I have always thought of the central French department of the Allier as a place one goes through on the way to somewhere else. We learned differently after three and a half days centered on the town of Ygrande near Bourbon-l’Archambault where we found a cluster of churches that ranged from spectacular abbeys to modest parish churches.
The first church we saw took our breath away. The Église Saint George in Bourbon-l’Archambault was far more than we expected from the research that we had done.
Contrasting with the elegant Église Saint George was the Église de la Trinité in Autry-Issards
Autry-Issards is a beautiful, well-kept garden of a village with a fine small church, the Église de la Trinité.
The town of Saint Menoux has a magnificent remnant of a great abbey church, the Église Saint Menoux. Although neglected and somewhat run down, it is an imposting structure with a great narthex leading into the large Romanesque church. Inside is an interesting reliquary, the débredinoire de Saint-Menoux. The petitioner places his or her head into the reliquary to cure headaches and other problems with the head.
Souvigny was once the capital of the Bourbonais until it was moved to the city of Moulins, but the former glory is recalled in the sumptuous Prieuré Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Souvigny, a former abbey church. Although over-restored and painted the same yellow as Paray-le-Monial, Notre Dame du Port, Saint Savin and Saint Nectaire (this seems to be the prevailing restoration paint job in France), we could see in a second what a fine structure this church was in its heyday.
The Église Saint Julien de Meillers was a delightful find. It is a small modest church but features a superb tympanum, appearing to us to be early Romanesque, probably late 11th Century. The tympanum shows Christ dispensing a blessing while surrounded by his apostles. There are some very fine capitals surrounding this sculpture.
Inside the church is simple and dignified with arched arcades and a barrel vault in the nave.
The Église Saint Martin of Ygrande is an active church filled with fine elements of the Romanesque but much in need of some loving care. It is quite dark within and on a cloudy day was very difficult to photograph. Just as we finished, the sun broke through for a moment and we were treated to a different church altogether, but the weather didn’t hold out and the darkness returned.
All of these churches are within 20 kilometers of each other which makes it a joy to visit the area. We could stay in Ygrande and visit the churches at our leisure. The churches were almost all open (only the church in Aubigny was unavailable to us) so we were able to add some fine examples of Romanesque architecture to our archive.