interested in seeing more of these Romanesque churches, select this link to see a list of those that we have featured in this Via Lucis blog.✜

15 responses to “Anzy-le-Duc – the Great Survivor (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dennis, another wonderful post and high quality images by you and PJ.
    Thanks for relating the history and bringing these Romanesque churches into our homes. I would like the people who visit my site to see these images, may I have permission to link your site to mine?

    • Paul, thanks for the kind words, and of course you have permission to link, especially since I think we have similar missions with our blogs. I am going to put a link back to your site. I see you are from Providence (we are on Cape Cod), so I am attaching a link to the lovely Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, which we had the opportunity to shoot two years ago.

  2. Bravo, PJ and Dennis,
    for another beautiful set of photographs, this time on Anzy-le-Duc! Thank you also for the informative write-up. I had no idea that the west portal tympanum was abused by the revolutionaries as their target. The last photograph of the altar is sublime.
    Jong-Soung

  3. Pingback: Stones that Sing – The Photography of Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey « Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts

  4. Hi Dennis, I’ve just discovered that your posts are now in my WordPress Reader. Previously I was notified by email, but no more. So I thought you were not presently posting. This morning I stumbled upon Reader and discovered several posts from you and others.
    I like this article, particularly the crypt photo (useful for my story) and the history of this church’s damage. I also was pleased to see you use the word ‘furies’ which I’ve hesitated with in the novel I’m working on, eg les fureurs du Vatican. I now feel comfortable to translate it as ‘furies’.

    • Trish, no, we’re busy posting two or three times a week. Perhaps there has been a change in the WordPress notifications. Thanks for your kind words, as always, and I’m glad that we can feed into your project in some small way.

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